Up until now, most of the narration has been told from the point of view of Gabriel. In these chapters, the reader remains privy to Gabriel's thoughts but also receives information to which he has no access. He does not learn about the bailiff's crime or about Fanny Robin's possible elopement, and we see the whole crowd at the fair before the narrator focuses in on Gabriel. This practice of gradually moving in on a scene from an initial great distance, eventually singling out a familiar character, is a favorite of Hardy's. He analyzes the way we perceive a group of people, noting the fact that they all seem the same until we recognize a prior acquaintance.
The scene characterizing the farm laborers is also typical of Hardy's novels. Here, Hardy pauses the plot for an entire chapter, giving a detailed account of how the 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--here, the deaths of Gabriel's ewes--with one of a more light-hearted tone. With this scene, 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.
These chapters also serve to test Gabriel by presenting him with a series of difficulties. Yet Gabriel consistently passes the test: Indeed, the way in which he repeatedly overcomes his challenges, honor intact, constitutes part of Gabriel's idealized portrayal in the novel as a whole. While Bathsheba and Sergeant Troy interest us precisely because of the ways in which each character's strengths and faults play against each other, Gabriel is almost utterly noble and reliable. He loses his sheep and reacts by mourning for the sheep rather than for himself; he comes across a fire and knows exactly how to stop it. Gabriel is the idealized hero of the novel.
Hardy artfully sets up the meeting between Gabriel and Bathsheba so as to highlight the changes both have undergone in the intervening months. The last time they met their situations were precisely reverse: She was penniless and he was a prosperous young farmer. In two months their relative stations have changed dramatically, and Gabriel finds himself asking for a job rather than for her hand in marriage. The meeting marks a new phase in both characters' lives; the change in setting also heralds this realigned relationship.