Question 3: The Poem Richard Cory nullifies the myth that wealth can guarantee your happiness. Do you agree with the statement? Explain with reference to the text.
Edwing Arlington Robinson wrote Richard Cory in the backdrop of an economic recession that America experienced in the 1890’s. I agree with the above statement. While the main theme of the poem is how appearances are deceptive, even the above statement is about how wealthy people present an image of themselves as happy; the poem challenges this belief. In this essay I will explain how Richard Cory is portrayed as a wealthy gentleman and how the narrator perceives him and how this perception is flawed.
From the outset, Richard Cory is described with words that connote perfection and consistency, especially with regards to his wealth and status. ‘Whenever Richard Cory went downtown, we people on the pavement looked at him’ implies the idea that he never failed to present the image of a gentleman. From head to sole he was a gentleman; nothing was out of place. He maintained the image very carefully. His appearance proved him to be an impeccable gentleman. This is reflected through his attire. The narrator says that ‘he was always quietly arrayed,’ which connote the dignity and style which he possessed. He was imperially slim, which adds to the idea of him being an authoritative person among the common folk. Even his behaviour aligns with the concept of a gentleman: ‘he was always human when he talked/glittered when he walked.’ The narrator idolizes Richard Cory while simultaneously envying his life. Glittering seems like exaggeration but it connotes the idea of gold, and therefore wealth. He is ‘admirably schooled in every grace,’ which adds to the idea of his wealth as it is the wealthy who receive education in social etiquette. The comparison ‘richer than a king,’ is the use of hyperbole which removes any doubt about his wealth. These details show the reader that Richard Cory is wealthy beyond a doubt.
The narrator is ready to trade his life for Richard Cory’s as they think that Richard Cory has everything that anyone could ever need. They believed in the image that he presented of himself. The wealth and the good breeding he displayed seemed to be enough evidence that Richard Cory had all the reasons to be content with his life. The narrator perceives themselves as being in the dark, waiting for the light. Their existence is seen as something which is lesser than Richard Cory. For them, Richard Cory is in the light which connotes hope, life and a better future. The last stanza shows us how the narrator is not content with their life, as they ‘went without the meat and cursed the bread.’ For them, it is the lack of resources, or the absence of wealth to buy the resources which deprives them of happiness. They ‘looked’ at Richard Cory whenever he came downtown because they envied the clothes he wore, the wealth he bore and his genteel behaviour and the life he enjoyed. Being in poverty and destitution makes the narrator believe that if they were to somehow possess what Richard Cory possessed, they would be out of their misery. They would be happy with their life if they had what Richard Cory had.
But the truth which was hidden behind the mask that Richard Cory wore was not one of happiness, but of hopelessness and despair. Even though Richard Cory seemed to possess everything that money could buy, he lived a different reality behind the image he presented. The image of the wealthy gentleman who was envied by the locals appeared to be a façade which concealed the real struggles that he faced. The startling thing about this incident is that the narrator couldn’t have predicted Richard Cory’s decision to commit suicide because he never indicated his struggles to anyone. On the one hand, Richard Cory did not share his feelings or struggles with the narrator. On the other hand, the narrator or his friends never imagined the possibility of someone like Richard Cory wanting to end his life. This is possibly because of the social belief that if someone is rich enough, they have everything to guarantee their happiness. The word ‘calm’ summer night is ironic and emphasizes the fact that no matter how joyful or financially secure (wealthy) a person seems to be, our
perspective into that person’s inner struggles is very limited.
I have argued in the previous paragraphs that the poem portrays Richard Cory as a content and impeccable gentleman from the narrator’s perspective. The narrator wants to trade his life for Richard Cory’s. However, as explained above, the truth behind the image Richard portrayed is completely different and shows us how wealth cannot guarantee happiness or even a will to live.
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