Brenda Murphy

Understanding Death of a Salesman: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents
Journal Articles
CV/ Resume
After the Voyage
Becoming Carlotta
Theatre of Tennessee Williams


Brenda Murphy and Susan C. W. Abbotson, Understanding Death of a Salesman: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents.  Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

This collection of social, cultural, and historical documents and popular materials, with linking explanations and commentary, will help the reader to study the play in the context of its time and cultural background.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 the ways in which 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.

Link to this book at

Link to this book at Greenwood Publishing Group website

Link to more information on this book at Google Book Search



1. The Significance of Death of a Salesman

2.     Cultural Myths and Values


Benjamin Franklin, "Preface" to Poor Richard

Improved (1758)

Horatio Alger Jr., Bound to Rise: The Story of a Country Boy (1873)

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)

Advice from Elbert Hubbard (1911?)

M. T. Horwich, "Success Is Easy and Sure If You Know the Simple Rules for Achieving It" (1929)

Theodore Roosevelt, "The Conditions of Success" (1919)

Albert W. Atwood, "What Are the Chances of Success Today?" (1920)

Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Problem of the West," in The Frontier in American History (1920)

Edward Townsend Booth, "The Wild West" (1920) Lewis Mumford, "The City" (1922) Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922)

Lewis Mumford, "The Paper Dream City," in The Culture of Cities (1938)

David M. Potter, "Abundance, Mobility, and Status," in People of Plenty (1954)

Ashley Montagu, "The Cult of Youthfulness," in The American Way of Life (1967)

J. R. Sprague, "The Dangerous Age" (1921)

3. Economic Interests and Forces


Henry David Thoreau, "Life Without Principle"


Alexis de Tocqueville, "Of Honor in the United States," in Democracy in America (1838)

Max Lerner, "The Reach of the Business Spirit," in America as a Civilization (1957)

Henry Adams, "The Dynamo and the Virgin," in The Education of Henry Adams (1907; 1918)

Frederick L. Allen, "Faster, Faster," in The Big Change (1952)

Joseph A. Schumpeter, "Crumbling Walls," in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1947)

Melvin Rader, "Technology and Community: The Mandates of Survival" (1948)

Max Lerner, "The Culture of Science and the Machine," in America as a Civilization (1957)

Alexis de Tocqueville, "Why the Americans Are So Restless in the Midst of Prosperity," in Democracy in America (1838)

Thorstein Veblen "Conspicuous Consumption," in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)

Vance Packard, "Selling Symbols to Upward Strivers," in The Hidden Persuaders (1957)

Advertising Copy for the American Face Brick Association (1920)

4. American Business Culture


O. R. Geyer, "The Oldest Traveling Salesman"


Merle Crowell, "What Makes a Good Salesman?" (1916)

J. Annan, "From the Diary of a Traveling Salesman"


John G. Jones, Salesmanship and Sales Management


"Facts That Beat Eloquence in Salesmanship" (1920)

George W. Hopkins, "The Real 'Star Salesman' in Modern Business" (1922)

"Wanted: Salesmen" (1932)

Joseph Starobin, "Born to Be a Salesman" (1936)

George Edward Breen et al., "Selling as a Career," in Effective Selling (1950)

Harry Simmons, How to Sell Like a Star Salesman (1953)

5. Family and Gender Expectations


Alexis de Tocqueville, "Influence of Democracy on

the Family," in Democracy in America (1838)

Andrew G. Truxal and Francis E. Merrill, "Social Conflicts in the Family," in The Family in American Culture (1947)

Max Lerner, "Growing Up in America," in America as a Civilization (1957)

"The Greatest American Invention" (1919)      

Marion Chase Baker, "Mothercraft" (1921)      

Amey Eaton Watson, "Standards in Parenthood"


Clifford Olcott, "For Fathers Only" (1945)       

Ashley Montagu, "The American Father," in The

American Way of Life (1967)                              

Advertising Copy for Cutler Desks (1920)       

Frederick Jackson Turner, "Pioneers' Ideals and the

State University" (1910)                                   

John A. Lomax, ed., Cowboy Songs and Other

Frontier Ballads (1922)                                     

Barrett Wendell, "Collector's Note," in Cowboy

Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1922)       

Waverly Root, "Sex and the Double Standard"


Ashley Montagu, "Sex and Sex Education," in The
American Way of Life (1967)                             

Ethel Wadsworth Cartland, "Wanted: Motives for
Motherhood" (1921)                                         

Sheila Kaye-Smith, "The New Woman" (1921)

Advertisement for Congoleum Rugs (1920)      

6. Sports and American Life                                    


Front cover illustration from St. Nicholas for Boys

and Girls Magazine (1920)                                

Burt L. Standish, Frank Merriwell's Schooldays


F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920)   

Walter Camp, "Address to the NCAA Annual

Convention" (1921)                                           

George Garrett, "Locker Room Talk: Notes on the

Social History of Football," in Sports in America


Georges Lechartier, "Americans and Sport" (1921)

Allan Harding, "Mow to  Play Your Game'-Whatever It Is" (1922)

Stephen Hardy, "Albert Goodwill Spalding (1850-1915)," in Essays on Sport History and Sport Mythology (1990)

Michael Novak, "The Third Seal: Bond of Brothers," in The Joy of Sports (1976)

7. Death of a Salesman's Impact on American Culture


"New Breed of Salesman, Not Like Willy" (1964)

Morry Roth, "Un-do Death of a Salesman: Vince Lombardi vs. Willy Loman" (1969)

Martha Farnesworth Riche, "Willy Loman Rides Again" (1988)

Jeff Faux, "What Now, Willy Loman?" (1983) Keith D. Mano, "Deaths of a Salesman" (1977)

"Death of a Salesman," Obituary for Jerry Rubin (1994)


Powered by