What is the central theme throughout the poem Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Theme No. 1: Spiritual Emptiness

Representing the wealthy class, Richard Cory stands apart from the townspeople:

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

They perceive Cory as one to be admired, one who has a perfection beyond their realm, but one, nevertheless, to make them "wish that we were in his place." Since the setting of this poem is after the Depression of the 1890s, it is a time in which the "people on the pavement" felt they had been ignored and left at the mercy of the trusts.

The setting of this poem is the Depression of the 1890s in which society's poor--"we people on the pavement"--felt they had been ignored during these difficult times and left at the mercy of the trusts and the people of the upper class, such as Robinson. Therefore, there is one theme of spiritual emptiness.

Theme No.2: Self-Deception

Although he "glitter[s] when he walks," and he is "always human when he talked," and Richard Cory is "everything /To make us wish that we were in his place, Cory turns out to not as be enviable as those on the pavement have thought him. While his clothes are more appropriate to his social class, Cory "one calm summer night/ Went home and put a bullet through his head." Another theme is that of self-deception.