The Deserted Village

by Oliver Goldsmith

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Last Updated on November 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519

Rural Versus Urban Life

In “The Deserted Village,” Goldsmith’s narrator rhapsodizes over a small farming village that once was a perfect place, where people played sports on the town common, danced, and were convivial with each other. Most of all, they 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. Though the speaker mourns the idea of this, he has not truly participated. He never had to do that sort of labor himself; he 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 speaker’s partial views, however, this theme of the poem resonates with us today just as strongly as it did when Goldsmith penned it. Progress has taken a toll on Auburn: 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 one of the central themes 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 in a time of continued technological innovation.

Expectation versus Reality

The romanticized, small-town rural Auburn is what the speaker in the poem expects to encounter. This image is tainted by nostalgia that interferes with the objective truth. While the town itself has clearly changed, the speaker also allows his emotional ties with his hometown to interfere with the reality of it. He has created an image of an entirely positive place in which no one suffered—even the squawking of geese was painted in a positive light. While the speaker is conveying his experience, it is very difficult to separate the reality of rural life from the idealist version that the speaker presents. This brings up the idea of personal interpretation. Like the speaker, we all remember our hometowns, childhoods, or summer breaks with a particular lens. We tend to leave out the smaller details and think in extremes—things were either very bad or very good. The speaker believes that his hometown will align with the image of Auburn he has held for many years. Certainly ravaged, the town itself does not stand a chance in terms of holding up to his expectations. Perhaps this idea was doomed from the start having never been a truly accurate depiction in the first place.

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