In the survey “The 25 most exquisitely sad songs in the whole world” conducted by Spinner.com, Eleanor Rigby of The Beatles ranked 3rd. (Spinner.com © 2008 AOL LLC. All Rights Reserved.) While a lot of commentaries available on the internet and magazines says that Eleanor Rigby of The Beatles is a sad song that talks about the inner life of a lady named Eleanor Rigby, who was with a seemingly-happy family, but deep inside was lonely; no body has truly provided an intelligible and concrete answer behind her loneliness except from some historical or biographical so-called proofs that some reviewers gave. These proofs are based on other articles and wild maybes. But the answer to her loneliness is in the lyrics of the song itself; however, we should identify first who really was Eleanor Rigby.
The song says:
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been. Lives in a dream. Waits at a window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for? All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
The opening lyrics are quite vague unless you read the whole lyrics. But somehow, it gives us clues. Is the face that she keeps in a jar by the door a mask? Is it a literal mask or a mask of pretension? Why does she need to hide behind that mask? What is she trying to hide? Then the question came… Where do they all come from? Where do they all belong? The first one is a question of origin, while the second is of identity. Of course, our origin defines our identity. Like a Christian who acknowledges that his origin is from God, then his identity is on God as well. Eleanor’s identity will be traced by his origin (or where she came from). Could there be something wrong with her and her identity that’s why she’s hiding behind the mask?
Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear, no one comes near. Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there. What does he care? All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
Right after Eleanor Rigby, a Father McKenzie came in the picture. Who is this person? How is he related to Eleanor Rigby? (If not, why would his name be mentioned here?) If no one would hear his sermon, there might be something wrong with his credibility as a priest. Then if he’s not earning a living by being a priest, he should be working, just like what the song says… look at him working, darning his socks in the night… after which, a question says, what does he care? Why does he have to work? Must he provide for someone else? For Eleanor? Why? How was Eleanor Rigby related to Father McKenzie, that he had to provide for her? Could he be the father of Eleanor? That might be a shocking question, but before we answer that, let’s look at the remaining lines from the song:
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…
Notice that there is a big leap on the story of Eleanor Rigby, because here in the last part, it’s already her death, the end of her story – but true enough, it’s not yet the end but just the start of a bigger revelation of who she really was. She died and was buried along with her name… only with her name. Her name might be her only possession. As we know, names are for identities. Our name is who we are. We are called by it, we are known by it, we are associated by someone or something because of it. Her name is who she was. She was Eleanor. Eleanor Rigby. But why would the song have to say that she died along with her name, if obviously we die with our name? I believe that it was placed there for emphasis…that she died with that name, which makes us think that she could die with another name. Now the answer comes. She died and was buried along with the name Eleanor Rigby but it wasn’t her real name. It might be a name given by Father McKenzie, to hide her identity from other people. She must be an Eleanor McKenzie, but to hide the shame of being a daughter of a priest (coz priest should not have a daughter) he named her Rigby. But she had to be with her dad, live with her dad, stay with her dad and grow up with her dad. That’s why father McKenzie have to work to earn a living for them. It’s also the reason why no one would listen to his sermons. He is not anymore credible (according to the Catholic rules). Eleanor was a forbidden daughter. She was a sinful fruit of a “holy” minister. There was no mention of how she died (it can be suicide or murder) if you are emotional, you might identify with her and think that she committed suicide to end her loneliness, but if you are not, you might think that she was murdered by her own father, father McKenzie, to cover up for his shame of having a daughter. And on her death, nobody came, because she doesn’t have any family except her father. The song says, Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. The wiping of the hand could mean the literal taking away of dirt after burying her, or can be a figurative wiping of hands, which connotes denial of sin or trying to be innocent. Either of the two, one fact remains, being a daughter of priest is lonely, isn’t it? Here, we already identified who really Eleanor Rigby, hence, the reason why she was lonely.