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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 4–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 4: Gabriel's Resolve—The Visit—The Mistake

Gabriel Oak realizes that Bathsheba Everdene is both lovely and unusual, and he decides that he ought to marry her. She, however, points out that she is far too independent. "I hate to be men's property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day." She would like a wedding, but not a husband.

Chapter 5: Departure of Bathsheba—A Pastoral Tragedy

Not long after this exchange, Gabriel learns that Bathsheba has left Norcombe for Weatherbury, 20 miles away. A greater tragedy occurs, however, when Gabriel's young herding dog herds his flock off a cliff. The loss of his flock means Gabriel can pay his debt only by selling off all his possessions. Hence, he falls into poverty.

Chapter 6: The Fair—The Journey—The Fire

Gabriel Oak heads toward a hiring fair in Casterbridge. He receive negative responses from farmers when they learn he has been a farmer, too, so he uses some of his remaining money to have a shepherd's crook made. Even in presenting himself as a shepherd, his luck remains poor. Gabriel heads then to another town in Shottsford, which is past Weatherbury where Bathsheba has gone. His trip includes accidentally being carried along the road in the back of a wagon where he has been napping. In the wagon, he overhears talk of an unusual woman—one who can play the piano, is vain, and remains unmarried. He slips out of the wagon, and in short order, he discovers a fire. Using his skills and intellect, he contains the fire. Afterward, he discovers that the farm is owned not by a man, but by a woman. When he meets her, he is shocked to discover that the farmer is Bathsheba Everdene. He asks if she is seeking a shepherd.

Analysis

Bathsheba represents Hardy's female character type. Like Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native (1878), and the women in Hardy's most controversial novels—Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure (1895)—Bathsheba Everdene is a woman who conflicts with social expectations. From her outspoken nature to her way of riding a horse to her stance on marriage, she establishes herself as an exceptional woman. She pointedly notes that "I shouldn't mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband." Her personality is not such that the typical expectations of a woman should apply, which she acknowledges. She points out her independence and asserts that Gabriel could not "tame" her.

Gabriel, for his part, has a tragedy that leads him to the town where Bathsheba is. The loss of his farm and his flock has lowered his station, and the failure of his farm scares off other farmers from hiring him. In this situation, Gabriel is humbled by having to ask for a job from the woman he'd hoped to make his wife. He becomes further hurt by her coldness.

Even in this situation, the strengths of his character shine. He is, like his namesake the oak, strong and reliable. He proves resourceful after his flock's death, traveling in pursuit of bettering his situation, and even in this position of poverty and loss, he acts when he sees people in need. His caretaker personality and steadiness quickly emerge as he steps in to save the burning crops. He gives his time and energy, at risk to himself, because it needs to be done.

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