What happens in the poem "Richard Cory," what is the theme, and can you relate to this poem?Edward Arlington Robinson's "Richard Cory"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edward Arlington Robinson's "Richard Cory" has a title that conjures the contradiction of the man:  He was rich, but not in the core of himself. 

Recalling the economic depression of 1893, the people of this time were unable to afford meat and had to eat bread, often day-old bread; so, they "cursed the bread" in the sense that they bemoaned their economic state.  Keenly, then, they felt the divide between them and the wealthy Richard Cory.  To them, he is like royalty when he appears,

He was a gentlman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim....

And he was rich--yes, richer than a king,...

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

Of course, the irony of this last line quoted is that Richard Cory, in his isolated wealth as the "people on the pavement" separate him from them by elevating him to royalty, wishes that he could be in their place.  That is, he comes "quietly arrayed" and is "human when he talked," saying "Good morning" and speaking to people in the hopes that he can share in human communication.

 But, lying awake in his terrible alienation, Richard Cory who has meat, but no bread of human communion, commits suicide.

The themes of economic status as a divide between people prevails throughout this poem.  Also, there is the theme of appearances vs. reality as the perception of the townspeople is that Cory is like royalty, a being above the mundane needs of people "on the pavement."  They fail to see the humanness of Richard Cory, a man who shares some of their same needs.

Like many of the celebrites whose fame people worships, their inner lives are often tragic.  For instance, Britney Spears is a celebrity that many girls have envied, but, obviously, her life has not been ideally happy.