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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why did a rich man like Richard Cory commit suicide?

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By T. S. Frima

Richard Cory
(By Edwin Arlington Robinson)

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clear-favoured and imperially slim;

And he was always quietly arrayed;
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said
“Good morning!” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine—we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread.
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night
Went home and put a bullet in his head.


Richard Cory is one of Edwin Arlington Robinson's best known works. There are so many different interpretations, written by various critics, for this poem. At a glance, this poem may seem to be a simple poem which describes a man named Richard Cory through the perspective of townspeople who knew him. But actually, there is something more beyond it, something more than just a portrait of Richard Cory and his mysterious suicidal act.

Since the first stanza, the reader has been introduced to the speaker (or the narrator) of the poem, as well as to Richard Cory.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him;
He was gentleman from sole to crown’
Clean-favoured and imperially slim;
These lines indicate that, the speaker, who is part of the collective subjects “we”, belongs to the lower-class in the socioeconomic hierarchy. It is shown by the lines that “we” lived in “down town”. The word ‘down town’ refers to the business district where the working-class people are living. The last stanza confirms this. It is implicitly said there that they “worked” all day, yet they have to eat “without the meat” because meat is too expensive for them; and they “cursed the bread” that they have, because they can only afford cheap low-quality bread.
Contrary to the speaker, Richard Cory belongs to the high social class. The sentence “whenever Richard Cory went down town” implies that Richard Cory only went down town for sometimes, and he must have been living in the up town. The word ‘up town’ refers to a neighborhood of wealthy-class in the society. Cory is called as “a gentleman”; a preposition to call some one from a higher socioeconomic class or a noble person of the gentry. The sentence “from sole to crown” is a figurative emphasizing that Cory’s appearance was totally reflecting his nobility and richness. Further more, in the third stanza the speaker literally said that Cory was “richer than a king” and was “admirably schooled in every grace”. Again, it is shown that in the speaker’s perception, Cory was completely a person from the highest-class with perfect manner, appearance, and prosperity.

Though this poem presents the comparison of the two opposite-classes through the figure of “we” and Cory, it does not mean Robinson want to see neither social injustice nor the capitalism in modern society. I believe, Robinson’s point is not about intimidation or discrimination between the two classes—which are the actual forms of social injustice as result of capitalism. None of his stanzas saying such things, implicitly or explicitly. In fact, Robinson was trying to show that Cory still acted like a regular guy in front of the townspeople, ignoring the difference of their classes. Robinson described Cory as a polite person who always greeted the townspeople by saying “good morning” when he waked down, and he “was always human when he talked” to the people on the street. So it is obvious that Robinson’s point is not about social injustice or capitalism.

The first fourteen lines bring the reader to the distinct separation between Cory and the speaker. Then the last two lines punch the reader with surprise, and leave the reader puzzled. Now, the reader has three unsolved questions: why would a man like Cory, who had “every thing that makes us wish that we were in his place”, decided to kill himself?; and what is Robinson’s point, if it is not about social injustice or capitalism?; and which of the social classes that actually has more advantages, then?
To answers the questions, the reader will have to reveal the motive of Cory’s acts first. The motive is not stated, but it is deeply hidden in the poem. It can only be figured out by inferring it and comparing the information clues in the poem to the reader’s knowledge about how is exactly the life of a high-class person like Cory.

A rich man like Cory used to live an easy life. He needed no struggling for a living. He could get anything he wanted instantly. He dwelled in a huge mansion, separated miles away one to another. He rarely need some one else’s help; he had servants who provide everything for him. In such a world, Cory had no sense of victory, since he never had to struggle; he had no sense of freedom, since he never had to fight under pressure; he had no sense of happiness, since he never suffer. All he had, was the feeling of boredom, and emptiness. He had no “light” in his heart.
The act that “Richard Cory went down town” shows that he made an attempt to communicate with the people. What motivated Cory to communicate with the townspeople was his need of fulfillment for his emptiness. He was looking for satisfaction, he was looking for happiness, he was looking for the “light” that he thought he could gain from the lively townspeople.
Now, the reader has the answer for one of the questions. Philosophically speaking, the low social class has more advantages in life; that the struggle and the suffering of it will lead human to find sense of satisfaction, freedom, and happiness. While the high social class will tend to make human feel empty.
So on we worked and waited for the light
And went without the meat and cursed the bread.
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

The surprise in the last line may be not so shocking, yet it is puzzling. Continuing the inference, it is possible to assumed that Cory had failed to find what he sought. As the second stanza shows, even though Cory was “quietly arrayed”, not arrogant, and talked to the people politely, still he made people nervous when he met them; “still he fluttered pulses when he said “Good morning””. No matter how hard he tried to act like a regular guy, no matter how hard he tried to blend with the townspeople, his manner and his appearance still had an effect on people; his status made the people felt that there is a distance between them and Cory. The people kept this feeling of separation. No where in the poem that suggest that they tried to come to Cory, or that they responded him.
The passivity of the people and their static reaction toward Cory’s attempt seemed to be the reason that made Cory gave up seeking his happiness. “So on” they “worked” and ignored Cory, not knowing how the burden torched Cory inside. The night Cory kill himself remain as “one calm summer night” for the people. The sentence shows the distance between Cory and the people; that Cory’s death was not a matter at all for them.
Understanding this, help reader to realize what Robinson was trying to say. It is not only about the burden that may come from being wealthy like Cory, but also about the blindness of people in the town that failed to see that they had something more valuable than welfare: they have “the light”, the real happiness, the spiritual value. Not realizing what they had, they “wish that” they “were in” Cory’s “place.
All that Cory had were only physical attribute. He was lacked of spiritual value. As the bible says, human can not life by “bread” alone. Human need something more to fulfill, not only physical needs, but also social and spiritual needs. And if a man failed to fulfill these needs, his life will be a waste.
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your oppinion:

18 compliment, eh, COMMENT :):

Tukang Sampah said...

wow!
cool explanation!
now we got it, why did he kill himself...
poor rich man ya...

have a nice day! :)

anyin said...

bunuh diri kan ngga boleh ya kun? pokoknya ngga boleh. titik.

setiakasih said...

It is so ironic and abruptly ended. Yet, it still has become a subject of discussion until today.

Ivan Kavalera said...

Aku pake transtool dulu ya sob? Biar menger.. hihihihihi..

agungaritanto said...

waaaaaaaaaah bahasa inggris ga paham saya

AISHALIFE-LINE said...

Sayang banget ya...

Sang Cerpenis bercerita said...

kenapa harus bunuh diri ya? hhmm....

catatan kecilku said...

Mampir tuk baca-2... Makasihn ya kunjungannya ^_^

darahbiroe said...

wahhh harus pake google translate nuy heheh


blogwalking ajah berkunjung dan ditunggu kunjungan baliknya
makassih
:D

munir ardi said...

mendekat baca artikel penambah wawasan

Aditya's Blogsphere said...

halo bro....kasih aq tips buat bikin konten inggris dong.....km pinter bgt inggris.....bikin pengen aja buat blog yang di support google adsense gini!!!!

richo said...

kematian kan tidak menyelesaikan masalah yak.....

septirani said...

mba google translate,,saya butuh dirimu..huehehheh

mauren said...

mampir baca ya sob :)

Cermin Community said...

puisi yang menarik untuk ditelaah :)
jadi, kekayaan itu tidak menjamin kebahagiaan ya.

Anonymous said...

Given the choice I'd rather be lonely than interact with someone who I don't get along with nor someone who I can't relate to. In fact even if loneliness causes me depression it's not to mean that I would want to resort to suicide because in most religions including mine suicide is a sin.

Nisa Ali said...

Now I have a figure what this guy had felt and wanted. Thanks for lightening it up!

Rakyan Widhowati Tanjung said...

great poem!
tapi, memang banyak orang2 kaya yg bunuh diri dalam realita kehidupan...