Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory”- Formalist Criticism Example

Imagine walking down the street of a small town and suddenly looking up to see a Rolls Royce coming down the street. The Rolls Royce parks in a parking spot near by and out gets a man dressed in tailored made clothing. He is adorned with nice rings, a Rolex, and even his shoes appear to be spotless. This man must have everything one can imagine. He is the epitome of perfection. He is a man who seems to have it all. Well, the main character Richard Cory is someone that appeared just like that too. All of those who were lower class or poor living downtown envied him and desired to be him. However, one never know the true reality that people are living in. All those on the outside can see is what is put there for them to see. Richard Cory obviously was a man who used his apperances to hide what he truly was. Richard Cory was a big difference from the description and perception of what they people of his town thought of him to be. This essay is a formalist criticism example of the story of Richard Cory. The symbols and themes throughout “Richard Cory” are too many to list, but those most important will be reflected throughout this paper.

Although Richard Cory is a short, four stanza poem, it still gives one an inciteful look into the life of the wealthy. Edwin Arlington Robinson starts off by giving an description of Richard Cory by stating in lines 1 through 4, “ Whenever Richard Cory went down town, We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentlemen from sole to crown, Clean favored, and imperially slim.” One can see that Richard Cory, himself, is the main symbol in this poem. He is the symbol of fame and fortune. Even part of his first name, “Rich”, exudes what and why people find him so interesting, even placing him in a kingly position. The use of words like, “crown”, “imperially”, “glittered”, and “king” are used to describe him. All of those were symbols in how important he was to the thought process of the townspeople. In lines 1 through 4 of “Richard Cory”, we get a description of him being “imperially slim” which gives one the impression of a king or someone who has never done any heavy work requiring the use of muscles. Sepideh Moghaddas Jafari states, “ Richard Cory” is about a man who looks perfect on the outside. He has got money and good looks, and is admired by all of the people of the nearby town and he is the envy of them. Guys desire to be in his place and they wish to be him. Girls want to be with him.” This leads one to go deeper to find more symbols in “Richard Cory”.

Another symbol was that of the pavement in line 2. This could mean reality for those poor townspeople and even the narrator. The reality of how they admire Richard Cory while being poor and in need of things as basic as food. In line 14, the food can be seen as a symbol of poverty too. The narrator speaks on how they continue to work for “cursed bread” and “going without meat”, but yet they are looking up to Richard Cory, who is enjoying all the material comforts of life. According to the article Conflict between Faith and Doubt in Galileo, “Richard Cory” develops in such a way that it exposes irony in all of its overstatements until the end. In the first three stanzas we are given the impression that Richard Cory is a man who has all of what he wants from life and is completely satisfied”. Richard Cory is described in such an exaggerated way that one might find it ridiculous or get the impression that maybe the narrator is uneducated and does not have the proper words to give a realistic description. Although there could be other symbols in “Richard Cory”, one needs to understand some of the themes found in this poem also.

In the 1st stanza, lines 1 through 4 the first theme is introduced to us. Richard Cory is described more on what he has in the materialistic aspects. We, the readers, are made aware of his money, good looks, nice clothes, and his good manners. However, the narrator use of the word we to describe him and the townspeople shows a divide between them and Richard Cory. This leads one to a theme of isolation. According to Tengku Sepora Mahadi, “ The speaker of the poem ensures and certifies that we know about all these things. However, we never hear about Richard Cory’s relationship and interactions with others.” Also just reading the remaining stanzas, it is never even implied that he has a wife, girlfriend, or any loved ones. In fact as move on to lines 5 through 8, we just see how in awe the people were with him but it never shows him personally interacting with anyone, even them. Richard Cory has only said “Good Morning”. What is surprising is that the narrator’s attention to detail in regards to Richard Cory in the first 12 lines is so specific that he completely missed the fact that Richard Cory was alone. Although he appeared to have it all in public, his private life was totally opposite. This leads one to the fact, and another theme, that Richard Cory was not happy with what he had accomplished in his life.

The theme of success and failure is the next theme found in Richard Cory. In line 13, we are introduced into another possible symbol that could lead us deeper into the theme of success and failure. In line 13, “the light” is used and it could mean a candle light, an special wisdom, or God’s light. This is maybe why the people continue to work hard like they do because they see their success in this “light”. If so, that means that Richard Cory is being admired by people who have reached a level of peace and understanding that he doesn’t even have. This means that these poor hard working people are actually richer than Richard Cory. Airrac Nicdoa states, “Richard Cory evidently did not feel the light salvation, even though the people of the town all felt that he, if anyone would have”. This theme could also be renamed “spiritual emptiness”. The townspeople had such an admiration for Richard Cory, only seeing perfection in him. One could say that they placed him in a God like state, having dominion and power over them. The townspeople did not get that they were better off than him. According to Mary Ruby, “The “light” is a vague expression, traditionally suggesting a mental, spiritual, or religious revelation”. Richard Cory actually lived a materialistic level, one of no meaning, and he lacked a social connection and spiritual values. One can see that this is true by the fact he takes his own life at the end.

In conclusion, here was a formalist criticism example of Robinson’s “Richard Cory”. It is a poem of four short stanzas, written in the past tense, using the pronoun “we” throughout, and is full of irony. It is ironic that a man so wealthy that he is described like a king or God with wonderful manners. He is admired by all but goes home and kills himself. Everyone around him thought they knew him so well based on his appearance, his riches, and how he treated them. However, Richard Cory obviously suffered with personal demons which came to head once he home and was alone one fatal night. The final points one could take from this poem are: “Appearances can be deceiving”, “All that glitters isn’t gold”, ”There are no perfect human beings in the world”, “Wealth doesn’t bring happiness' and “If a human being has everything, but he doesn’t have spiritual value, he has nothing”.

10 October 2022
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