In "Richard Cory" what is the meaning of "irony of situation" in the poem?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irony is defined in Enotes' Guide to Literary Terms as "a figure of speech in which the literal the opposite of that intended".  More specifically, situational irony is when the irony stems from the situation of the story or poem itself.  An example of situational irony might be when a pickpocket gets his own pocket picked.

In "Richard Cory", the poet, E.A. Robinson, describes Mr. Cory's life in consistently positive terms.  Richard Cory is a gentleman, he is rich, people are in awe of him.  His state of life, or situation, as set forth by the writer is eminently desireable; he has achieved a high level of material status and comfort, things for which most everyone aspires.  Our society leads people to believe that if they can only attain these things, they will be happy.  Richard Cory has done that, he must be very happy, people want to be like him.

The irony of Richard Cory's situation is that, despite all indications to the contrary, he is not happy at all.  In fact, he is so unhappy, he kills himself.

Robinson, in this poem, uses situational irony to get his message across.  Taken in literal terms, Richard Cory has a great life, but in reality, it is empty, not wonderful in the least.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Situational irony is when something happens that is unforeseen and entirely different than what the audience anticipates or expects. In Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory," the subject of the poem is described as being admirable and splendid. The neighborhood boys envy Richard Cory's presumably perfect life and wish to trade places with him. Richard Cory is described in positive terms and the speaker mentions that he is "richer than a king." Richard Cory's seemingly perfect life makes the other neighborhood residents curse their lives and lower-class statuses. However, situational irony occurs in the last line of the poem when the speaker mentions that one night, Richard Cory died by suicide. Richard Cory's unfortunate death is ironic because he appeared to live a perfect, magnificent life that everyone envied. Despite his composed, pleasant appearance, Richard Cory was severely suffering from depression and loneliness.