Critical Insights: Death of a Salesman

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editor: Brenda Murphy
    Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of
    English at the University of Connecticut
September 2009 · 1 volume · 352 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-610-1
# of Pages: 352
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-611-8
eBook Single User Price: $105

In-depth critical discussions of Arthur Miller's great drama - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

When it premiered, Death of a Salesman received immediate critical praise and popular attention. Miller set out to change the face of American Drama and succeeded. The play won the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, the Donaldson Award, and Tony Awards for best play, best direction, best scene design, and best supporting actor. To this day, it remains one of the most-read and most performed plays in the world, and no survey course on American Drama would be complete without it.

Edited by distinguished scholar and one-time President of the American Theatre and Drama Society, Brenda Murphy, this volume brings together some of the best essays written on Miller's most accomplished play. The essays contained within present a variety of critical viewpoints and an array of critical approaches. Close readings include Jon Dietrick's consideration of the play in the context of literary naturalism and monetary theory and Terry W. Thompson's analysis of Willy's comparison of Biff to Hercules. Chester E. Eisinger looks at the differences between dream and reality while also considering the competing dreams of the Loman family and Fred Ribkoff addresses the dynamics of shame, guilt, empathy, and the search for identity in the play. In the volume's two concluding essays, Matthew C. Roudané provides a broad-based reading of Salesman while Christopher Bigsby considers the play in the context of American Culture.

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index


From "About This Volume"
This volume in the Critical Insights series offers a diverse and farranging selection of criticism on Arthur Miller’s major play Death of a Salesman (1949), the most significant American play of the twentieth century. The volume is divided into two parts, the first composed of essays that were commissioned specifically for this volume and the second of reprinted essays that not only are interesting and revealing studies in themselves but reflect the play’s critical history as well.

As background for the individual critical studies, the editor’s “On Death of a Salesman” and Elizabeth Gumport’s Paris Review perspective present a general critical context for the play, and Carl Rollyson provides a brief biography of Arthur Miller. These essays are followed by new articles that illuminate Death of a Salesman from several different perspectives. Jon Dietrick offers a close analysis of Salesman in the context of literary Naturalism and monetary theory. Joshua E. Polster provides the too often ignored historical context of the 1930s theaters of social protest, seeing Salesman as the culmination of the social drama movement in the United States. Neil Heims takes a new approach to the much-debated issue of the nature of tragedy in Salesman. Amy Sickels provides a broad overview of some of the issues that have interested the play’s critics in the sixty years since its premiere.

The essays reprinted in the second section reflect the wide variety of critical and theoretical perspectives that have been trained on Death of a Salesman. Setting the stage for a good deal of criticism to come, in his 1970 essay Chester Eisinger writes of the play’s antithesis between dream and reality and the competing dreams of the Loman family. Irving Jacobson presents an early exploration of the play in terms of Willy Loman’s need to, in Miller’s words, “make of the world a home,” arguing thatWilly is not a modern Everyman but rather “an anomaly, a bourgeois romantic.” In more recent criticism, Kay Stanton’s provocative analysis of Miller’s treatment of women argues that the male-oriented American Dream presented in the play requires “unacknowledged dependence upon women as well as women’s subjugation and exploitation,” and suggests that Linda Loman, as “common woman,” has greater tragic nobility thanWilly. From a postmodern perspective, Granger Babcock interrogates the prevailing notion ofWilly Loman as liberal subject, arguing that he represents Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the “desiring machine.” Fred Ribkoff addresses the dynamics of shame, guilt, empathy, and the search for identity in Salesman, arguing that Biff Loman’s confrontation with feelings of shame enables him to “find himself, separate his sense of identity from that of his father, and empathize with his father.” In a brief but illuminating close reading, Terry W. Thompson demonstrates the deep resonance and the ironic implications of Willy’s casual comparison of Biff to Hercules. Through her analysis based on Deborah Tannen’s study of gender-associated linguistic patterns, Heather Cook Callow offers the intriguing argument that it is notWilly’s failure to succeed, but “the curiously androgynous nature of his goals and methods that adds fuel to critics’ dispute over his right to the title of American Everyman.” Lois Tyson gives a provocative reading of Salesman based on the question, “How do psychology and ideology intersect in this drama to make the traditional Americanist separation of psyche and socius an untenable theoretical construct?” Matthew Roudané gives a deeply informed overview reading of Salesman both as literary work and as production. Finally, based on his unequaled knowledge of Salesman’s composition and Miller’s life and work, Christopher Bigsby gives a richly layered reading of the play in the context of American culture. Achronology of Miller’s life, a list of his major works, and a bibliography complete the volume.