The Deserted Village Themes
by Oliver Goldsmith

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The Deserted Village Themes

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

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.”...

(The entire section is 845 words.)