Cover image for Understanding Death of a salesman : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Understanding Death of a salesman : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Murphy, Brenda, 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xviii, 226 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
The significance of Death of a Salesman -- Cultural myths and values -- Economic interests and forces -- American business culture -- Family and gender expectations -- Sports and American life -- Death of a Salesman's impact on American culture.
Reading Level:
1260 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3525.I5156 D4358 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3525.I5156 D4358 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This collection of social, cultural, and historical documents and popular materials, with linking explanations and commentary, will help the reader to study the play in the context of its time and cultural background. The collected materials are designed to work with the play to highlight inherent conflicts within American society which lie at the heart of Death of a Salesman , and to explore how the play affects and is affected by social mores and beliefs. Salesmanship and the changing face of business, along with perceptions of sports, gender, and families, are explored through selections drawn from a rich variety of sources that help provide forceful evidence of the play's influence. Documents include essays, articles, and fiction, which have created or explored the social expectations of a typical American family in the late 1940s; unusual selections such as a self-analysis chart, an obituary, and a diary, which help to trace the history of salesmanship from the nineteenth century to the present day; and advertisements, song lyrics, speeches, how-to books, and other readings that promote an interdisciplinary study of the play.

More than 70 short primary documents illustrate the cultural, social and historical milieu of the time in which the play takes place. Topics explored under Cultural Myths and Values include the Protestant work ethic vs. myths of success, the myth of the golden West vs. urban myth, and the culture of youth vs. the culture of age. A chapter on economic forces provides materials on business vs. morality, humanity vs. technology, the haves and the have-nots, American business culture, the Depression, and how to be an effective salesman. A chapter on family and gender expectations includes documents on the roles of fathers and mothers, providers vs. cowboys or playboys, and homemakers vs. call girls. A chapter on sports and leisure features documents on amateur football and sports and American values. A final chapter examines the impact of Death of a Salesman on American culture. Each chapter is followed by study questions, topics for writing and discussion, and a list of suggested reading. This work is an ideal companion for interdisciplinary study of the play.

Author Notes

Brenda Murphy is Professor of English at the University of Connecticut
Susan C. W. Abbotson has taught English for fifteen years. She currently teaches in the Freshman Studies department at Johnson and Wales University

Reviews 1

School Library Journal Review

Gr 10 Up-Murphy and Abbotson have pulled together an assortment of materials that would be otherwise hard to find and put them in an easy-to-use format. The material is organized to offer five views of the play and to analyze its impact on American culture in terms of "Cultural Myths and Values," "Economic Interests and Forces," "American Business Culture," "Family and Gender Expectations," and "Sports and American Life." Each chapter concludes with a list of "Study Questions"; "Topics for Written or Oral Exploration"; and "Suggested Readings," which are especially useful for teachers. Some of the material seems out of place (e.g., the eulogy for Jerry Rubin), and the analysis tends toward 1940s/1950s social-drama cliches and stereotypes. The discussion also seems stilted and makes the play seem a little dated. Still, this book will come in quite handy at report time.-Herman Sutter, Saint Pius X High School, Houston, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Benjamin FranklinHoratio Alger Jr.Dale CarnegieM. T. HorwichTheodore RooseveltAlbert W. AtwoodFrederick Jackson TurnerEdward Townsend BoothLewis MumfordSinclair LewisLewis MumfordDavid M. PotterAshley MontaguJ.R. SpragueHenry David ThoreauAlexis de TocquevilleMax LernerHenry AdamsFrederick L. AllenJoseph A. SchumpeterMelvin RaderMax LernerAlexis de TocquevilleThorstein VeblenVance PackardO. R. GeyerMerle CrowellJ. AnnanJohn G. JonesGeorge W. HopkinsJoseph StarobinGeorge Edward Breen et alHarry SimmonsAlexis de TocquevilleAndrew G. Truxal and Francis E. MerrillMax LernerMarion Chase BakerAmey Eaton WatsonClifford OlcottAshley MontaguFrederick Jackson TurnerBarrett WendellWaverly RootAshley MontaguEthel Wadsworth CartlandSheila Kaye-SmithBurt L. StandishF. Scott FitzgeraldWalter CampGeorge GarrettGeorges LechartierAllan HardingStephen HardyMichael NovakMorry RothMartha Farnesworth RicheJeff FauxKeith D. Mano
Introductionp. xiii
1. The Significance of Death of a Salesmanp. 1
2. Cultural Myths and Valuesp. 13
from: "Preface" to Poor Richard Improved (1758)p. 17
from: Bound to Rise: The Story of a Country Boy (1873)p. 19
from: How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)p. 21
from: Advice from Elbert Hubbard (1911?)p. 23
from: "Success is Easy and Sure If You Know the Simple Rules for Achieving It" (1929)p. 24
from: "The Conditions of Success" (1919)p. 26
from: "What Are the Chances of Success Today?" (1920)p. 28
from: "The Problem of the West," in The Frontier in American History (1920)p. 34
from: "The Wild West" (1920)p. 36
from: "The City" (1922)p. 38
from: Babbitt (1922)p. 39
from: "The Paper Dream City," in The Culture of Cities (1938)p. 40
from: "Abundance, Mobility, and Status," in People of Plenty (1954)p. 42
from: "The Cult of Youthfulness," in The American Way of Life (1967)p. 45
from: "The Dangerous Age" (1921)p. 46
3. Economic Interests and Forcesp. 55
from: "Life Without Principle" (1863)p. 58
from: "Of Honor in the United States," in Democracy in America (1838)p. 60
from: "The Reach of the Business Spirit," in America as a Civilization (1957)p. 62
from: "The Dynamo and the Virgin," in The Education of Henry Adams (1907; 1918)p. 67
from "Faster, Faster," in The Big Change (1952)p. 67
from: "Crumbling Walls," in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1947)p. 68
from: "Technology and Community: The Mandates of Survival" (1948)p. 70
from: "The Culture of Science and the Machine," in America as a Civilization (1957)p. 72
from: "Why the Americans Are So Restless in the Midst of Prosperity," in Democracy in America (1838)p. 77
from: "Conspicuous Consumption," in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)p. 79
from: "Selling Symbols to Upward Strivers," in The Hidden Persuaders (1957)p. 80
from: Advertising Copy for the American Face Brick Association (1920)p. 82
4. American Business Culturep. 87
from: "The Oldest Traveling Salesman" (1916)p. 93
from: "What Makes a Good Salesman?" (1916)p. 94
from: "From the Diary of a Traveling Salesman" (1919)p. 96
from: Salesmanship and Sales Management (1919)p. 98
from: "Facts That Beat Eloquence in Salesmanship" (1920)p. 101
from: "The Real 'Star Salesman' in Modern Business" (1922)p. 103
from: "Wanted: Salesmen" (1932)p. 106
from: "Born to Be a Salesman" (1936)p. 107
from: "Selling as a Career," in Effective Selling (1950)p. 113
from: How to Sell Like a Star Salesman (1953)p. 116
5. Family and Gender Expectationsp. 125
from: "Influence of Democracy on the Family," in Democracy in America (1838)p. 127
from: "Social Conflicts in the Family," in The Family in American Culture (1947)p. 129
from: "Growing Up in America," in America as a Civilization (1957)p. 130
from: "The Greatest American Invention" (1919)p. 134
from: "Mothercraft" (1921)p. 135
from: "Standards in Parenthood" (1919)p. 136
from: "For Fathers Only" (1945)p. 137
from: "The American Father," in The American Way of Life (1967)p. 144
from: Advertising Copy for Cutler Desks (1920)p. 145
from: "Pioneers' Ideals and the State University" (1910)p. 146
from: Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1922)p. 147
from: "Collector's Note," in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1922)p. 150
from: "Sex and the Double Standard" (1947)p. 151
from: "Sex and Sex Education," in The American Way of Life (1967)p. 153
from: "Wanted: Motives for Motherhood" (1921)p. 157
from: "The New Woman" (1921)p. 159
from: Advertisement for Congoleum Rugs (1920)p. 161
6. Sports and American Lifep. 165
from: Front cover illustration from St. Nicholas for Boys and Girls Magazine (1920)p. 171
from: Frank Merriwell's Schooldays (1901)p. 172
from: This Side of Paradise (1920)p. 174
from: "Address to the NCAA Annual Convention" (1921)p. 175
from: "Locker Room Talk: Notes on the Social History of Football," in Sports in America (1992)p. 177
from: "Americans and Sport" (1921)p. 181
from: "How to 'Play Your Game'--Whatever It Is" (1922)p. 183
from: "Albert Goodwill Spalding (1850-1915)," in Essays on Sport History and Sport Mythology (1990)p. 184
from: "The Third Seal: Bond of Brothers," in The Joy of Sports (1976)p. 188
7. Death of a Salesman's Impact on American Culturep. 197
from: "New Breed of Salesman, Not Like Willy" (1964)p. 203
from: "Un-do Death of a Salesman: Vince Lombardi vs. Willy Loman" (1969)p. 207
from: "Willy Loman Rides Again" (1988)p. 208
from: "What Now, Willy Loman?" (1983)p. 212
from: "Deaths of a Salesman" (1977)p. 214
from: "Death of a Salesman," Obituary for Jerry Rubin (1994)p. 216
Indexp. 221