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The Character Progression Of Far From The Madding Crowd’s Gabriel Oak

A screen shot of Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan as Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene

Screen shot from Far From The Madding Crowd, copyright © 2015 Fox Searchlight.

This will be in part a character analysis.

Whilst Bathsheba Everdene is strong-willed and against marrying… unless it involves a particular soldier, I always felt that had Gabriel Oak understood who Bathesheba was, he would have gained her hand sooner. Hardy’s plot, with its three suitors, of course stands on its own but to me part of the idea of it is that there’s time for Gabriel to learn.

Whilst Bathsheba’s own learning – her progression from someone quite selfish and thoughtless to someone who knows actions have consequences – is forefront, throughout the book Gabriel’s progression trickles along steadily in the background. Gabriel begins as a person who sees a pretty woman (and wants to give her a lamb because “I thought she might like one to rear; girls do”) and becomes someone who understands that, actually, Bathsheba is competent enough even if she requires his help. He understands that she’s equal to him, an individual. Hardy is all about women having more liberty and he places this into his plans of the progression for his male characters. Bathsheba may be selfish and frivolous, he’s saying, but she’s a person deserving respect and you men after her heart and farm should think so, too.

Gabriel is Bathsheba’s constant. He sticks around when she spurns him, pushing aside his love for her and mollifying himself with friendship. Unlike Boldwood, who becomes obsessive in his desire, Gabriel defers to Bathsheba’s decision about him and offers help and safety. Boldwood, and Troy as it so happens, offer instability.

We know from the start that Gabriel is likely to win Bathsheba over by the end due to his presence at the start of the novel and Hardy’s way of describing him. As I said a while back, we are supposed to like Gabriel Oak – Hardy writes about him in a way that ensures we do.

Gabriel meets Bathsheba, if we can call it a meeting, when she passes through his field. He sees her admiring herself in a mirror and offers to pay her passage through the gate, receiving not so much as an acknowledgement of his presence in return. He has a good head on his shoulders – whilst another employee notes her beauty, Gabriel notes her vanity.

It doesn’t stop him loving her, however. Perhaps it’s her nature that he likes the most – not the vanity but her independence. Gabriel is there when Bathsheba is riding astride the horse, there when she lays back on the animal to continue her journey in a very casual fashion. What would Boldwood have made of her then? Troy would perhaps quite like it… or he’d be indifferent. Gabriel, it seems as we continue reading, seems to see someone to admire, if not always (she does make some bad choices!) then often. Though Bathsheba may be vain and selfish and frivolous, we can see that, not unlike the case of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, she meets her match in the unlikely Gabriel.

Does Gabriel test the waters a bit? To go back to that lamb incident, after having seen her on the horse, he still takes her a lamb on that ‘girls do’ premise. At this point, with his knowledge, it seems almost ingenious of him to offer her a lamb but perhaps in this he’s appealing to the vain woman, the frivolous Bathsheba who likes pretty things. Maybe she’ll like the lamb as much as she likes herself.

Gabriel also, we can assume, looses out to other men because of his weakness and silly idea – it’s okay if Bathsheba doesn’t love him, he says, as long as he loves her. He is in many ways like Bathsheba herself when she falls for Troy.

Whilst Boldwood sees Bathsheba’s frivolity, and Troy her strength but all too quickly her weakness also, Gabriel knows what lies beneath all that. Perhaps he can see the future, perhaps it’s just that Hardy’s intimating the future to us and therefore we can ascribe that notion to Gabriel, but it certainly can seem as though Gabriel is just biding his time.

Gabriel ‘lets’ Boldwood continue his own passion; he doesn’t get jealous. He also ‘lets’ Bathsheba fall in love with Troy without too much opposition; his active opposition only occurs when Bathsheba goes to find Troy in her scared-she’ll-loose-him state. Gabriel has seen through Troy and tries to stop her going but she is too far gone in her anxiety to listen to him and, like Boldwood, somewhat obsessed. What if Troy finds someone else? she’s thinking. In becoming a worrier, Bathsheba becomes someone Troy dislikes.

“I want someone to tame me; I am too independent and you would never be able to, I know,” Bathsheba had said to Gabriel. This section, near the beginning and again bringing to mind the later Scarlett O’Hara, can be seen as illustrative of what Gabriel later aspires to be. It’s never said, Hardy only ever shows it, but in becoming more protective and proactive on the farm, Gabriel becomes this tamer of Bathsheba. He likely won’t tame Bathsheba as much as she suggested – we see in her submission to Troy her weakness, a sort of wish fulfilment; Bathsheba becomes tameable to Troy and thus boring to him. By the time she accepts Gabriel, she has, we can assume, come to see the relative power in equality and Gabriel’s new proactive and strict-whilst-protective nature is now more relevant. He’ll ‘tame’ her, as she wants, but without her having to submit herself as she did to Troy – we can assume that after the book ends, Gabriel’s presence, guidance, will limit her frivolity without changing her nature too much. Hardy suggests it’s Bathsheba’s frivolity that’s the problem, not her independence, and indeed her statement was more a reflection of her knowledge of social norms, and perhaps a bit sexually suggestive, too.

After not listening to Gabriel, going after Troy, and marrying the man, Bathsheba’s farm is at stake – a storm’s on its way and Troy has persuaded all the farmhands to get drunk. This, the beginning of the action in the book, that latter section which I personally think fantastic, starts with Gabriel’s literal battening down of the hatches all by himself. He can see the storm coming and, not taken in by Troy and being stronger in character than the rest of the men, is sober and working to out-wit the winds. He manages it; somewhat surprisingly there is no commotion later, Hardy doesn’t choose to create a quarrel and Bathsheba, still a little in love with her husband, helps Gabriel but says nothing to Troy. This is the start of the game changer – Bathsheba and Gabriel working together to save the produce, Gabriel being there when Troy isn’t, confirming her need for him. She had always needed him, always asked him to stay on as an employee whenever he said he was leaving, but here she starts to see the problems with her husband in context – there’s an immediate contrast between him and Gabriel.

Gabriel is there when Troy fakes his death and there to see the man return. Boldwood destroys himself, not that there was any chance he’d gain Bathsheba’s hand, and again there’s Gabriel, now in a position to propose a second time with real knowledge of the woman he loves. Could we say Gabriel changed for Bathsheba? I think we could to some extent. He changed in his attitude towards her, but not in his overall baring. Bathsheba hadn’t noticed many of Gabriel’s good traits and time needed to continue for her, too, to start to see him. They both changed. Love at first sight doesn’t always work, says Hardy; look at Troy and then Gabriel. But he continues: love will conquer if it’s true. Love has to be based in reality. No ‘taming’ when you want independence, no running after someone who isn’t interested (no matter what other books say), no catching someone before they go off with an old flame. Reality, respect, time.

Gabriel does what Boldwood won’t – he waits, properly. And his waiting, full of proactive work instead of looking at the phone, so to speak, pays off. But it only does so because Bathsheba wants it too.



July 11, 2016, 9:26 am

A brilliant analysis of Gabriel. Spot on!

Booker Talk

July 11, 2016, 9:42 pm

You make a good point that we tend to focus on Bathsheba and forget that Gabriel also goes on a journey of character development. I read a critical essay which analyised the book in terms of its sexual connotations which included the scene where Gabriel watches Bathsheba secretly


August 23, 2016, 1:15 pm

Mary: Thanks, and phew!

Booker Talk: The quiet one goes unnoticed! That essay sounds very interesting.



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