Themes

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Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 273

Rural Versus Urban Life

In The Deserted Village , Goldsmith rhapsodizes over a small farming village that once was a perfect place, where people played sports on the town common, danced, were convivial with each other, and weren't poisoned by money and greed. But farming life is also a harsh...

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Rural Versus Urban Life

In The Deserted Village, Goldsmith rhapsodizes over a small farming village that once was a perfect place, where people played sports on the town common, danced, were convivial with each other, and weren't poisoned by money and greed. But farming life is also a harsh life, and the hardscrabble realities of it are glossed over in Goldsmith's poem. He never had to do that sort of labor himself, only saw it done by others. He talks in the poem of people traveling across "half the convex world" to go to America, a land he depicts as fraught with scorpions and tigers, savage men and tornados—which ignores a great deal of America's grandeur and beauty, to say the least.

The Cost of Progress

Despite Goldsmith's partial views, however, the theme of the poem resonates with us today just as strongly as it did when Goldsmith penned it. The small town isn't what it used to be. Progress and greed have taken over the once-friendly community, putting neighbors at odds. This is an ongoing and compelling theme in life today, and is the central theme of the poem. Even if the rosy picture of the good old days isn't always one hundred percent accurate, people inherently feel a great loss when a simpler way of life is overrun by development, which nearly always has greed at its heart, not the benefit of the community. "The Deserted Village," for all its sunny remembrances of times past, captures a certain essential truth: that is, once something is gone, it is gone forever. This theme of Goldsmith's poem is a potent message to us today.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572

Goldsmith’s main purpose in writing The Deserted Village was to mourn the passing of a way of life. Undoubtedly, he too much romanticizes and idealizes the beauty and simplicity of the village; the purity, innocence, and honesty of its people; and the genuine goodness of their lives. The poet captures the essence of all things good about an agrarian village with common lands, trusting people, and social order and stability; he totally ignores any negative aspects of such an existence, particularly those of pervasive ignorance and incessant hard work—in short, of peasantry. At the same time, he overdramatizes the barbarity and hardship of America and those who went there from such places as England and Ireland.

The poem also can be interpreted as a series of futile indictments. Primarily, the English government is castigated for systematically destroying a way of life that, as Goldsmith recalls from his own youth, was faultlessly good. Developments in agriculture required an end to commonly used land for grazing and farming; in its place, a more productive system required individual ownership and control of small farms. The government had enacted such changes without regard for those whose livelihood and way of living it was uprooting. In his metaphor of Auburn as woman-become-prostitute, it is the English government to which Goldsmith refers when he uses the word “betrayer.”

At the same time, America is held up with contempt for the worst of its faults, and this is done with a complete absence of recognition of its good points. Not only have the English government and the “rich” victimized these villagers by driving them away from hearth and home, but also America will continue the persecution with the “various terrors of that horrid shore.” America is a place where the sun is too hot and the “birds forget to sing.” It is overrun with wild animals (bats, scorpions, rattlesnakes) that will traumatize the harmless and simplistic newcomers. Even nature is participatory; Goldsmith mentions the “mad tornado” and “ravaged landscape,” which are unfairly contrasted with “The cooling brook, the grassy-vested green,/ The breezy covert of the warbling grove,/ That only sheltered thefts of harmless love.”

The theme of The Deserted Village transcends the cliché “you can’t go home again.” The poet accepts this fact and focuses on the loss of rustic goodness and the inevitable effort of progress to displace such goodness in the name of callous wealth. Toward the end of the poem, he does manage to utter his eternal “Farewell.” He is content to hope only that goodness and simplicity in a way of life will not be forgotten as part of cultural heritage and history. He addresses himself with:

Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,Redress the rigors of this inclement clime;Aid slighted truth with thy persuasive strain;Teaching erring man to spurn the rage of gain;Teach him that states, of native strength possessed,Though very poor, may still be very blest;

Goldsmith’s recognition is that “erring man” possibly can be taught, if not to undo such actions, at least to understand and appreciate them.

The last four lines were added by Samuel Johnson, with Goldsmith’s approval. They enhance the indictment of business and wealth that result in a denigration and diminishing of rustic goodness. In the last two lines, it is seen that individuals can resist such changes through perseverance “As rocks resist the billows and the sky.”

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