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    Gabriel Oak: An Honest Farmer with a Divine Love for Nature

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    Gabriel Oak is portrayed as an honest farmer, who has a divine love for nature. Hardy uses him as a mouthpiece to perhaps convey his own enduring love of the countryside. But Oak’s characteristics do not fully comply to the Victorian ideals. His occupation of a shepherd would not provide the satisfactory wealth that women expected from the ‘ideal man’. His appearance is not one of an attractive, middle-class man who would attract women, but of a rustic who lacks confidence in his appearance and approach to women, like Bathsheba.

    Oak cares for Bathsheba, but does not succeed in marrying her until the end of the novel (when Troy is dead and Boldwood is imprisonment), as he feels she is a woman who would prefer handsome men with considerable wealth as her ‘ideal husband’. Oak does not have the academic intelligence or education of the ‘ideal husband’ which may explain why he is occupied on a farm and does not work in a higher-paid job, or in Boldwood’s case, a yeoman farmer.

    Farm work was common in the late 1800s and farm workers were poor people and few were regarded as the social graces of the town. Oak was not popular in Weatherbury for his wealth or family reputation as he grew up in a working-class family, like Hardy who uses Oak to portray his lifestyle and characteristics. These qualities were expected by Victorian women of potential husbands. Women expected their husbands to be romantic and charming, with the husband perhaps often complimentary gifts to maintain good relations in the marriage. Oak is not a romantic man who will cosset a woman with expensive gifts to please her. Instead he is a sensible and practical man who believes in the spiritual and moral qualities of a relationship more than the financial qualities. Oak is quite lifeless and boring, which does not appeal to Bathsheba.

    “…And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be- and whenever I look up, there will be you.” “Wait, wait, and don’t be improper!” Here, Oak expresses his future thoughts to Bathsheba, who does not approve of being a housewife sitting in front of a fire. She does not want him to make too many assumptions as she realises that she does not love him. This shows Oak is not a romantic man, and only offers stability. Men from wealthy backgrounds were highly approved by the most attractive women in society, and would attract the most attention. Accompanied with their level of education, wealth was, and perhaps still remains, an essential factor for single ladies hunting for their ideal spouse..

    As Frank Troy is a man who opposes the countryside, and supports modernization, Hardy portrays him as an insensitive and destructive man. Troy has an inability to exercise a sense of responsibilty. Following the wedding celebrations, Bathsheba’s ricks are almost in a state of complete destruction, and it is ironic that Oak is the one who labours with Bathsheba to avert the catastrophe, when Troy appears the hero.

    Troy is a weak man, who does not have the strength of character to confront Bathsheba in an argument, so he turns violent and begins shouting, a sign of shallowness. Troy’s shallowness is demonstrated as he constantly bombards Bathsheba with outrageous flattery. But as his character develops, flattery of her soon turns to disrespect towards his eventual wife. Troy feels that living his own life perfectly is more important than showing respect to men and women equally. His disrespect for women is evident. “we’ll send the women-folk home! ‘Tis time they were in bed. Then we cockbirds will have a jolly carouse to ourselves!

    If any of the men show the white feather, let them look elsewhere for a winter’s work.”(P229 Ch 36) In this quotation, Troy’s attitude towards women is shown. He believes that women are inferior to men, and that only the men should be permitted to enjoy themselves, whilst the women are asleep in the house. This attitude would not be typical of the ideal Victorian husband, as the manner in which Troy addresses his fellow males is too harsh considering the rising feminist movements. Although, the men would be the most likely to control the home and would send the women home to bed, but would perhaps advise them to rest and be safe than dictate orders.

    Troy manipulates Bathsheba in order to gain his own selfish desires. He flatters her constantly, but his flattery is not genuine, and his comments towards her are used to ensure that Bathsheba feels that their marriage is safe. When Troy asks her for money for horse racing (which she does not approve of) Bathsheba is disheartened as she recalls his flattery of her, and realizes that it is false. “Only such a few weeks ago you said that I was far sweeter than all your pleasures put together, and that you would give them all up for me … Come, let me fascinate you … by pretty words and pretty looks … to stay at home.” (P255 Ch 41)

    Here, Bathsheba exposes Troy as a deceitful manipulator. This is a pure example of how Troy’s flattery fools Bathsheba, but she begins to realise his weak character as the novel progresses. The quotation shows how Troy is egetistical and does not have much consideration for his spouse. Troy’s views on Bathsheba change constantly, showing an unpredictable side to his character. These characteristics do not comply to the stereotypical Victorian man, as men respected their wives and were constant and faithful to them. They would be expected not to commit adultery, such was their devotion.

    His manipulative manner is exposed again when Bathsheba explains to Oak how Troy told her flatly that he had seen a more attractive woman than her, expecting her to accept that he does not see her as his most loved one. “But I was coming away, when he suddenly said he had that day seen a woman more beautiful than I, and that his constancy could not be counted on unless I at once became his …” (p240 Ch 37) This gives an image of a man who does not have undivided care for a woman, but is a free spirit and only cares for his personal satisfaction. When he sees an attractive woman, he tells Bathsheba, which discomforts her. A Victorian man would not draw a woman’s attention to a good-looking lady if he thought she was of higher quality than his wife. Troy is not respectful in this way and insinuates an adulterous nature.

    Deceit is another of Troy’s vices which contradict our idealised perception of Victorian men. Troy’s temperament is tested when Bathsheba inquires about a curl of hair she notices inside his watch, and wonders whom the hair belongs to. Troy reacts by lying to her, but Bathsheba is not convinced with his lies. “A woman’s curl of hair!” she said. “O, Frank who’s is that?” “Why, yours, of course. Whose should it be? I had quite forgoten about it.” “What a dreadful fib, Frank!” “I tell you I had forgotten it!” he said loudly. (P256 Ch 41)

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