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

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Situational irony is created when something happens, often to someone, that is the opposite of what we would expect to happen. For example, the firehouse burning down or a police officer getting robbed would be typical examples of situational irony. We would not expect the firehouse to burn down because the fire fighters and all their equipment are there, and because its burning defies expectation in such a significant way, situational irony is created. The poem, "Richard Cory," presents an individual who seems to have it all, and we would, therefore, expect him to be very happy and contented with his life. However, instead of being happy, Cory must be tragically unhappy because he takes his own life. He is described as "a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored, and imperially slim." He has perfect manners and charm, and he even looks rather regal. He actually "fluttered pulses" when he speaks to people and "glittered when he walked." In other words, he must be extremely attractive. In addition, he is "richer than a king" and "schooled in every grace." Everyone wishes that they "were in his place." Everyone else "went without the meat, and cursed the bread": their lives must be full of toil and difficulty and want. Despite his evident good fortune, however, Richard Cory unexpectedly "put a bullet through his head." His misery or despair is the opposite of what we would expect, and this creates the irony.

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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.

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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.

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