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Narration in Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory"

Summary:

The poem "Richard Cory" by Edwin Arlington Robinson is narrated by an unnamed member of the town. The narrator represents the collective voice of the townspeople, providing an external perspective on Richard Cory's life and emphasizing the contrast between Cory's outward appearance of wealth and success and his inner despair.

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Who is the narrator of the poem "Richard Cory"?

The narrator of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" is one of the people who lives in the same town as Cory but someone who is of a lower socioeconomic class than he. It seems evident the narrator is an adult male. The perspective of the narrator seems to be one of envy, but not one of ever being eligible to be romantically involved with Cory. When the narrator says Cory "fluttered pulses," it seems a bit detached. One envisions the ladies' hearts beating faster when they see him, probably not the men's. So since the narrator doesn't say "our pulses fluttered when he passed," it seems likely the narrator is male. The narrator also says Cory had everything to make "us" wish that we were in his place. A man would want to have the place of Cory, where a woman (especially in that time period) might daydream about marrying into that station by attracting Cory's love.

It's clear that the narrator lives in poverty because he "went without the meat and cursed the bread," meaning he is too poor to buy better food. It's likely that he works in an unskilled trade, perhaps in a mill or factory. He groups himself in with "we people on the pavement," meaning that he was one of the mass of regular people who lived in the town who did not enjoy any special status. The narrator's age is probably similar to Richard Cory's since he does not call out Cory as being older or younger than himself. My guess is that both may have been in their thirties--in the prime of life. 

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Discuss the narration in Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory".

In literature, the author provides an avenue for the reader to look at the world that he has created.  This is the point of view which establishes how the work will be seen and heard.  The narration in “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson is a first person point of view narrator.  This is important because the story in the poem will be told by someone who was there and observed firsthand what happened.

The narrator in the poem is a citizen of the town in which Richard Cory lives. This will help the reader to understand that the speaker personally observes Cory as he walks the streets of Tilbury [a fictitious town created by Robinson for his poetry] Through the use of the first person pronouns, it becomes obvious that the speaker knows this regal man who deceives everyone in town. The narrator speaks for the townspeople.

  • We people of the pavement…
  • In fine, we thought that he was everything…
  • So on we worked

The narrator is a common working man who typically has little material value.  At times, he cannot afford meat to feed his family.  The speaker tells the story as a flashback, showing how this grand man who seemed to have everything felt so alienated that he killed himself.

Deferential and envious—the people of the pavement are deceived by the persona of Cory.  To the speaker, he is everything that the citizenry would like to be. Richard Cory, according to the narrator, would walk to the heart of the town.  He was impeccably dressed and was courtly in his manners. To the narrator, Richard Cory was the epitome of a gentleman.  

Richard Cory was extremely rich.  Apparently Cory did not flaunt his wealth because he was always under dressed for his status.  He was highly educated. An unusual aspect about this man was that he spoke to the people in a fashion that made the narrator feel that Cory was “human” when he talked. The use of human implies that the speaker believes that Cory is better than the common folks,but he strives to be a part of the conversation as an equal.

In comparison, the “we” in the poem are lacking in many ways.  Inferentially, they are poor, under educated, and hardworking. They wish that they were Richard Cory. Their regard for him isolates him and projects snobbery on the part of these common people.

Ironically, the speaker describes this elegant man, yet he saves the revelation until the end.  Richard Cory was so unhappy and miserable that he killed himself. 

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

This irony is obvious. On the surface, the man is greatly admired. Yet, his inner turmoil takes the joy from his life, and he kills himself.

The townspeople may hold some culpability in Cory’s death.  In the poem, no one engages Cory.  He walks among them but the citizens are so awed by this man that they did not make him a comrade.  Richard Cory was alone.  He would go downtown in the morning, but he killed himself at night when he was by himself.

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Discuss the narration in Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory".

Edwin Arlington Robinson reported to a friend that Frank Avery had shot and killed himself with a shot gun.  This was the inspiration for the poem “Richard Cory.” The narrator of the poem is a citizen of the town in which Cory lives.  The poem is full of complexities and contrasts. 

Paraphrase

The poem has four quatrains.  It follows a set rhyme scheme of ABAB in each stanza.

Stanza 1

When Richard Cory is in town, the common people watch him.  His manners denote him as a complete gentleman from the top of his head to the  bottom of his feet.  He was handsome and regally slender.

Stanza 2

His style of dress was not over stated.  When he talked to the people on the street, Cory did not sound condescending.  Yet, his persona caused the ladies react with a quiver inside when he spoke to them or said: “Good morning.” As he walked through the town, he appeared to shimmer.

Stanza 3

Cory was extremely wealthy—even richer than royalty. He was cultured and well educated. The citizenry of the town respected everything about Cory; so much so, that they envied him and wished that they could exchange places with him.

In fine, we thought that he was eveything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

Stanza 4

Their lives go on with working and waiting for something to happen to change the drudgery.  Sometimes, they did not have enough to eat: bread not meat. This much admired man on a normal evening in summer went into his house and put a gun to his head and killed himself.

Analysis

The sad aspect of Richard Cory’s life is that he seems to be searching for something that the people do not give him or with their busy lives, do not see that he needs: friendship.  He tries to be a part of their lives.  He comes to town; he  speaks to them on their level.  Because of their excessive admiration for him, they do not allow him into their lives.

The narrator of the poem continually places Cory in a royal position. 

  • He is a gentleman from sole to crown.
  • Clean favored, and imperially slim.
  • And he was rich—yes, richer than a king---

Part of the lack of connection with Cory may have been his elevated status.  Who would be friends with a member of the royalty of an aristocrat?

Obviously, Cory’s loneliness must have been overwhelming.  For someone who appears to have had everything, in reality, he had nothing that made him happy. The reader does not know the actual reason for his suicide, but the lack of real relationships among his neighbors may have been part of his problem.

The poem leaves many questions unanswered. Although the poem is over one hundred years old, the same problems are in effect today.  Isolation, loneliness, search for identity, internal misery—all lead to psychological problems and in extreme cases “a bullet in the head.” Because of his status and apparent flawed character, Richard Cory becomes a tragic poetic figure.

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