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Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Symbols



One of the first details the narrator describes is Gabriel Oak's unusual silver watch that is "a small clock as to size. This instrument, being several years older than Oak's grandfather, had the peculiarity of going either too fast or not at all." Like Gabriel, the timepiece has history, but also keeps his own pace. In symbolic terms, it is akin to the pastoral man: he does his own thing, not strictly governed by man's time. Gabriel is referenced as telling time by the stars, as well as by his watch, however. He is neither all of nature nor altogether divided from it.

This presentation is balanced by Sergeant Troy. He has "a heavy gold watch" that has inscribed within it "Cedit amor rebus—'Love yields to circumstance.' It's the motto of the Earls of Severn." Like Gabriel's watch, this one is an heirloom. It belonged to his father. This watch is also where Troy hides the proof that his heart belongs to another. A golden curl of Fanny Robin's hair is in it.

Bathsheba also has a watch early on, which she tells Troy she's lost. His attempt to give her his father's watch is the moment when he realizes that what began as a flirtation has developed into genuine feeling for him.

Lambs versus Sword

When Gabriel Oak goes to see Mrs. Hurst and Bathsheba, he carries a gift: "I've brought a lamb for Miss Everdene." Even at the onset when he is a farmer, he tends the lambs himself. When he takes on duties at Bathsheba's farm, he is a shepherd: "Four lambs hung in various embarrassing attitudes over his shoulders." When she fires him, her flock gets into the clover and needs tending. It is Gabriel who comes to ease their pain.

Gabriel is in stark contrast to Sergeant Troy. Troy is associated not with the tending of a flock, of nurturing and steadiness, but with flash and violence. Bathsheba has heard "wondrous reports" of sword drills and demonstrations. To hear them tell it, it was "the most flashing affair conceivable; accoutrements and weapons glistening like stars—here, there, around—yet all by rule and compass." When she goes alone to meet Troy, it is to see a sword demonstration.

Clothes for "Bathsheba Boldwood"

The characters themselves see the items for "Bathsheba Boldwood" as evidence of Farmer Boldwood's madness. There are other references to their growing opinion that love of her has led to his loss of clarity, but this particular example is part of why he is not hanged for murdering Bathsheba's husband. After he is in jail, Boldwood is discovered to have bought "ladies' dresses in the piece, of sundry expensive materials; silks and satins, poplins and velvets ... two muffs, sable and ermine [and] a case of jewellery, containing four heavy gold bracelets and several lockets and rings." Moreover, each item has been "bought in Bath and other towns from time to time, and brought home by stealth" and labeled with the name "Bathsheba Boldwood." These acts serve as tangible evidence that symbolize Boldwood's loss of sanity for the characters, and by extension for the readers as well.

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