Arthur Miller’s “Death of a salesman” is not a tragedy according to the conventional concept of tragedy in which the hero and fate come into conflict and fate causes the tragedy of the hero or the central protagonist.
The play cannot attain the stature of a genuine tragedy because of its extreme social awareness nor can it be a social drama because it is fitting to call it a social tragedy and it is. Social tragedy is a modern kind of tragedy in which the conflict between the central protagonist and society is depicted and the protagonist becomes the victim of society’s ill-treatment.
Arthur Miller in his drama “Death of a Salesman” depicts the conflict within the family and the conflict between protagonist and the society. He is misfit in the capitalist society. He is the victim of a social injustice and this social injustice causes his tragedy.
Willy Loman, the protagonist, has been working in a company for almost thirsty-six years. He introduces the firm in many cities. He often says to his colleagues that he is a vital man for the firm. It is only due to Willy’s effort that the firm has been introduced in many cities of America.
Willy Loman in his life, keeping David Singleman’s charming personality as a model before him, dreams of success which is for a big house, a beautiful car and a good job which earns him a lot of money. But despite his head-long service for thirty-six years, he is unable to achieve his goals of success. He is misfit in the capitalistic society in which for being successful one has to be practical and hardworking, whereas, a dreamer like Willy Loman is sure to be a victim of failure. At the age of sixty three he is working on commission and his salary is so little that he cannot pay his installments of insurance and of other households. He often has to borrow money from Charley to pay his installments.
His own failure in achieving his goal of success and his son’s failure in getting settled is frustrating and maddening him. He is in the verge of mental collapse. He cannot concentrate on his car driving and smashes his car for two or three times. Willy makes up his mind to see his employer, Howard, and ask him to give him a non-traveling job in New York and to increase his salary.
He considers himself a vital man for the firm but he is not aware of the fact that in the capitalistic society a man is needed so long as a man can raise profit for the firm. The sooner he is incapable of raising benefit for the firm, the sooner he is fired out. Willy realizes the fact when instead of considering his plea on the humanitarian grounds, Howard fires him out. Howard totally ignores his forty years service for the firm. As Willy can no more raise benefit to the firm so he is no more wanted at all. Howard says:
I cannot take blood from a stone.
Willy realizes that he is not a vital man at all for the firm and speaks the beautiful line, a satire on capitalistic society, that these capitalistic profiteers eat the fruit and throw the peels away.
To conclude we can rightly say that “Death of a Salesman” is a modern social tragedy in which conflict between man and society has been depicted. Willy Loman, the protagonist, becomes the victim of social injustice which compels him to commit suicide.