In ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ how does Thomas Hardy convey the relationship between Bathsheeba and Gabriel Oak and how does he create mood, atmosphere and a sense of reality in chapters 20 and 21. Bathsheeba is a beautiful woman and knows she is. She goes on to inherit a farm which only adds to her vanity and desire for authority. Oak is an honest shepherd who works at Bathsheeba’s farm. By the time we get to this stage of the novel the relationship between Bathsheeba and Oak has history. At the beginning of the plot Oak proposed to Bathsheeba and she turned him down, immediately making her the dominant one of the two, which she enjoys.
However in chapter 20, Bathsheeba sends away one of her servants so she can talk to Oak alone about her conduct with Mr. Boldwood, a rich farmer who has fallen obsessively in love with her. By discussing this quite personal matter with Oak, Bathsheeba either wishes to subtly boast about her possible marriage to Boldwood – giving her the more dominant role again because she thinks Oak is still in love with her, or she thinks highly enough of Oak to talk about her private feelings with him – perhaps a true gesture of her real feelings.
When Bathsheeba first asks if the workers had commented on her conduct with Boldwood, Oak seemingly tries to avoid the subject: “Yes, they did. You don’t hold the shears right, miss” Perhaps the polite Oak (he called Bathsheeba Miss) knows that their conversation will end in an argument, a situation he would benevolently try to avoid. Also, he may wish to avoid the subject because he doesn’t wish to talk about another man’s relationship with the woman that he loves, another delicate signal of true feelings.
Not only does he verbally change the subject but as he says the above comment… “Gabriel relinquished the winch, and enclosed Bathsheeba’s two hands in his own. ‘Incline the edge so’, he said” This intimate act is a gesture of Oak’s care and love for Bathsheeba; he is acting as a teacher, which also suggests his kind regard and care. Hardy’s use of the words ‘relinquished’, ‘enclosed’ and ‘in his own’ capture the powerful intimacy of the moment. Bathsheeba doesn’t decline this straight away… “Her hands were held thus for a peculiarly long time”
Hardy suggests another secret unveiling of true feelings but this ambiguously could be interpreted as Bathsheeba’s teasing attitude towards men, for soon she promotes her authority once more and exclaims that she will not have her hands held. The romantic climax ends abruptly, and Hardy conveys this when the romantic language is replaced with a much more subdued and solemn tone as Oak ‘retired, quietly’ back to the winch. Bathsheeba continues to press Oak to discover the workmen’s comments and eventually Oak tells her that they all thought that she would be likely to marry Boldwood.
Bathsheeba seems to have already known this when next she says: “I thought so”, which leads me to think that she is involving Oak in her love life inappropriately suggesting she wants him to be a part of it. When she asks him to contradict these comments, involving him deeper, Oak is described as looking ‘incredulous’ and ‘sad’ which conveys his loving feelings towards her. Oak then calls Bathsheeba by her Christian name, to which she replies aggressively “Miss Everdene to you”.
This is the point where she realises she hasn’t done the right thing by leading Boldwood on, and is frightened that Oak will tell her this so she clutches on to her authority over Oak, her only advantage over him. Oak tells her he will not get involved and says calmly: “I have already tried to please you too much for my own good” Bathsheeba knows that Oak is attracted to her and adores this. Whilst Oak is in love with her, Bathsheeba feels she has control and a fair claim over him. As soon as he threatens this fact she gets upset.
This conveys her spoilt and somewhat selfish nature, her hunger for authority but also love for Oak. She can’t bear the fact that Oak has fallen out of love with her. Oak offers his opinion, which she stubbornly rejects out of spite. A narrative passage follows, in which important points are raised. “At this period the single opinion in the parish on herself and her doings that she valued as sounder as her own was Gabriel Oak’s”. From this, we can tell how greatly she really does regard Oak. Bathsheeba is a very proud woman and if somebody’s opinion is as significant as her own they must be important.
Her proud nature could also explain her harshness when around Oak. If she acted naturally then she would convey her true feelings – which she would regard as a weakness. The passage also explains how Bathsheeba knows how honest Oak is and although he is disappointed at Bathsheeba’s rejection of him he would never try to mutilate any other man’s chances of marrying her. She is the kind of woman that can get away with asking a man’s honest opinion about a tender subject because she is so charming. In a way, she uses Oak’s love of her against him, for she knows Oak would answer her honestly.
However, Oak is the only person she trusts to give her a sound judgement and being a person who feels the need to nurture her reputation, Bathsheeba desperately needs to have an opinion. Bathsheeba gives in, and out of desperation, asks Oak his opinion of her conduct – ‘quietly’: Hardy conveys her fearful feelings of the truth. Oak answers truthfully: “That it is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek, and comely woman. ” Of course, Bathsheeba does not like this, and her face turns an ‘angry crimson’. This indicates that Bathsheeba did not want Oak’s opinion at all, just his approval.
Oak’s reprimanding makes Bathsheeba angry because she is the boss and likes having authority so much, and oak next says that he answered honestly to do her some good. They then break out into an argument and Hardy comments that: “Bathsheeba had unmistakeably lost her temper, and Gabriel had never in his life kept his so well. ” The above line is the reason why the discussion elevates into an argument. Oak’s calmness fuels Bathsheeba’s rage, and by not reacting to Bathsheeba’s authoritative attempts Oak is able to annoy Bathsheeba even more.
Bathsheeba twists Oak’s comment of her unworthy conduct and brings it back on him, stating that she is only unworthy in Oak’s eyes because she won’t marry him. This is a cutting comment for Oak as he does still love her and his rejection is immediately evoked. Indeed, it would have been a cutting comment for anybody to make, except for Bathsheeba. She is so stubborn, so selfish and has such a need to be dominant that she will stop at nothing and nobody’s feelings to win an argument.
She is also feeling hurt because she thinks Oak does not love her any more, and this is where the irony of the whole situation lies. Bathsheeba is fighting Oak with feelings of rejection when really she is the one feeling rejected because she thinks that Oak does not love her. Nearing the peak of their argument, Oak confronts her with the stark truth: saying that she has treated Boldwood unfairly and that she really has not been kind. This is the truth, which Bathsheeba cannot handle. Oak telling her the truth makes her feel angry and hurt and it is the result of this, which makes her tell Oak to leave the farm.
She simply cannot bear to be told or criticized, especially by a man who works for her, and gets so upset she fires Oak from the farm without really meaning it.
Throughout the whole conversation, the two characters tones contrast, which adds to the mood. Bathsheeba’s angry, commanding and abrupt tone of voice is made more apparent by Oak’s great placidity. Also the fact that the grinding is going on throughout the scene adds to the atmosphere: “… his words rising and falling in a regular swell and cadence as he stooped or rose with the winch,”The narrative passages are written so precisely and true to life that they sound as if they had been written by the characters themselves, for they convey vivid thought and feeling, like the time Bathsheeba declines Oak’s opinion of her conduct at first and then goes on to request it.
The way that Bathsheeba’s eyes flash at Oak’s, but never meet them is so significant as it primarily add realism, and also conveys their true feelings for one another. Another point is that they both know what affects the other: Oak stays calm, which makes Bathsheeba angrier, whilst she conjures up his feelings of rejection, which deeply affects Oak.
They both seem to know each other so well, which I think is symbolic. Bathsheeba’s continual firm demands remind us of her controlling character and make the whole situation of her secret feelings for Oak and the moment where she fires him out of pride more justifiable. The biblical last line of the chapter echoes this point: “… and he went away from her, as Moses left the presence of the Pharaoh” The fact this line is linked to the Bible immediately adds power to it, and when we think of the situation, the two Biblical characters can be closely compared with Hardy’s two characters.
The dominant and mighty Pharaoh and the honest Moses. At the beginning of the next chapter, which is about a day after the last situation, the local rustics run up to Bathsheeba to tell her that the sheep are critically ill. Quite a symbolic point I think – as soon as Oak leaves the farm, the sheep get ill. The rustics’ conversation with their employer, Bathsheeba, not only adds to the excitement and suspense of the situation but more so it greatly adds reality. The language they use is dialectal, simple and un-advanced which gives the reader an insight into the real people of the area and their primitive way of life.