What are some symbols in "Richard Cory"?

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" is rich in symbolism, imagery, and motif, the most important of which are:

"Richard Cory": the name itself is symbolic of the man, as it has the word "rich" in it, repeated in line 9: "And he was rich—yes, richer than a king."  The surname "Cory" is a spin on "core," echoed in line 3 "from heat to toe" and line 6 "he was always human."

The body: appearances are symbolic and, by virtue of the last line, deceiving as well.  Body symbolism and imagery include "sole to crown," "fluttered pulses," "the bullet through his head."  Even the "meat" and "bread" (together forming the "Body of Christ" sacrament) connote suffering.  Together, the people's focus on his bodily figure is ironically undercut by his unhappy suicide and separation from them.

The town: the geography of the town symbolically shows Richard Cory's separation from and status above the townspeople, with dualities of "down town" vs. his "home" where he "was richer than a king."  Line 2 clearly shows the gap in social class between R.C. and the town: "We people on the pavement looked at him."  This implies that R.C. towered or hovered above the masses.

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sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I believe the main symbolic image in this poem is Richard Cory himself.  He symbolizes fame and fortune.  The poem's narrator directly tells readers that Richard Cory was wealthy beyond imagination.  

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—

Additionally, Richard Cory is schooled in perfect social graces, and physically fit.

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
He is who everybody wants to be.  He's the town celebrity that makes everybody stare as he passes by and stutter when he talks to them.  Richard Cory is revered like a king.  
 
Richard Cory is not a king, but he essentially symbolizes that role to the people of the town.  It's why the narrator uses so many kingly and royal words to describe Richard Cory.  Words like "crown," "imperially," "glittered," and "king" are all used to describe Richard Cory.  
 
What I find most interesting about Richard Cory as a kingly symbol of wealth is that the symbolism teaches a very cautionary message.  Richard Cory is so wealthy and graceful, and the townspeople are in such awe of him that Richard Cory is an incredibly lonely and distanced person.  Readers are told that Cory makes huge efforts to be treated like a regular member of the town.  He goes to town, doesn't dress fancy, and talks about normal topics.  He's trying to engage the people of the town, yet they never quite accept him; therefore, he's lonely.  Eventually, he commits suicide to end his loneliness; therefore, I also see Richard Cory's wealth as symbolic of depression and loneliness.  His money simply couldn't buy him happiness and acceptance.  
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