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Edwin Arlington’s “Richard Cory” Poem Analysis

Introduction

The author skillfully springs a surprise on his unsuspecting audience when Richard Cory violently ends his life. The ironic contrast created highlights certain facts about life. For instance, it is virtually impossible to identify events happening within a person by looking at external features. In addition, the people society envies often have similar or worse problems than the general population. Finally, wealth and high social standing do not guarantee a happy life. It is worth noting that none of these lessons are explicitly stated. Instead, the author compares two aspects of life and lets the readers judge for themselves. The poet creates a memorable portrait by choosing specific words and stylistic devices to highlight specific themes that help explicate different meanings.

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Setting

It is worth noting that two distinct settings are established in the poem. The first is the downtown region of the city, where most people in the community live. Even though no specific descriptions can be identified in the text, it is evident that it is a characteristically poor region. The people here do without meat in an attempt to save enough money to escape and hopefully live like Cory. References to the protagonist’s home are reminiscent of a wealthy suburb. The juxtaposition of the night’s calmness and the brutality of a gunshot served to suggest that the city’s uptown is a serene, affluent place that was shaken by a distressing act.

Themes

The poem highlights the sharp contrast between society’s rich and poor to expound on the connection between wealth and happiness. The author emphasizes the difference between Cory’s wealth and the underprivileged in the community in an attempt to teach an important moral lesson. The disparity is aimed at stressing the fact that money does not buy happiness. The narrator’s neighbors are physically separated from the wealthy gentleman who, on occasion, visits the downtown area. This detachment from the crowded, dirty, and loud part of the city is an indication of the protagonist’s affluence. The author’s choice of words coupled with an explicitly hyperbolic assessment of economic prosperity underscores the main character’s riches. For instance, he points out that Cory, who appears glittered, was richer than a king (Gray 3). Unlike the prosperous gentleman, the rest of the people had to survive on repetitive meals and work hard to fulfill their basic needs. However, despite their endless troubles, the poor live on while Cory tragically ends his life.

The poet underscores how envy and admiration impact people’s lives. The narrator is an ordinary man in the street who describes the main character as imperially slim and “a gentleman richer than a king” (Gary 3). The author does not give any evidence to clarify Cory’s real nature. Instead, the audience is subjected to the people’s views on a regal figure beyond the reach of mere mortals. Even though the community is jealous of Cory’s life, they desire to have his wealth. Readers get the sense that the city’s residents are torn between hate and adulation. This tug of war prevents them from knowing the main character’s true nature. They are incapable of understanding his pain and are subsequently unprepared for his eventual suicide.

The narrator describes the protagonist as an admirable character seemingly out of touch with the challenges the people have to contend with as they battle poverty. However, an opportunity for a personal connection is presented when Cory’s conversations are described as always human (Gary 3). The people’s responses to his greetings are purposely exaggerated to express the degree of their admiration. This veneration quickly turns to resentment as the community wishes they were in Cory’s position. His presence becomes a stark reminder of what they will never achieve. Eventually, the loneliness and isolation that resulted from his community’s fear of connecting contributed to his suicide.

Literary Devices

The author uses irony to highlight the contrast between the peacefulness of the protagonist’s appearance and the brutality with which he took his life. Cory’s melancholy demonstrates that despite his privileges, he is perhaps as spiritually starved and isolated as the rest of society. Therefore, seemingly happy individuals act out devastating mental tragedies that society is unlikely to believe, given the prevalence of prejudice. The events of Cory’s death occurred on a calm summer night. While the rest of the community believed the darkness was tranquil, Cory experienced a significant degree of turmoil. The irony is that the individual the people thought was well-mannered, principled, and happy took his life in perhaps the most violent way imaginable.

The community’s struggles pointed to the fact that life was hard. However, difficulties must never be equated to meaninglessness. While meat and bread symbolize material things, the light represents spiritual sustenance, which is of great value to the people. It is evident that, unlike the locals, Cory’s spirituality was inadequate. In a sense, he was poor and lacked the fortitude to survive life’s challenges despite having more wealth than any other person in the city.

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The use of symbolism to emphasize important themes is evident in the poem. Meat and bread represent two extremes of life that the characters experience. The former represents opulence and happiness, while the latter represents poverty and sadness. The two items represent the contrast between what the people desire and their actual circumstances. While Cory dines to his fill and has access to the best life has to offer, the community struggles to make ends meet. It is worth noting that the protagonist’s name is symbolic of wealth and nobility. Cory rhymes with glory, and he is the core of his family, seeing as he has no children. He is alienated from society and is incapable of forming meaningful connections. His separation from the people eventually leads to his untimely demise.

Conclusion

The author’s decision to use two groups of characters to highlight the contrast between wealth and poverty gives readers a deep understanding of the interactions between literary devices like irony and the poem’s themes. The narrator is detached as he observes the human comedy unfold. While he assumes that Cory is happy because of his affluence, there are no guarantees that these observations are truthful. While the community is unable to connect with the protagonist on account of his god-like characteristics, the isolation stifles the main character. He is unable to communicate his challenges, many of which remain hidden from public view. Frustrated by agony and pain, Cory ends his life violently in a calm and serene neighborhood. The situational irony of the apparently happy protagonist taking his own life serves to underscore the fact that material possessions may not necessarily equate to value and meaning in life.

Reference

Gray, Richard. American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. CUP Archive, 1976.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Edwin Arlington’s “Richard Cory” Poem Analysis." July 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/edwin-arlingtons-richard-cory-poem-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Edwin Arlington’s “Richard Cory” Poem Analysis'. 14 July.

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