Thursday, 8 September 2011

Far From the Madding Crowd' portrays Bathsheba's caprice and wilfulness gradually crushed by bitter self-knowledge and rejection." How far do you agree with this statement?




At the beginning of the novel, Thomas Hardy portrays Bathsheba as a vain and superficial character. Her actions reveal her to be powerful and independent, which was not a typical characteristic of a woman of her time. These characteristics have given her a lot of confidence in her own abilities and she also seemed to expect all of the other characters (who were men) around her to oblige to her requests and demands unconditionally. This strong confidence and wilfulness allowed her to act on her impulses and achieve what she wanted with ease. However, she later realises that her beauty and physical appearance is not always what she needs to attain what she wants, such as a dutiful husband, and after a number of rejections from both Gabriel and Troy, she develops into a more mature and perhaps humbler character.
In the early part of the novel, Bathsheba is portrayed as capricious and in some occasions, reckless. Bathsheba intended to send a valentine to a little boy but in a split second of fancy and more than anything, chance, she decides to send the letter to Boldwood instead: "Let's toss, as men do" said Bathsheba idly.' Bathsheba was "idle" as she did this and obviously did not think this decision through. She's relying entirely on tossing a coin, in fate, an act of reckless caprice. ("Now then, head, Boldwood; tail Teddy.") Bathsheba's motives in sending the valentine also reveal another part of her character. Boldwood did not pay her any attention in the church which the other men there did, and Bathsheba, being established as vain, was a little piqued and annoyed by Boldwood's lack of interest in her. She then questions his behaviour to herself and to Liddy, her servant: "'What did he do?' Bathsheba said perforce. Didn't turn his head to look at you once all the service.' Why should he? ... I didn't ask him to.' Bathsheba dropped into silence intended to express that she had opinions on the matter." The fact that he did not look at her and this was bothering her emphasises several points made earlier in the novel about her vanity; she wanted his attention just like every other man gives her theirs (Liddy says "But everybody else were watching you."). And so she sends him the valentine. This again emphasises Bathsheba's wilfulness to get what she wants as well as her caprice and to an extent, vanity.
Bathsheba's reckless behaviour shown in this scene had caused a huge impact on Boldwood even though Bathsheba did not expect this to be such a big deal and is quite obviously unprepared for the consequences. This simple and seemingly trivial act of Bathsheba had affected the entire story significantly; it had caused Boldwood's entire character to change from a solid and wise man to a hopelessly obsessed and damaged character. This scene, among several others, also shows the reader that Thomas Hardy explores and expands on the idea of fate and how it can significantly change the outcome of a story or even a character.

Bathsheba sends the valentine to Boldwood with the seal "Marry Me" shown on the front. Again, she chooses this seal in random, without even thinking of what's written on it, emphasising on her impulsive and reckless tendencies. After seeing what is on the seal Bathsheba still decides to send the valentine, obviously not realising the impact and consequences her actions may have. Part of the reason why Bathsheba still sent the valentine after realising what's on the seal may be to do with her curiosity on how Boldwood would react to such a thing and the fact that she wants Boldwood to notice her.

Another scene that reflects on Bathsheba's capricious and impulsive nature is when she fires Gabriel without evident thought or consideration; she did what she felt like doing at that very moment. Gabriel tells Bathsheba his opinions on her actions and what he had to say wasn't what she neither expected nor wanted to be told. "I cannot allow any man to- to criticise my private conduct' she exclaimed. Nor will I for a minute. So you'll please leave the farm at the end of the week!". She fires Gabriel at that instant simply because she was mortified and shocked at Gabriel's honesty. It is also worth considering that it was her own curiosity which led Gabriel to tell her his opinions about the matter. ("Well, what is your opinion on my conduct?" said Bathsheba). She only wanted to hear positive and flattering comments about her, again showing the reader her vanity and her expectations of other men obliging to her demands. This part of Bathsheba's character, especially later in meeting Troy is what led her to fall in love with Troy rather than Gabriel who seemed like the more obvious and sensible choice; Troy satisfies her expectations of being constantly praised and flatter. Bathsheba later realises this flaw in character when she realises that Troy, the man who she was so infatuated by was nothing more than a handsome figure and it was Gabriel who really was there for her.
Bathsheba says "I cannot allow" in quite a forceful manner. Hardy uses punctuation (exclamation mark) to convey Bathsheba's emotions at the time; emotions of shock as well as annoyance. Hardy shows the way that Bathsheba is at a loss for words: "to- to" She stutters as if to show the reader just how frustrated she is that she cannot find words for what she feels perhaps it is too outrageous to say out loud. Bathsheba definitely does not react calmly or in the most rational way. She responds entirely on how she was made to feel right there and then, which again emphasises caprice. It also suggests immaturity at some level in her character, which we see develop later on in the novel.

Later on after this scene, Bathsheba faces an urgent dilemma in her farm when her sheep eats new clover and it impairs their health; immediate help is needed to save the sheep's' lives. The only man who is able to carry out the procedures to save the sheep is Gabriel and the other shepherds tell Bathsheba so. She however reacts violently to this suggestion and says: "How dare you name that man in my presence!" This reaction again shows the reader how she expects other men around her to follow her commands. The manner in which she says this line is very commanding. Hardy conveys some sort of anger that Bathsheba feels by using the phrase "How dare you!". This is a very common phrase that people say and its message of anger, frustration and shock is very clear. Bathsheba also says "I told you never to allude him" in the same imperious manner. Her violent and immediate reaction again reinforces her somewhat immature nature.
Instinctively, Bathsheba completely refused to ask for Gabriel's help even though she knows she has not any choice. This portrays Bathsheba as stubborn and again, immature. When Bathsheba finally lets this pride go and ask for Gabriel's help, she does not go to see him in person- her pride is too high. Instead she writes him a note with the words "Do not desert me, Gabriel!". This is an obvious example that shows Bathsheba's plea of desperation at this tragic time; she does need Gabriel, and even though she is hugely independent, Gabriel is an essential part of the farm. However, Bathsheba simply sys "Do not desert me" as opposed to "Please, help me" which is really what she implied and meant. She almost refuses to use the word "please"even though she is just short of begging. This reflects on her somewhat imperious and proud character. It also suggests, again, that she is used to the independence and control. She uses the word "desert" as if to suggest that Gabriel is supposed to be helping her as given obligation rather than an act of kindness, and neglecting her of this help is neglecting his responsibilities, which is clearly not the case: Bathsheba was the one who fired Gabriel.

Although Gabriel has supported Bathsheba in many aspects throughout the novel, Gabriel does at first reject Bathsheba in this scene. He refused to come to her aid immediately when she sent one of the shepherds for Gabriel and asks for her to see him in person. This is a subtle more subdued rejection that Bathsheba had encountered, but through this and Gabriel's honesty, she realises her shortcomings and the fact that she needs Gabriel and this certainly contributes to the development of her character.
Similarly in a later scene, Bathsheba tries to fire Gabriel a second time because he annoyed her by stating his opinions about Troy and her choice between him (Troy) and Boldwood. She does this almost instinctively; it seems like whenever she gets agitated by someone's, particularly Gabriel's behaviour, her immediate reaction is to get them out of her sight. This again shows us that Bathsheba is a capricious character. However, this scene also introduces us to the development of Bathsheba's character. She tells Gabriel to go almost pleadingly; she requests him to leave, rather than commands him to. This gives us an indication that Bathsheba is growing in character. Bathsheba says to Gabriel "Do not remain on this farm any longer. I don't want you I beg you to go!" She says this as a plea, a request rather than an order and in a completely different manner in contrast to the more demanding and superior way in which she did previously. She asks him to go or even "begs" him to go. The way in which she says "I don't want you" conveys a rather desperate sentiment from Bathsheba. She uses the word "want" rather than "need". This suggests that she realises that she does "need" Gabriel both in the farm (sheep-clover scene) and as a friend (his honesty helps her realise her mistakes; he also offers the support which her husband does not give her). Bathsheba has admitted her flaws to herself and seems to become less pretentious. Again this shows us further development and change in her character.
Bathsheba asks Gabriel instead


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