Richard Cory: The Moral Essay
In a society generally shaped by its commercialism, many people will fall into the unfortunate trap of trying to exceed someone elses standards. The catalyst for this maddening condition exists all around us: in car commercials, on bumper stickers (He who dies with the most toys wins!), in stores peddling expensive passing fashions, and on billboards flaunting houses of ridiculous size and cost. Children are conditioned to covet a brass ring that is impossible to attain, and will either spend a lifetime sacrificing personal happiness to conquer a status, or will simply give up rather than face certain failure. No matter what amount of drive and desire one possess, it never fails that there is always someone who has achieved so much more. On the surface they seem to have it all, and in our admiration, we are often riddled with desperate jealousy. Edwin Arlington Robinson exemplified this condition masterfully in his poem Richard Cory.
The speaker of the poem is someone in a low working class, but he is speaking for everyone in his community who seems to be of equal financial stature. They toil away at work that is both dirty and grueling, and at the end of the day there is very little to show for it. They are hungry- not only for food, but also for comfort. Robinson himself lived in poverty, and was almost certainly familiar with the feeling of envy that this character reveals in the poem. But are the poor in fact at the bottom of the emotional heap? Perhaps a closer look into each line of the text will demonstrate that things arent always as they seem.
The first stanza of the poem gives the reader a glimpse into what Richard Cory is all about, or at least how he is perceived. In the first two lines we are introduced to the poems namesake, Richard Cory, and we know that he is someone that people take notice of. Line three states that He was a gentleman from sole to crown, which tells us that he was a man of good breeding, from top to bottom. Here Robinson uses the word crown for his head, but perhaps this is also as a symbol of royalty; someone who is above the rest. In the fourth line Robinson uses the word imperially to describe his build, once again using a word with royal connotations. We also learn that Richard Cory is clean, leading the reader to believe that he wasnt bound to the same dirty work that his admirers are slave to.
In the second stanza we become familiar with Richard Corys nature. He doesnt appear to be stressed, tired or hungry. He is a pleasant and admirable man in many ways. The fifth line states that he is quietly arrayed, meaning that he is never dressed in loud or garish garb, but it can also denote his ability to collect himself in public. And he was always human when he talked (6) creates for the reader a man who is real; one who could relate to the people, and didnt speak down to those he came in contact with. Still, he fluttered pulses (7) when he spoke to people, and we know that both men and women alike felt privileged when he gave them notice on the street.
The third stanza gets down to the basics of Richard Corys perceived happiness: he is rich. Robinson continues the theme of royalty that was found in the first stanza when comparing his riches to that of a king. Of course, when a person has that much money, there must be considerable education in his or her background, and Richard Cory is no exception to this rule. The tenth line not only tells the reader that he is schooled in every grace, but also includes the word admirably which could be a clue that his admirers are not as educated, though they yearn to be. The eleventh and twelfth lines sum up the general perception of Mr. Cory: In fine, we thought that he was everything/ To make us wish that we were in his place. This is a wonderful example of how the grass is always greener on he other side of the fence.
The fourth and last quatrain is a final dose of reality, one that must have been perplexing to those who admired Richard Cory. Line thirteen depicts the hard working people of this community going on with work as usual, hoping that one day there will be light at the end of the tunnel. The light is also a symbol for the passageway into heaven, a place to finally rest and achieve the comforts of paradise. The fourteenth line illustrates their hunger for food, and the actuality of the conditions that they must live with while they are dreaming of a life like Richard Corys. But alas, Richard Cory, though rich in his pockets, was bankrupt in his soul. While those who were struggling to survive continued to live their lives, he ended his with a bullet in the head. Mr. Cory was not able to attain the life that he desired, thus wasting the one that everyone else wanted to live in so badly.
Robinson paints a portrait of a person, be it man or woman, who wants terribly to reach the true level of success and happiness. His use of symbolism and imagery lends meat that the reader can chew on while contemplating his own relationship to this moralizing poem. But he also poses a question that most people will never even consider: Will we know it when we get there?