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Analysis Of "Eleanor Rigby"

928 words - 4 pages

The theme of this song is certainly not subtle: it's about lonely people. But stating it thus doesn't do justice to what the Beatles were really saying. A closer inspection reveals that this song examines why the lonely people are lonely.The song has two characters, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie. These two are connected by the church, in this case the actual church that Father McKenzie preaches at and Eleanor Rigby cleans. She is -- and this is not apparent immediately -- a custodian in this church. How do we know that she's the custodian? Well, she picks up rice after weddings...that's a clue. And she died in the church...that's another clue.At this point, it's good to ask students, if Eleanor Rigby is a custodian, why did the Beatles choose the post-wedding cleanup as the one image showing this? Students usually will quickly come to realize that this image reflects the "dream" she lives in: she wants to marry.Here's where I tell my classes, artists never choose details indiscriminately. Every description is a clue, a symbol, a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. That is, often, the difference between good art and mediocre art. Mediocre artists often cannot tell you why they chose this detail or that shade of coloring; it just felt right. Great artists know why they do what they do.Back to the song. Eleanor's dream is further developed in the strange line "wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door." This is a great line to have students puzzle over. Eventually, with a little nudging, they'll see that this face is probably the face that she puts on to look beautiful, the jar being the makeup jar from which the face comes. She waits each night by her door, waiting for a caller, all prettied up with no one to notice. When students see this, they really have pity for this woman.Meanwhile, there is another pitiful character: Father McKenzie. Though he has a higher station in life than Eleanor Rigby (priest versus custodian), he is no more successful. No one listens to his sermons; no one is saved by his words. And here's something interesting: he is doing what then would be thought of as women's work (darning his socks) while she does what men usually did in the 1960s. It might seem that both these two should get together but this is impossible. The church, in fact, makes it impossible for priests cannot marry.Having considered this much of the song, it's appropriate to ask students: who is responsible for all the loneliness. It is, as the chorus shows, a question the Beatles ask ("Where do they all come from?"). The quick and easy answer is that it's no one's fault, it's just a sad reality. But there are some troubling...

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