The Beatles were a famous pop band that made long hair, bell-bottoms, and drugs popular throughout the world. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had composed many of their most popular songs. Most of their songs have a social significance that transcended their immediate audience. “Eleanor Rigby” is an example of such songs.
The time Beatles occupied was one of socioeconomic chaos. Many people in Britain were losing faith in social institutions such as marriage, family, and religion. As a result the composers saw so many lonely people everywhere: “Ah, look at all the lonely people!/Ah, look at all the lonely people!” John and Paul were clearly pained by what they saw. And the social and spiritual vacuum left in the wake of the disintegrating socioeconomic institutions was filled by music, drugs and hippy ideology - at least to some extent - among the members of the younger generations.
Due to socioeconomic changes in Britain, marriage as a fundamental socioeconomic institution had lost its significance. In addition, WWII had devoured thousands of young Englishmen. Consequently, even some of those women who wanted to marry were without partners. Eleanor was such a woman. Her only source of happiness was collecting the rice thrown at couples at the church after the wedding was over. As she was not invited to these wedding she probably waited outside like a beggar until the wedding was over. And when everyone had left the church she came in to enjoy a stolen moment of bittersweet pleasure. It is not clear why she collected rice. Maybe she must have thought that the wedding rice might bring her luck and change her status as a spinster?
Eleanor was a lonely woman desperate for company. Therefore, she was eager to speak to someone who may come to her door. She “[l]ives in a dream,/ Waits at the window/ Wearing a face which she keeps in a jar by the door.” In order to present herself as good company she hid her own troubles in her infrequent dealings with the larger world.
Father McKenzie represented the church. People had lost faith in the church and as a result they did not come to church on Sundays. Therefore all the labour Father McKenzie poured in to his sermons was in vain. Nobody came to hear them. The church that had held such socioeconomic power in the past did not have enough money for Father McKenzie to buy a pair of new socks. He had to darn his old ones in secret lest someone would see his plight.
When Eleanor dies in the church she was “buried along with her name”. There was no one to remember her or offer a prayer on her behalf. Therefore, it was appropriate to say that her name would be buried with her. Nobody came to mourn her death. It was the fate of a person who lived alone. Father McKenzie, another lonely soul, performed the last rights. He may have asked God for the salvation of Eleanor’s soul, but according to the composers no one could be saved. There was no hope for salvation for the people who led lonely lives.
The writers have used a considerable amount of repetition. Through that they are reiterating that there are so many lonely people around us.
The writers also pose questions that are almost rhetorical in nature. These questions reveal the bewilderment of the writers at the vast number of lonely individuals around them.
All the lonely people,
Where do they come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Language is simple and almost conversational; consequently the poem appeals to a larger audience.