Theme Statement: Seniors generally struggle with their declining abilities and senses. They deserve respect, understanding and companionship for having lived through so many challenges and experiences, but people often ignore them, look down on them, or treat them as a burden.

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Narrative Elements


The “woman” likely works in a shop “in a small town.” The metaphor “stuck up on the shelf” suggests that it’s the “counter” of a shop. Small towns offer familiarity: the surroundings change less drastically, and the people who stay get to see each other and talk to each other more than the alienation of a large city. The “elderly woman” feels she ought to chat with the person from her past who has come in, but she’s lost track of the details and feels insecure about it. This feeling is magnified by the fact that very little changes around her. Also, she may feel “stuck” in the predictability of this small town.


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The singer uses the character of an “elderly woman” whose memory is slipping, and who feels helpless because of it. She proves to be timid and embarrassed when she can’t even say “Hello!” to someone she may have known, since she can’t remember his name or how she knew him. It’s safer for her fragile emotions to just stay quiet. She also seems frustrated that she has not changed “at all” in this small town, which “predicts” her “fate.” The lyrics show the woman’s point of view, so we feel sympathy for this character, and others like her who suffer the same loss of memory.

George Bernard Shaw's 'Heartbreak House': Summary & Analysis

Literary Devices

Metaphor: Two metaphors create sympathy for the character.

  • “Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name” compares the elderly woman’s memory to lighting a candle, a basic, old-fashioned way to light up a room. The woman can’t even manage to “light the candle,” showing how difficult it is to access her memories.
  • “It’s hard when you’re stuck up on the shelf” compares herself to a product on a shelf in a shop, unable to sell itself and helpless until someone reaches for it purchase. As the product collects dust up there, a shopper is less likely to choose it. We can feel the woman’s frustration at feeling “stuck” while others pass her by.


  • “Memories, like fingerprints, are slowly raising” compares the woman’s fading memory to disappearing fingerprints on an object. Fingerprints are unique and can identify a person, but not if they get smudged or too light to detect. We can imagine the woman’s fight to remember.


  • “I’ve changed by not changing at all” shows that the woman feels frustrated by her predictable life. By “not changing,” she hasn’t developed as a person. She can only lose memories now, instead of gaining experiences.

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