What happens in Richard Cory?

This narrative poem is written in the first person plural, where the "we" refers to the citizens of a small town. These poor townsfolk think Richard Cory too rich and well-educated to befriend.

  • It's evident from the way Cory walks around town, trying to strike up conversations with its citizens, that he's lonely and wants to make a human connection.

  • The townsfolk don't understand that Cory is searching for common ground between them. They are hyperaware of the differences between them and treat him like royalty. Finally, Cory can't take the isolation and puts a bullet in his head.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Richard Cory,” which first appeared in The Children of the Night and remains one of Robinson’s most popular poems, recalls the economic depression of 1893. At that time, people could not afford meat and had a diet mainly of bread, often day-old bread selling for less than freshly baked goods. This hard-times experience made the townspeople even more aware of Richard’s difference from them, so much so that they treated him as royalty.

Although the people were surprised that Richard came to town dressed “quietly” and that he was “always human when he talked” (that is, he did not act superior), they nonetheless distanced themselves from him. This distance is suggested by the narrator’s words “crown,” “imperially,” “grace,” “fluttered pulses,” and “glittered.” The townspeople never stopped to consider why Richard dressed and spoke the way he did, why he came to town when everyone else was there, or even why he tried to make contact with them by saying “good morning.”

Richard was wealthy, but (as his name hints) he was not rich at the life-core of himself. Despite his efforts at communal connection, Richard’s wealth isolated him from others. He was alone. If the townspeople wished they were in his place because of his wealth, he in turn wished he were one of them because they were rich in one another’s company. The townspeople failed to appreciate the value of their mutual support of one another, their nurturing communal togetherness. So one...

(The entire section is 410 words.)