Understanding Death of a Salesman: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

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Greenwood Press, Jan 1, 1999 - Literary Criticism - 226 pages

This collection of social, cultural, and historical documents and popular materials, with linking explanations and commentary, will help the reader to study the play in the context of its time and cultural background.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

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Contents

Cultural Myths and Values
13
Economic Interests and Forces
55
American Business Culture
87
Copyright

5 other sections not shown

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About the author (1999)

BRENDA MURPHY has taught at Brown University, St. Lawrence University, and the University of Connecticut, where she is currently Professor of English. She is the author of Miller: Death of a Salesman (1995), as well as a number of articles on Arthur Miller. She is also author of Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan: A Collaboration in the Theatre (1992), A Realist in the American Theatre: Selected Drama Criticism of William Dean Howells (1992), American Realism and American Drama, 1880-1940 (1987), the Cambridge Companion to American Women Playwrights (forthcoming), and Congressional Theatre: Dramatizing McCarthyism on Stage, Film, and Television (forthcoming).

SUSAN C. W. ABBOTSON has taught English for fourteen years, first at the high school level, and more recently at the Rhode Island University. A recent Ph.D., she wrote her dissertation on Arthur Miller and August Wilson. She is also author of the drama section for Resources for Teaching: Literature and Its Writers (1997), The Student Companion to Arthur Miller (forthcoming), and a number of entries for the forthcoming Cambridge Guide for Children's Books.

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