Desperation can lead a man to do things that he never in a million years thought he would do. Whether it’s begging or breaking into your own job to try and get ahead, it’s fascinating to see what someone would do in a desperate situation. In Shelly “The Machine” Levene’s case desperation lead to him becoming a criminal. Throughout the entire play of Glengarry Glen Ross, he is desperate to get on that board and reclaim his former glory. With a sick daughter in the hospital and his job on the line, he is desperate beyond belief. Leading him to choose to rob the office so that he could keep his job and pay for his daughter's medical care.
What Levene wants the most throughout the entire play are better leads to get on the leaderboard so that he can keep his job and pay for his daughter's medical care. “I'll give you thirty on them now, I'll bring the rest tomorrow. I've got it at the hotel.” (Pg. 12 Scene 2 ACT I). Levene becomes so desperate for the good leads that he offers to buy them from Williamson and even give him a cut of his commission. It gets to the point that Levene becomes so desperate that he will do anything to get them. Even if that means becoming a criminal.
Levene’s main motivation is that he needs to keep his job. If he doesn’t keep his job he loses everything. Not only is his job on the line but his daughter is sick in the hospital and Levene needs a way to help pay for her bills. So Levenes two biggest motivators in the story are keeping his job and helping his sick daughter. Whichever one is more important to him is up for debate.
Jack Lemmon as Shelly Levene in 1992's "Glengarry Glen Ross"
I think that the big underlying subtext here is that Levene is a washed-up salesman and he knows it. He earned the nickname “The Machine” by being a great salesman in his younger days, or his prime if you want to call it that. Now he is an old, tired, and desperate man who can barely close any sale. This could be another part of his motivation but I think it belongs more in the subtext category as Levene never mentions this as a reason as to why he is so desperate. “I'm older than you. A man acquires a reputation.” (Pg. 10 Scene 1 ACT I). This quote shows that Levene has had a lot of experience in the field which is why he tends to give advice to some of the younger salesmen. Levene’s excitement when he closes the deal for the condos and him saying “I’m back!” shows that he is trying to recapture his former glory.
When the pressure of the sales contest is brought on coupled with his daughter's medical bills Levene is not ashamed to show his desperation. He follows Williamson begging him to give him better leads, offering to pay him for them. Then even going so far as to offer him a cut of his commission. The pressure on Levene mounts to the point that he actually robs the office for the leads. When Williamson figures out that Levene was the one who robbed the place Levene again begins to beg. Even using his sick daughter as a way to gain sympathy, which Williamson does not have.
Levene is old school and has been in the business longer than anyone else in the office. As mentioned before he has a sick daughter which is one of his driving forces to keep his job. The play is set during the 1980’s big business economic boom and this kind of atmosphere is what really lends itself to the way Levene and many of the characters act. Levene is desperate to keep up in this fast-paced, high stressed world that he believes is leaving him behind. This is made even harder for him as Williamson has created a world where Levene cannot get ahead. Levene wants nothing more than to be the salesman that he was in his prime. He wants to be top dog on the leaderboard. He wants to provide for his sick daughter. He wants the first place Cadillac. He wants to be respected again.