Loneliness as Both an Individual and Collective Social Feature in Disposal Versus Eleanor Rigby

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W.D. Snodgrass’s “Disposal” is filled with plenty of imagery, but it lacks the complex issues of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby.” Both the poem and the lyric deal with the issue of people who most likely spent their lives being lonely and shut out from the world; however Snodgrass focuses on just the one woman rather than lonely people in general. The authors have their own way of getting across a similar issue by using different imagery and depths of loneliness.

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“Disposal” is a poem told about a woman who has passed away and her belongings are being given away. The people who are sorting through everything are the narrators and seem to be describing her failure at a full life by what they are finding in her drawers. On the other hand, “Eleanor Rigby” is told from an omniscience point of view. Eleanor is a woman who works in a church and is cleaning up the rice from a wedding she obviously didn’t attend. Eleanor dies and Father McKenzie is the one who buries her. He is a complete stranger to Eleanor even though they work in the same church. They are brought together only by the empty ritual of her burial. Nobody is judging

them; instead you get a glimpse of what happens when you go through life in solitude. “Eleanor Rigby” is more narrative than “Disposal.”

The theme for both is geared around wasted lives. Lennon and McCartney don’t go into detail about an individual person; still they are able to place deeper issues into the lyrics.

“Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave,

No one was saved.”

These lines show a deeper meaning of how Father McKenzie was more concerned with the fact that nobody listened to his sermons. The wiping of dirt off his hands is symbolic to the burden of Eleanor on him. The question can be made about the purity of religion. On the contrary, line 15 of “Disposal” states the woman was “Saved from loss.” This may portray that this woman was saved by death. Perhaps her life was full of doubt and sadness. It was ended by her passing.

If the language is compared between the two, we find “Eleanor Rigby” has basic language with a lot of imagery. In comparison, “Disposal” makes that imagery very descriptive. Snodgrass uses such words as “markdowns” and “canceled patterns” to describe the woman’s worn clothes. Line 10 implies that this woman owned expensive shoes and clothes that were never worn: “untouched by human hands.”

Here is a life that wasn’t lived to the fullest. She saved her nice clothes for a special occasion she never attended. Those that knew her found it a pity

that it was all wasted maybe because she had a fear of taking that chance. On the other hand, “Eleanor Rigby” is told from an omniscience point of view. There are a few bold statements used to describe the depth of loneliness. Eleanor’s “funeral” that Father McKenzie held was described with the statement “Nobody came.” This verse was strategically placed in the stanza by itself for emphasis to show her lack of relationships. Snodgrass’s word choice sets a more descriptive picture of what the woman’s life was like. Lennon and McCartney don’t allow you to see into either character’s lives beyond basic solitude. There are an abundance of metaphors and similes used in “Disposal” that show Snodgrass’s great ability with figures of speech. In further describing the woman’s possessions, the narrator states:

We roll her spoons up like old plans

Or failed securities, seal their case,


Like a pair of party shoes

That seemed to never find a taker; (6-7, 16-17)

“Eleanor Rigby” also has great use of metaphors. Lines 5 and 7 respectively state; “Lives in a dream” and “Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”. Both show Eleanor’s life as being a fantasy of someday meeting someone.

Imagery is also displayed phonetically. Snodgrass uses cacophony throughout the poem with repetition of “SP” and “D”. There is some use of this in “Eleanor Rigby”, but it isn’t as obvious. Instead, you can hear

alliteration throughout the song. Consonance of the “L” sound is echoed in the line “Ah, Look at all the lonely people.” There are small samples of alliteration in “Disposal” with the use of “F” as well. While “Disposal” and “Eleanor Rigby” both take wasted, lonely lives as their subject, Lennon and McCartney’s vision of loneliness is complicated by hinting at deeper issues of the church and humanity.

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