Comparison of Sergeant Troy and Gabriel Oak as contestants for the heart of Bathsheba in Thomas Hardy’s novel “Far From the Madding Crowd”.
In the book “Far From the Madding Crowd”, Thomas Hardy uses direct symbolism to link his characters to the Industrial Revolution Set in Wessex in the year 1874 at a time when people were dependant on the land for both food and employment, machines had begun to take the place of workers on farms. The Industrial Revolution had finally hit the country and was destroying the old country ways that Hardy loved so much.
The hero of the story Gabriel Oak like many other main characters has a hidden meaning to his name. Gabriel was the name of one of God’s Archangels. Oak is the strongest tree in nature and it is also long living, loyal and can withstand hard times. This means that Gabriel is a good man and loyal to the country, he represents the old ways.
Sergeant Troy represents the imposing force of the Industrial Revolution on nature. Sergeant, as it is a military name, represents the invasiveness and destruction of Troy/machines in the country. The name Troy is a reminder of the Trojan horse used to trick the Trojans into invasion and ultimately defeat. It has a deceiving exterior and is seductive and deceitful.
Bathsheba represents nature itself, the country. The name is taken from an Old Testament story in which King David lusts over Bathsheba, a married woman. He arranges the death of her husband in order to marry her but was later punished by God. This is a kind of prophecy of what is to come but also shows Bathsheba’s vulnerability and attractive womanhood.
At the moment when Bathsheba meets Troy she has already rejected Gabriel Oak and Mr. Boldwood. He is the first of her romances in the book. They meet by chance when their clothes become intertwined. Troy is very polite and seductive with her and sets a good impression as if he knows exactly what to say. Bathsheba tries to ignore his advances but soon realises that would be impossible to do. There is a “fairy transformation” at first he seems rude and offensive but he begins to change into “newborn gallantry”. When Troy’s physical appearance is first described he was “hooked in brass and scarlet”; brass showing his armour and masculinity and scarlet because it is an unnatural colour that rarely appears in nature. This shows the invasion has begun.
There next meeting is on a hill opposite Bathsheba’s “untainted” land. It is unspoiled and virgina and only governed by nature. Bathsheba walks through the ferns “their soft feathery arms caressing her up to her shoulders”. This is nature embracing her. She is part of it. The first glimpse she catches of Troy is “a dim artificial red”. The idea of him being unnatural is emphasised but also artificial, like the Trojan horse. Bathsheba feels safe near her home and feels this will make her less vulnerable to Troy’s seduction as it is not the right way for a respectable lady to meet a man, especially without a chaperon. Troy leads her away “giving her his hand to help her down the slope”.
Troy begins to show off to Bathsheba by showing her his agility with a sword, another sign of force and invasion. As he was swinging his word around her “she was enclosed in a firmament of light, and of sharp hisses”. The hisses are the same noise snakes make and serpents are known for untrustworthiness and deception, for example in the story of creation a serpent was responsible for the banishment of Adam and Eve from paradise. Troy tells Bathsheba the blade is not sharp to allow her to feel safe and not flinch while the blade comes close to her. After he explains how sharp the blade really was. This gives Bathsheba the first insight into the real Sergeant Troy. This is the first sign of his deceitfulness. He cuts a lock of her hair and puts it in his breast pocket; near to his heart. This also means he now owns part of her and has succeeded in the fist stage of his seduction, or invasion.
Once he has reached stage two, marriage he now wholly owns Bathsheba and his true personality comes to light soon after. The first major insight happens at the harvest banquet. Traditionally everyone who works on the farm comes, men women and children and they all drink beer. However Troy now begins to break the country ways and much against Bathsheba’s wishes he sends home all women and children home and gets out the brandy. Then Sergeant Troy says “it will not rain”. The next chapter is called “The Storm”.
In this chapter while Troy is asleep in the barn after the banquet Gabriel is trying to secure the hay ricks from the coming storm which Troy had denied Gabriel ponders about his life and prospects while he is out in the storm alone. After being turned down by Bathsheba and earlier having lost his flock he was wondering why he was risking his life to help. He pulled through and remained loyal even through these dire circumstances. He was living up to his name.
Troy had promised the hay would be made safe but when Bathsheba comes out it hasn’t been. Troy has lied again. Oak takes on the task himself and Bathsheba bravely helps. As the storm erupts around them Gabriel “steadied her on her aerial perch by holding her arm”. This is nature helping the heart of the country through this hard time.
“The flash was almost too novel for its inexpressibly dangerous nature to be a once realised”. This is a description of the lightning but would also be a perfect description of Troy. The storm represents Troy and he represents the outside forces. This is the outside forces’ first offensive attack on the country. In the passage it describes the lightning flashes as “the spring of serpent and the shout of a fiend” and “undulating snakes of green” which are also descriptions used previously for Troy. Gabriel notices “how strangely the red feathers of her (Bathsheba) hat shone in this light”. The red of the feathers shows Troy’s mark on Bathsheba and the control he know has over her.
After they have both fought to secure the hay ricks Gabriel says “We had a narrow escape!”. He uses the word “we” as they are one cause, nature, and belong together to fight the city invasion on their territory; the country.
In conclusion Bathsheba fell for Troy because of his outward appearances. He may have been handsome and charming but this was just a façade. Oak however is always his true self, loyal and good. He represents Bathsheba’s other half, the other half of then country.