What is ironic about the poem "Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson?
The irony is found in the end of the poem. "And Richard Cory one calm summer night / Went home and put a bullet through his head." After describing Richard Cory as the man everyone else wanted to be, the author suddenly twists the poem, showing Richard Cory's suicide. "Calm" increases the irony, because it gives a false illusion of peace and contentment, only to be shattered by Richard Cory "putting a bullet through his head." Its situational irony.
When the outcome of a situation is the opposite of what one would expect, that is situational irony. In "Richard Cory," as the poem describes the character, readers believe he is a person who has everything going for him--he has it all. Readers understand why the townspeople--"we people on the pavement"--would envy him, wanting to be in his place.
Richard Cory has good looks: he is "clean-favored and imperially slim." He has good manners and breeding: he is "a gentleman." He has nice clothes and a good presence about him: he is "quietly arrayed" and he glitters when he walks. Yet he doesn't seem to be conceited or to put on airs: he is "human." Not only that, he is extremely wealthy--"richer than a king"--at least to the people who are living in poverty, working for wages that don't even allow them to buy meat.
All these virtues that Richard Cory has make it seem likely that he would be happy and satisfied with his life. Yet he must not be, because he ends up committing suicide. This is ironic because it is so unexpected.
Another irony of the poem, however, is that the "people on the pavement" curse their bread. Instead of being thankful for what they have and finding joy in their lives, they wait "for the light" and wish that they were in Richard Cory's place. This is dramatic irony--when the reader knows something the character doesn't realize. The personae in the poem, the "we," don't realize that their envy robs them of their joy, but readers can contemplate that if Richard Cory's money didn't buy him happiness, then the speakers' unhappiness with their lives is not due to their financial situation either.
"Richard Cory" contains obvious situational irony, since the character who has everything going for him kills himself. It also has dramatic irony because readers understand what the speakers in the poem don't realize, namely that their lack of happiness cannot be alleviated by financial gain.
Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson is a tragic tale that is still relevant in the twenty-first century even though it was written for an audience or reader of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. People suffering from shortages because of economic depression cannot conceive why a person whom they clearly hold in high esteem and who is "admirably schooled in every grace" could be leading such a troubled life. It remains ironic how people measure success by wealth and status. Richard Cory is "richer than a king" and is treated like one by the townspeople.
Only with hindsight is it clear that what Richard really wants is companionship and community. He has never set himself apart by his demeanor or his behavior; he remains friendly and the narrator finds it necessary to mention that he is "human" as the reader may otherwise be surprised that a man of his status is down-to-earth. It is ironic that the narrator makes this comment as the townspeople treat him as if he is a hero and far above the realm of "human." His suicide however proves otherwise and confirms that he has serious concerns even though his concerns differ from theirs. He obviously never "went without the meat..."
Additionally, there is more irony in the fact that the townspeople strive to be like Richard Cory when he is really the last person they should emulate as his life is obviously not idyllic just because he is wealthy. The final irony seems to be in Richard's own attempts to connect which in fact only serve to create more distance between him and the townspeople who are so in awe of him that he "glittered when he walked." Just as the "calm summer night" belies the harsh reality of life so too does Richard Cory's apparent privilege fool the townspeople into believing that "he was everything."