What is the theme of the poem "Richard Cory " and what we can learn from it?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson is a poem composed of four quatrains rhymed ABAB. It is a narrative poem, written in the first person plural, with the narrative "we" representing the voice of the poorer people in the town. The eponymous Richard Cory appears to be a wealthy gentleman living slightly outside town, probably on a large estate. The townspeople regard Richard Cory as an iconic figure, very different from themselves, and although he appears to be polite and not ostentatious, his manners and deportment seem quite alien, smooth, polished, graceful and unlike those common in town. The people of the town envy his wealth and his polish, and wish they were more like him. The final lines of the poem are: 

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
No explanation is offered for this suicide. What this suggests is that the townspeople's understanding of Richard Cory was quite superficial, based only on external appearances. They assumed that his life was happy because he had material wealth; this assumption proved false. The main theme of the poem is that we cannot know people simply by seeing them walk down the street and occasionally indulging in polite small talk. A second theme is that wealth does not necessarily bring happiness.