In Edwin Arlington Robinson's short poem "Richard Cory," the speaker tells of a rich gentleman who, to the collective shock of the community, commits suicide for unknown reasons. The poem begins by describing this gentleman, Richard Cory, as slim, graceful, and friendly. Even though he is much richer than the rest of the community, he is always personable and speaks nicely to the common townspeople. The speaker describes Cory as nicely but humbly dressed; however he still has some innate quality about him that makes him appear to sparkle in the eyes of the town. Because of this, the townsfolk always watch him with awe whenever they see him. Cory is obviously well liked and admired by the whole community, who apparently think he has the perfect life. They envy him so much, in fact, that they come to resent their own situations in life; they work long hard hours, but they still cannot even afford to buy decent food for their families. Cory's suicide is told at the very end of the poem in only two lines, and is as much of a shock to the reader as it must have been to the town.
[...] To the speaker, Cory embodies every one of these positive concepts: elegance, charm, wealth, power, goodwill, love, and favor. The reference to God really enforces how perfect and ideal the townspeople think Cory's life is. Still, the mention of God's "love and favor" in reference to a man who was so miserable that he took his own life is more than a little ironic. Wording is also important at the very end of the poem when the speaker describes Cory's death: "And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, / Went home and put a bullet through his head." This statement would not be half as effective if it simply said he "committed suicide" or "killed himself." Instead, the speaker presents a haunting image of exactly how Cory killed himself and the manner in which he did it, making the revelation much more horrifying. [...]
[...] The speaker's tone in "Richard Cory" is calm and unemotional, while at the same time ironic, reflective and possibly even regretful. Although he is relating the sad and shocking story of a man's suicide, he never sounds sentimental, mournful, or emotional at all. The suicide itself is described in only two short lines without any commentary or sentiment: "And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, / Went home and put a bullet through his head." The speaker does not elaborate whatsoever on his personal feelings about the event except to convey his shock by presenting a simple, happy picture of Cory and then, at the very end of the poem, revealing that he committed suicide. [...]
[...] Besides meaning "leader" or "high-quality," everyone associates a crown with royalty, wealth, and power. Likewise, the poor townspeople equate Cory with royalty because of his wealth. Also, he must have appeared powerful to them not only because of his money, but probably also because of his position in society and his formal, yet graceful appearance and manner. It is ironic that, on the outside, Cory is able to control his appearance and his perception by the town, when, obviously he is not in control of his own life. [...]
[...] In the next line the speaker calls Cory gentleman from sole to crown." This phrase is loaded with meaning. Literally, the speaker is saying that Cory looks like a gentleman from his head to toe, but beneath the surface he is disclosing much more. Another meaning of the word sole is to be alone. Indeed, Cory is only shown by himself, and the speaker never mentions any of his family or friends. This second meaning may have something to do with why Cory was so unhappy. [...]
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