The theme of this poem is certainly not subtle: its all about lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people! Ah, look at all the lonely people! (1-2). These are the opening lines of what would become a number one hit song for The Beatles back in 1966. John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the writers and bandleaders, made the theme very clear for the reader and listener, right from the start of the poem.
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The poem has two characters, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie. These two characters are connected to one another through one main source, the church. Its where Father McKenzie preaches and Eleanor Rigby works as a custodian or some sort of church worker. This is not however, immediately apparent to the reader unless later looked over more closely. The poem reads, Eleanor Rigby/ Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been. (3-4). So obviously she cares for the church in one sense or another.
But who, besides a church worker, is Eleanor Rigby? To find this, the reader must look deeper than just the churchyard. I feel that she is a very lonely woman who lives in a dream world where she wants to wed and live happily ever after. This dream is further developed in the somewhat confusing line Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door/ Who is it for? (7). This face is probably the one that she puts on to look beautiful. The jar is probably a representation of the makeup jar from the which the beautiful face came. Id say that she most likely waits by her door each night for some gentleman caller to come by and visit her. But it seems that every night she gets all prettied up once again for nothing. No one ever comes by to see her.
Meanwhile, there is another pitiful character: Father McKenzie. Though he has a higher position in the church than Eleanor Rigby, he is no more successful or even a better person at that. No one even listens to his church sermons, Father McKenzie/ Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear/ No one comes near. (13-15). He is doing exactly what a good priest should not do. He is basically turning followers away from the church, leaving them in need of spiritual guidance and comfort that he just cant provide. What is ironic, is that he seems to be in the most need for spiritual guidance and comfort.
Repetition is a powerful device in this poem. The word “lonely” appears 10 times in this short ballad. It is my opinion that John Lennon and Paul McCartney didnt do this by chance either. I feel that the repetitive use of the word is trying to get the picture of despair and unhappiness across to the reader.
It might seem that both Eleanor and Father McKenzie should get together. But after further thought, this is an impossible feat. The church, in fact, makes it impossible since it against orthodox for priests to be married. Even if the church did allow priests to date and wed, I dont feel that Father McKenzie would have made an advance toward Eleanor. I feel that he is a man too consumed in trying to better himself and write sermons that will show the church followers just how wrong they are in the way they are living.
What is meant by Eleanor Rigby/ Died in the church and was buried along with her name (23-24). I surmise that it is, for the most part, up to the reader to decide whether John Lennon and Paul McCartney meant this in a literal way or a figurative way. Did she actually die
while working in church, or was she just a steadfast Christian who never missed a day of Sunday services in her life? I feel that the latter is a more appropriate explanation of this line. It is my opinion that she was too consumed in the affairs of the church to make friends or outside contact. All of her life was spent in church; therefor it is suiting for her name to die in the church. This line may also represent the quickly dying church that Father McKenzie is supposed to be up keeping. When Eleanor died, there werent very many more unwavering members left, so the church may soon die as well.
But who is the wrong person in the poem? Who is to be blamed for so much loneliness? Having considered this much of the poem, its appropriate to ask these questions. It is, as the chorus shows, a question John Lennon and Paul McCartney ask, Where do they all come from? (10, 20, and 30). The quick and easy answer is that its no ones fault, its just a sad reality.
But there are some troubling questions. Why doesnt Father McKenzie at least befriend Eleanor? Shouldnt the shepherd of a church see that he has a dreaming, lonely lamb sitting with a sad face in the back, wedding after wedding? Doesnt he know this woman? And at her funeral, it seems the only thing hes concerned about is his unsuccessful sermon. Wiping the dirt from his hands (27) even seems to suggest hes washing his hands of responsibility to this lonely woman. Which is another quite ironic point, because the whole purpose of a priests job is to save souls and help those in need.
Perhaps its institutions such as the church or inconsiderateness of others that are responsible for the loneliness of these people. But it is my opinion that, sadly, these two people were probably just meant to be lonely for all of their lives. Later The Beatles would come up with a remedy for this in another song, singing All you need is love. They were some really smart Englishmen.
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