Eleanor Rigby

The song ,”Eleanor Rigby”, is undeniably a classic. Released on The Beatles’s album Revolver alongside other hits like “Yellow Submarine”, its haunting melody and enigmatic lyrics still grace radio stations and pianos more than fifty years following its release.

As mysterious as the lyrics may seem, the song really serves to highlight the experience of an outcast. It also addresses the hazy border between life an death, and the fact the the outcast is likely to straddle this border. The Beatles likely never intended the song to consist of a true story. They do give a voice to people who likely don’t have much of one because they don’t have others to support them, or are rejected by society. Ultimately, “Eleanor Rigby” is more than just a random story about a person named Eleanor Rigby. The Beatles address the effects that isolation has on a person, and how the lack of acceptance likely causes the person to die leaving no obvious imprint on the lives of others.

Throughout the song, The Beatles intertwine the two stories of Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie. Before describing the two subjects, however, The Beatles introduce the song by including them among “all of the lonely people”. The two characters theoretically know each other because Eleanor Rigby goes to Father Mackenzie’s church, but they don’t ever seem to connect until Eleanor Rigby dies.

Eleanor Rigby

Died in the church and was buried along with her name

Nobody came

Father McKenzie

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

No one was saved

The two stories emphasize the true effects of isolation. Even though the two lonely people coexist, they never seem to find each other until death. The Beatles state that Eleanor Rigby is “buried along with her name”, which supports the theme that these isolated people often go unnoticed until death.

The Beatles’s use of metaphors also build the theme.

Eleanor Rigby

Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been

Lives in a dream

Waits at the window

Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

Who is it for?

When they reference Eleanor Rigby’s face in a jar, they likely mean that she puts on a different personality. Eleanor Rigby can’t be her true self, even though she is an outcast, which develops the idea that isolation negatively affects a person’s well-being. The use of such a gruesome metaphor also adds to the haunting tone of the song, warning people about the consequences of living on the fringe of society.

Nearly half the lyrics in “Eleanor Rigby” are rhetorical questions.

All the lonely people

Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people

Where do they all belong?

Like the metaphors, the questions also develop the eerie tone of the song. However, they do so because they leave the listener to form their own answers. Strangely enough, The Beatles don’t state their theme directly. Instead, the theme emerges through their rhetorical questions, because they leave the listener thinking about possible answers. For instance, one could interpret the answer to the line “Where do they all belong?” as a statement about how society rejects the outcasts. One could also interpret the answer to be commentary on the fact that isolated people are more likely to both metaphorically and literally die.

3 thoughts on “Eleanor Rigby

  1. JULIA Y

    I was so excited when I saw this beause although I chose “In My Life”, this is definitely one of my top 4! It’s another song credited to Lennon and McCartney, but I feel like this one is more of the latter’s. My favorite part is exactly what you said: “It’s haunting melody and enigmatic lyrics.” The seemingly plain yet incredibily powerful imagery of lonely people mixed with the orchestra makes for such a beautiful song!

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  2. JOHN WEIBLE

    The album Yellow submarine was perhaps the first album I ever listen to at the age of 3 or so. when the track came out, I was never afraid or sadend by it. however, it did have an impact on me. the dark tone and somber lyrics had an almost indiscribible feel to it.

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  3. Josephine D

    I love this song so much… it is so brief but so powerful. I think you did an amazing job interpreting it as well. I really liked what you said about the purpose of the rhetorical questions, and how they force the audience to think and create our own themes. For me, another reason they contribute to the eeriness of the song is because they make the audience uncomfortable, forcing us to consider possibilities we’d rather not think about.
    “All the lonely people/Where do they all come from?” Well… they come from us, when we ostracize others. We turn them into “lonely people” instead of letting them be just “people.” I feel like the rhetorical questions leave a chance for the audience to consider their own role in the isolation of others, which kind of increases the fear felt in this already creepy (in a beautiful way) song.

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