As soon as Death of a Salesman opened, critics began writing about its relation to Greek tragedy, usually pointing out that Willy doesn't qualify as a tragic hero. Without mentioning his critics, Miller replied with an essay titled " Tragedy and the Common Man.' Death of a Salesman does have a shattering emotional impact that corresponds to that of a Greek tragedy. There are some other similarities- the inevitable movement toward death of the protagonist (or central character) with growing self-awareness, the single story without subplots. Critics have hotly debated the questions of whether Willy is a tragic hero or whether Death of a Salesman is a tragedy. Dramatic tragedy was invented and defined by the Greeks.

Aristotle said a play has to have four elements to qualify as a tragedy: 1) noble or impressive characters; 2) the main character's discovery or recognition of a truth about himself; 3) poetic language; and 4) the ability to arouse and then soothe the audience's pity and fear. Some critics consider that Death of a Salesman is debatable on all four elements, while others think the play meets all these criteria. Arthur Miller argued that times have changed- we no longer live in an era dominated by kings and queens- and so maybe our definition of tragedy should change, too. Though he is a common man- Low-man-, Willy was later described by the author who created him as 'a very brave spirit who cannot settle for half but must pursue his dream of himself to the end.' Though Willy did not have great intellectual powers, Miller claims he did have a self-awareness- otherwise he would not have killed himself when he realized his life was meaningless. The difference between Willy and his salesman neighbor Charley is that Willy is intense and passionate and cares about his dream enough to sacrifice his life to it.

A tragic hero is someone with the dedication to die for a belief, but also someone who has a tragic flaw or limitation that defines him as a character and makes the tragedy happen. He has alternatives, but he chooses to live in a certain way that brings about his downfall. All of this is true of Willy. Willy's struggle was long and finally tragic. Linda says, 'A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.' Miller writes, '... this man is actually a very brave spirit who cannot settle for half but must pursue his dream of himself to the end.' We can find joy in what Willy manages to learn about himself- and in the forgiveness and love he wins from his favorite son..