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Free Sample Essay Example - Richard Cory

This award-winning sample essay was written for a literary analysis class. The poetry analysis paper looks at Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem, Richard Cory, and uses a persuasive writing style to argue that the man's admirers are responsible for his suicide. This essay, which uses exceptional organizational and quotation examples, was featured in a college literary magazine. It is a good reference for those who have trouble writing poetry essays and want a template for integrating quotations.

Who killed Richard Cory? An Investigation

In Edwin Arlington Robinson's Richard Cory, the title character was a prominent man who seemed to have everything: wealth, manners and respect. But though he was the embodiment of success, Cory "one calm summer night / Went home and put a bullet through his head" (Robinson 15-16), a desperate act that contrasts with the speaker's noble characterization of him. Such an act warrants investigation: By analyzing Robinson's narrative style, use of imagery and ironic language, one discovers that the public's perceptions of Richard Cory are responsible for his demise.

Richard Cory's narrative structure gives the reader a sense of how Cory's life was scrutinized by people who did not know him. Unlike dramatic poems which place the reader within the action itself, the speaker addresses the audience as an observer: he was one of the "people on the pavement" (2) who admired Cory from a distance. Because the speaker did not know Cory personally, the reader only learns about his appearance - he was "Clean favored and imperially slim" (4) for instance - and nothing else. The speaker's focus on Cory's appearance is natural, even expected from a working class person who "cursed the bread" (14) as part of his daily ritual. To the speaker, Richard Cory represents everything he is not: "rich - yes, richer than a king" (9), a man whose very presence "fluttered pulses" (7). By observing Cory's admirable lifestyle, the speaker can forget about his own miserable existence - "we thought that he was everything / to make us wish that we were in his place" (11-12), the speaker says. But because the speaker is removed from the action, in this case Richard Cory's personal life, he is unaware of Cory's suffering. In a dramatic poem, Richard Cory himself could talk about his private anguish, but in Robinson's narrative he is a distant, silent character, an object scrutinized by the masses. But despite having legions of fans, Richard Cory takes his own life, a perception-shattering act that leaves the audience wondering how they could have been wrong the whole time.

Robinson's use of imagery in Richard Cory suggests that Cory was forced to act in a certain way because the public put him on a pedestal. Cory could never let his guard down - "Whenever [he] went down town / We people on the pavement looked at him" (1-2) the speaker testifies. One can imagine Cory surrounded by gawking fans, expecting him to act and behave like a man who has everything. Indeed Cory dutifully fit this role, he "was always quietly arrayed" and "always human when he talked" (5-6) when dealing with the public. Cory comes across as a perfect upper-class gentlemen, an "imperially slim" (4) aristocrat who knew what the public wanted. Cory not only acted, but looked the part - he was a "gentlemen from sole to crown" (3), which was probably why he "fluttered pulses" (7) when he greeted his fans. Cory must have realized that the public "thought he was everything / To make us wish that we were in his place" (11-12) or else he would not have acted so "clean favored" (4) whenever he was in their presence. Cory understood that he served as a role model to people like the speaker, who deal with the everyday hardships of life. Yet even the most caring role models are subject to fatigue. Cory must have been tried of being expected to act like a gentleman just because he was "richer than a king" (9). It seems that after being put on a pedestal for so long, he could not take it any longer.

The buildup of praise throughout Richard Cory reveals an ironic and painful truth - in their quest for happiness, the people caused their hero to end his life. The irony is structural because the speaker, like the rest of the public, is nave in thinking that their adoration of Richard Cory will not harm him. The poem starts with a simple assessment of Cory: To the public, he was always the ideal "gentlemen from sole to crown," (3-4) a demigod living among ordinary men who "went without the meat and cursed the bread" (14). While the rest of the world - the "people on the pavement" (2) - was afflicted by hunger and poverty, Richard Cory was immune to such problems and deserved praise. But as the poem continues, the public's adoration of Cory intensifies to the point of hysteria. Cory is no longer just a wealthy man, but someone "richer than a king" (9). Even though Cory was "always human when he talked," (6) the public exaggerates his every action: he "fluttered pulses when he said, /"Good morning," and he glittered when he walked" (7-8) the speaker recounts. By the final stanza, the speaker remarks that the public "worked and waited for the light," (13) as if seeing Richard Cory had become their only source of hope for happiness in the world. Such embellishment of Cory's actions reveals how the public was deeply attracted to him to the point that they wished "that we were in his place" (12). Yet this statement is the ultimate irony - Richard Cory eventually puts "a bullet through his head" (16), forcing the public to acknowledge that his life was even worse than theirs. Cory's death, like the poem's ending, is dramatic and surprising on purpose - it forces the audience to recognize the harm in giving praise.

Despite being fabulously wealthy, Richard Cory lacked happiness. Perhaps he thought that pleasing the public would give him the one thing money cannot buy. But how long can one man live a lie? Richard Cory wanted to get away - and there was only one place where the public could not follow him.

Works Cited
Robinson, Edward Arlington. "Richard Cory." Elements of Literature. Ed. Robert Scholes, Nancy R. Comley, Carl H. Klaus, Michael Silverman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
 
949 words, 5 pages
 

 
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