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Two themes are developed through the poem's ironic ending. Although Richard Cory enjoyed wealth and social position and was much envied by the working poor, he is the one who commits suicide, as we learn in the poem's last surprising line. The public perception of Cory when contrasted with his suicide develops several themes. All of his wealth and privilege did not bring Cory happiness. Apparently more is required to lead a meaningful life. Also, appearances are deceiving. Those who watched Cory, a man who "glittered" in their eyes, assumed he enjoyed a perfect life. They had no idea that his life was so empty and unbearable.
Upon reflection of those who "glitter when they walk,"--the celebrities of contemporary society--one must note that, like Richard Cory, they inhabit rooms of which no one else has knowledge. (One fairly recent example is that of Philip These rooms, some of which may be the proverbial "brown study" or the blackest despair of the soul, are apparently ones in which those above "the pavement" of ordinary lives wrestle with unconquerable torments, while the ordinary people "who cursed the bread" in their discontent and envy of the rich and famous live out their banal lives.
Edward Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" relates the truth that all persons are inscrutable to others; for no one can truly know all that dwells within another's mind. Thus, Robinson touches upon the theme of the existential aloneness of each human being. Paradoxically, this aloneness of Cory was exaberated by his celebrity. For, when he comes to town he is alienated from the citizens because of their perception of him as "imperially slim" and "schooled in every grace," and far above them in stature, so much so that no one really communicates with him.
"Richard Cory" was written by Edwin Arlington Robinson in 1897 and reflects a period of high income inequality in the United States, exacerbated by the Panic of 1893, a depression caused in part by bank runs.
The first theme of the poem is economic inequality. Rather than wealth being distributed evenly within the town, it is unequally distributed, causing significant social stratification. Although Cory is apparently polite and not disliked, there is a vast social gulf between him and the townspeople and no possibility of friendship or even shared activities and interests.
The second theme is that money does not bring happiness. Although Richard Cory was "richer than a king", he still committed suicide.
A third theme is the impossibility of knowing what happens within the mind of other people. The nameless narrator of the poem observes Richard Cory from the outside, thinking:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place
The narrator, though, has no idea whether Cory is actually happy or not or whether his "place" is pleasant.
The theme of "Richard Cory" is isolation and loneliness. Richard Cory may have "everything" in the eyes of the narrator, but he is isolated from everyone in town. He is unable to interact with anyone as a peer, since the perception is that he is royalty, "richer than a king," and the townspeople are his subjects. This point is reinforced by the author's use of the word "crown" to describe Cory's head, as well as the image of Richard Cory walking down the street alone, greeting the people, as they stand by watching mutely. "He was always human when he talked" implies he is actually something other than human, something greater than those with whom he interacts. The townspeople do not see him as a person, but as a symbol of everything they want, everything they cannot possess. The townspeople are able to be a unit, as is shown in the use of the plural pronoun "we." However, Cory is not part of this group. He is an entity to himself. There is no possibility of Cory being able to have a friend or confidante among the people who see him as royalty. Any problems he has he must deal with alone and without support. No one was aware of his problems, only of their own, since Cory never confided in anyone, nor did he ever appear to be anything less than perfect when in public. This is why no one, including the reader, foresees Richard Cory's suicide. He had everything, all the objects and entertainments money could buy, but never did he have a friend to broach his isolation.
The primary theme in Edward Arlington Robinson's poem Richard Cory is simply that material wealth does not equate to happiness. He constructs this theme carefully as the character is consistently presented as being an object of adoration among the working class, being rich ("richer than a king"), well-mannered and physically fit ("a gentleman from sole to crown,/Clean favored, and imperially slim."); until the final stanza, Richard Cory is shown to have everything a person could considerably want. The poem's characteristic turn comes at this point, as we reflect on how the common people kept working, wishing they could be in the same position, oblivious to the unspoken inner conflict that Cory must have held. The final line hits abruptly, enforcing the point that riches don't buy joy and that all that glitters, as Cory himself is described as having done, is not gold. There is no build up to this moment, and it comes as shock to the reader as it does the working poor, as those last words give us his suicide.
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