The boys are in the church cutting their hair (some of the girls visibly wince as Johnny “starts sawing” on Pony’s hair with the same knife he used on Bob) and killing time with Gone With the Wind. We’re talking about irony and Richard Cory. We go through the poem, and I keep the fourth stanza hidden from them. They laugh when they find out that “crown” means the top of your head, and that in Jack and Jill, Jack really breaks his head. I explain that “clean favoured” means good looking, and they are quick to realize why the poet used “quietly” to describe how he is dressed (“arrayed’). “It means he’s not showing off.” Good.
They are also pretty good at getting what “he was always human when he talked” means. Seventh graders are very quick to spot someone “putting on airs” as they said in Tom Sawyer’s time. They tell me it means he’s down to Earth. Nice.
Then, after the first three stanzas of description, I stop and ask, “Now, who, in The Outsiders could we compare to Richard Cory? Who is rich, good looking, popular, well dressed, yet down to Earth?”
“Sodapop?” Rich? Well dressed. Quiet? Ummm no.
“Two-Bit?” The class slaps that one down for me.
“The Soc? Bob?” What? We were doing so well.
Finally, I find someone who gets it. Cherry.
“But it says he! The poem’s about a guy!”
“Now what was Cherry trying to get Pony to understand when they were talking back at the drive-in, and after? What was she saying that he was not believing?”
“That Socs have problems too! Things are rough all over!” Uh huh.
Beauty. Now I lay the last stanza on them.
“Cherry’s gonna commit suicide?????”
NOOOOOO. “But what she’s trying to say, AND what the poem is trying to say, is that what’s on the surface isn’t the whole picture. Remember Ponyboy saying at the end of chapter 2, ‘I know better now,’ about the Socs not having problems? He was foreshadowing that something will happen to change his mind.”
“Oh. Ok. But…?”
No, Cherry will be with us until the end of the book.