When Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman in 1949, he created a character whose actions have been subject to debate, specifically regarding him as a tragic hero. By definition, a tragic hero is one who would sacrifice oneself in order to preserve a level of dignity. Arthur Miller once wrote "the tragic feeling is invoked whenever we are in the presence of a character, any character, who is ready to sacrifice his life, if need be, to secure one thing, his sense of personal dignity." He believes that the common man could be as apt a subject to tragedy as a king; that the common man aspires, thinks, and suffers, characteristics of one who can identify with tragedy. Willy Loman, in spite of the period of time in which he was portrayed, fails to perpetuate the stereotypical attitude of the common man, especially in his line of work, sales. As a husband, he fails to provide his wife, Linda, with appropriate respect. Although in their younger days Biff and Happy looked to their father for support and as a source of inspiration, tension grew among father and sons as they moved further away from what Willy felt was a perfect future for them. As a tragic hero, he is an ideal example.
To succeed in the line of sales, one must be respected and well liked. Willy Loman believes that, even at the age of 63, he is still handsome, respected and liked. He also feels that everyone is out to destroy his dignity. This can be attributed to the way he and Charley quarrel about his job. Charley says to Willy "Don't get insulted" (43) after offering him a position at his work. Willy is upset by this because he feels that Charley is challenging him, and if he accepts his offer he will be compromising his dignity. In reality, Charley knows that Willy should not be on the road as he is with his current job, but Willy will not have it. It is through common consent that we know tragedy often befalls the arrogant.