Discuss Hardy's use of point of view. Why does he have a third-person narrator? What is the effect of giving us insight into the minds of different characters by turns, presenting the same scene from different viewpoints? When is the narrator omniscient, and when is he connected to a particular character? Think about scenes in which one character observes another without being seen. How is this experience similar to that of being a reader?
Hardy purposely plays with point of view in order to create drama. When he describes Troy waiting for Fanny at the church, he does so from the perspective of the women watching Troy, not knowing him and not knowing Fanny. He slows down the time so we feel every minute tick by. As a result, we see Troy's humiliation at being seen to be abandoned at the altar, a reaction he would never have consciously admitted in his own mind. Another of Hardy's narrative methods is the way he introduces important (and often less important) characters. First, he shows them to us in action: Gabriel sees Bathsheba in her carriage; Bathsheba hears Boldwood ride up to the farm; she meets Troy in the wood; Gabriel meets Fanny Robin in the wood. In each of these scenes, the characters with whom we are already familiar know nothing about the character they are encountering except what they see at the time. Later, the omniscient narrator comes in and gives us background assessments of Boldwood, Bathsheba, Fanny, and Troy, providing generalizations about their character and their approaches to life. Finally, we see them transformed by what happens to them in the novel. Notice that the reader has much more room for interpretation when we meet these characters in action. We have to decide what we think based on the clues Hardy gives us. Chapter 26, Bathsheba's conversation with Troy in the field, is an extreme example of deliberate narrative strategizing. The chapter consists almost wholly of dialogue, almost entirely lacking any narrative commentary or even description. We hear Troy's words, knowing him to be dishonest, and then we hear how Bathsheba responds to them; the narrator withholds his own speculations, putting almost all of the interpretive power in the hands of the reader. We experience the scene as Bathsheba does; however, because we have prior information--in addition to an objectivity she lacks--we know she misreads Troy's remarks, falling too quickly for his charming surface. This narrative situation creates in the reader a tense feeling of frustration as we watch Bathsheba enter Troy's trap. Having shown us the effect of a series of meetings with Troy on Bathsheba's feelings, Hardy then takes Troy away and shows us how his absence affects her. Interestingly, very little of this section is shown from her point of view. Instead, we see her behavior as it strikes people who know her only distantly, such as Maryann Money and the farm workers. Chapter 32 is a particularly good example. Maryann watches someone take the horse from the stables and has no idea that Bathsheba would act so rashly as to ride to Bath at night without telling anyone. Thus, rather than seeing the series of decisions that lead up to her strange act, we see the act from afar. Hardy's use of perspective here makes the strange irrationality of Bathsheba's actions much more clear to us than it would be if we were inside Bathsheba's consciousness. Hardy does not allow us to sympathize with her but rather asks us to evaluate her behavior; the information with which he provides us gives us little choice but to judge this once strong and independent woman as increasingly foolish.
Discuss the roles of the farm laborers in the novel.
Several times during the novel, Hardy spends entire chapters giving an account of how the common laborers speak, how they spend their free time, and their opinions about each other. These groups of lower-class, common characters figure in almost all of Hardy's novels; like Shakespeare, he often uses them to effect comic relief, offsetting a tragic scene--for example, the deaths of Gabriel's ewes--with one of a more light-hearted tone. With such scenes, Hardy also intends to introduce urban or middle-class readers to the many different kinds of people that exist in the lower classes. In a later essay on the Dorsetshire laborer, he complains that people tend to stereotype farm workers and lump them all together. In other scenes, such as the sheep-washing and sheep-shearing scenes, the farm workers act as a kind of Greek chorus. At Boldwood's Christmas party, tension builds through the use of the villagers comments about Troy, just like a Greek tragedy in which the conflicts about to be unleashed are commented on by the chorus. They alone know what the reader knows--that Troy is alive, and may turn up at the party. Like the reader, they are powerless to intervene. The villagers articulate all the fears the readers have about how Boldwood and Bathsheba will react to Troy's presence. The tension they instill makes the somewhat melodramatic climax--Boldwood shooting Troy--more plausible.
Traditional "marriage plot" novels, such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, show a female choosing between several suitors and finally deciding on "Mr. Right" at the very end of the novel. Like theatrical comedies, these novels end with at least one marriage. How is this novel similar to marriage plot novels? How is it different? How does Sergeant Troy's relationship with Fanny affect this novel's portrayal of marriage?
One of the ways in which Hardy is playing with traditional novels is by choosing a heroine who has no abstract desire to get married. In some ways, Far from the Madding Crowd is a traditional novel of marriage, meaning that a heroine is given a choice of two or more suitors, and at the end of the novel, she chooses the right one. Yet a novel such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility focuses on a character who wants to find a husband; Bathsheba has the economic and emotional independence not to need to marry, and she has an interest in maintaining the farm and preserving her freedom. Gabriel's early conversation with Bathsheba shows her to be a capricious young woman who, in her own words, wants taming and has never been in love. The discussion the two have about marriage is remarkably frank. Bathsheba admits that she would like to have a piano, pets, a gig, and to be in the newspaper list of marriages, but her main objection is the husband himself, the notion of having someone to answer to, having one's independence constrained. Already we see that this novel is not going to view marriage as an idealized state, but imagine it as a reality. At the end of the novel, when Bathsheba marries Gabriel, Hardy is careful to show that the love that Gabriel and Bathsheba share is not the passion of a first love but a sadder and wiser connection. While the ending is ostensibly a happy one, that happiness is tempered by all that has happened.
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