The title Far From the Madding Crowd comes from Thomas Gray's famous 18th-century poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard": "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learned to stray; Along the cool sequestered vale of life They kept the noiseless tenor of their way." By alluding to Gray's poem, Hardy evokes the rural culture that, by Hardy's lifetime, had become threatened with extinction at the hands of ruthless industrialization. His novel thematizes the importance of man's connection to, and understanding of, the natural world. Gabriel Oak embodies Hardy's ideal of a life in harmony with the forces of the natural world.

The novel also contemplates the relationship between luck, or chance, and moral responsibility: Why should we live a morally upright life if tragedy strikes us all equally anyway? While some characters, like Gabriel, are always responsible and cautious, others, like Sergeant Troy, are careless and destructive. Hardy was very much influenced by the ideas of Charles Darwin, who maintained that the development of a biological species--and, by extension, of human society and history--is shaped by chance and not by the design of a god.

Another theme is the danger and destruction inherent in romantic love and marriage; Hardy exposes the inconsistencies, irrationalities, and betrayals that often plague romantic relationships. Bathsheba begins the novel an independent woman, but by falling in love with Troy, she nearly destroys her life. Similarly, Hardy presents us with many couples in which one partner is more in love than the other, and he shows what disastrous events result from this inequality.

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