The townspeople look at Richard Cory with a mixture of admiration, envy, and awe. The crucial factor in their view of him is that he represents success, the achievement of having made money and yet still having remained "down to earth":
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked.
Cory represents the "American Dream." The essence of that dream is to rise from an ordinary beginning to wealth (though we have no way of knowing if this has really been Cory's path), unlike in Europe where class and wealth were largely inherited things. Ordinary Americans historically have often identified with the rich because of the promise that anyone can make it on his or her own in the US meritocracy. The bitterness of the speaker in "Richard Cory" is unexpected and strikes the reader like a whip:
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
Given this, and the fact that Richard Cory goes home and "puts a bullet through his head," the townspeople thus seem to be mistaken in viewing him with envy. One might consider what this says about the American Dream as it affects both those who have "made it" and those who have not. Also, one might look at the 1965 Simon and Garfunkel song based on Robinson's poem and consider which aspects of it Paul Simon's lyrics expand on, and which aspects are emphasized or deemphasized, and what this says about that same dream.