One of the most controversial issues brought up with the play "Death of a Salesman- is whether or not the play can be categorized as a classical tragedy. When asked if he would call his play a tragedy, Arthur Miller was quoted as answering "I think it does engender tragic feelings, at least in a lot of people. Let's say it's one kind of tragedy. I'm not particularly eager to call it a tragedy or anything else; the label doesn't matter to me." Often the plays status as such is hinged on the appropriateness of its tragic protagonist, which is what I shall discuss here. .
The term "tragedy" normally refers to a form of drama in which a central character, the tragic protagonist or hero, suffers some serious misfortune that is not accidental but logically connected with his actions. It stresses the vulnerability of human beings whose misfortunes are a result of a combination of controllable and uncontrollable actions, but is generally undeserved with regard to its harshness. An example of a tragedy would be Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which Hamlet is a great prince, passionate yet indecisive, and it is his inability to make decisions that becomes his mortal flaw that contributes to his ill fate. .
There are many critics who believe that tragedies can no longer be effectively written in today's world. These critics believe that the tragic mode is archaic, fit only for the very highly placed, the kings or the kingly and therefore cannot realistically exist in the modern world. Tragedy, and tragic hero's are possible in the modern world. In fact, modern tragedy has the potential to affect an audience even more than archaic tragedies, but only if the tragic hero is an average man, whose downfall can be linked to man's quest to belong in society. As the definition of tragedy changes, so do the causes of it. Perhaps it is because of the modern setting, that people understand the tragedy more. Many of Shakespeare's "tragic hero's- displayed qualities which are held against Willy as being ignoble.