The Topic of Solitude in The Song "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles

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About this sample


Words: 1082 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

Words: 1082|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The theme of loneliness in "Eleanor Rigby"
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works Cited


The theme of loneliness permeates this poem with undeniable clarity. "Ah, look at all the lonely people! Ah, look at all the lonely people!" (1-2) are the opening lines of a song that topped the charts for The Beatles in 1966. The songwriters and band leaders, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, left no room for ambiguity, immediately conveying the central theme to the reader and listener. In this essay about the song "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles, we will analyze how the poem represents the theme of loneliness through the portrayal of the main characters as well as through the use of literary devices.

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The theme of loneliness in "Eleanor Rigby"

The poem introduces two characters, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, who are interconnected through their association with the church. Father McKenzie delivers sermons at the church, where Eleanor Rigby serves as a custodian or in some church-related capacity. This connection, however, is not immediately apparent unless examined closely. The poem mentions, "Eleanor Rigby/ Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been" (3-4), indicating her role in caring for the church in some capacity.

But beyond her role as a church worker, who is Eleanor Rigby? To uncover this, one must delve deeper than the churchyard. It appears that she is a profoundly lonely woman who resides in a world of dreams, yearning for a wedding and a blissful life thereafter. This desire is further exemplified by the somewhat perplexing line, "Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door/ Who is it for?" (7). The "face" likely represents the facade she dons to appear beautiful, and the "jar" may symbolize the makeup container from which she retrieves this beautiful face. It seems plausible that she waits by her door each night, anticipating a gentleman caller who never arrives. Night after night, she adorns herself in vain, as no one ever comes to visit her.

Simultaneously, we encounter another pitiable character: Father McKenzie. Despite holding a higher position within the church than Eleanor Rigby, he is no more successful or virtuous. No one 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 essentially doing precisely what a good priest should not – repelling churchgoers, leaving them in need of spiritual guidance and solace that he cannot provide. Ironically, he appears to require spiritual guidance and comfort more than anyone else.

Repetition serves as a powerful device throughout this poem. The word "lonely" appears ten times within this brief ballad. I believe that John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not employ this repetition haphazardly; rather, they used it to underscore the profound sense of despair and unhappiness experienced by the characters.

One might assume that Eleanor and Father McKenzie should find solace in each other's company. However, upon closer reflection, this notion is rendered unattainable. The church itself presents a barrier, as it forbids priests from marrying. Even if the church were to permit priests to date and wed, it seems unlikely that Father McKenzie would have pursued Eleanor. He appears preoccupied with self-improvement and crafting sermons that chastise churchgoers for their perceived misdeeds.

The lines "Eleanor Rigby/ Died in the church and was buried along with her name" (23-24) leave room for interpretation. It is largely up to the reader to decide whether John Lennon and Paul McCartney meant this literally or figuratively. Did she actually pass away while working in the church, or does it signify that she was an unwavering Christian who never missed a Sunday service in her lifetime? I lean toward the latter interpretation. It is my belief that she was so immersed in church affairs that she failed to form friendships or establish connections outside the church. Her entire existence revolved around the church, making it fitting for her name to "die" within those hallowed walls. This line may also symbolize the church's rapid decline, with Father McKenzie charged with its upkeep. When Eleanor passed away, there were few steadfast members left, and the church's future appeared bleak.

However, the question of blame arises: who is responsible for such profound loneliness? Having examined much of the poem, it is apt to ask this question. John Lennon and Paul McCartney also raise this query in the chorus, repeatedly inquiring, "Where do they all come from?" (10, 20, and 30). The straightforward answer is that it is no one's fault; rather, it is a somber reality.

Nonetheless, unsettling questions persist. Why doesn't Father McKenzie befriend Eleanor, especially considering his position as the shepherd of the church? Shouldn't a church leader recognize the lonely lamb, sitting with a forlorn expression at weddings? Doesn't he know her? At her funeral, it appears that his sole concern is his ineffective sermon. The line "Wiping the dirt from his hands" (27) even implies that he is absolving himself of any responsibility toward this lonely woman. Ironically, a priest's primary duty is to save souls and assist those in need.

Institutions such as the church or the inconsideration of others may be accountable for the characters' loneliness. However, it is my belief that Eleanor and Father McKenzie were destined to experience loneliness throughout their lives. Later, The Beatles offered a remedy for this in another song, proclaiming, "All you need is love." They were remarkably astute Englishmen.

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In conclusion, "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles delves into the theme of loneliness through the poignant portrayal of two characters, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, both connected by their association with the church. The poem employs repetition, symbolism, and irony to emphasize the profound sense of isolation experienced by these characters. While institutions and societal norms may contribute to their loneliness, the poem ultimately highlights the tragic reality that some individuals are destined to endure profound solitude throughout their lives. The Beatles' message, echoed in other songs, reminds us of the importance of love and human connection in countering the scourge of loneliness.

Works Cited

  1. The Beatles. (1966). Eleanor Rigby [Song]. On Revolver. Capitol Records.
  2. Benitez, V. (2014). The Beatles: A Cultural Revolution. Rowman & Littlefield.
  3. Moore, A. (2016). The Essential Beatles: Essays on the Fab Four. McFarland.
  4. Reising, R., & LeBlanc, J. (2009). "You Won't See Me": Power, Gender, and the Subject in "Eleanor Rigby". In The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles (pp. 74-97). Cambridge University Press.
  5. Inglis, I. (2010). The Beatles, Popular Music and Society: A Thousand Voices. Palgrave Macmillan.
  6. Doyle, T. (2004). The Beatles: Yellow Submarine. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Turner, S. (2016). The Gospel according to the Beatles. Westminster John Knox Press.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Topic of Solitude in The Song “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. (2023, October 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“The Topic of Solitude in The Song “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles.” GradesFixer, 05 Oct. 2023,
The Topic of Solitude in The Song “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
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