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Analysing a dramatic scene (2)


Task

Analyze the way in which the phone call and the employer’s reaction are presented. Refer to the employer’s communicative strategies, his use of language and stylistic devices.

Solution

On stage the audience of Eric Bogosian’s play “Just Business” gets to see only one side of the telephone conversation between Jack and his boss. Thus they can only infer from the employer’s reaction that Jack seems to be a good friend of Barry who is obviously trying hard to save the latter’s job. From the beginning we get the impression that the employer is not in the least bit interested in what Jack has to say and that he is quite irritated about having to have this conversation at all. This becomes even clearer the longer Jack tries to plead Barry’s case. With every new attempt on Jack’s side to bring forward arguments in Barry’s favor, the boss gets more and more impatient and angry. At the same time the audience gets a clear picture of the employer’s attitude towards his business and his employees. His whole communicative strategy displays a mere show of openness and personal interest in Barry’s situation. It is marked by the use of a falsely reassuring tone, polite but empty phrases (e.g. “I think it’s great that you’re sticking up for the guy[…] I really appreciate it[…]” ll.3-4; “It’s good to hear your point of view, Jack[…]” l.5), platitudes (e.g. “I didn’t want to fire him.” l.17; “it’s tough, but what else can I do?” l.20) and repetitions. (“Yeah” ll.1-2, ll.6; “OK.”ll.40-42). It may be easy to put on this show for Jack who is on the phone; the audience, however, who can see his manner as well, are able to feel the full hypocrisy on the employer’s side. The boss’s real attitude is revealed when he scornfully describes the type of workers he needs. They are stripped of any human quality, simple reduced to their performance rate and their worth in cash for the company (i.e. see ll.10-12). Profit, it becomes clear, is the only consideration with this entrepreneur and there are no concessions made that might lose the company money. The employer even goes as far as reminding Jack of the luxuries that he is able to afford due to his well-paid job (see ll.27-29); a subtle warning that he might lose his job just as Barry if he persists his pleading on the latter’s behalf. This warning is intensified when the boss announces that he now wants to get rid of Barry even more since he is obviously wasting Jack’s time. However, he is by no means concerned about Jack. Again, his motto is ‘time is money’ thus he declares: “[…] I can’t have people wasting time in this company.” (ll. 39- 40) Despite his contempt for Barry and his threats towards Jack, the employer wraps up the phone call in a rather casual, conversational manner when he tells Jack to “say ‘Hi’ to Jeanette [his wife]” (l.42) for him. It is yet another meaningless and empty phrase.

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