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MonkeyNotes-Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
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Chapter 21

Bathsheba's victory over Oak lasts only for a short while. The day after Oak's exit from the farm, the sheep wander to a clover field and are blasted. Bathsheba scolds her workers for not bringing out the sheep from the field. Even as they talk, more sheep fall down, seriously injuring themselves.

Laban Tall says that the only way to save the sheep is to pierce their sides with an instrument, and Gabriel is the one person who can skillfully perform the operation. Bathsheba's vanity at first prevents her from calling for Oak. However, the sight of the dead and the dying sheep makes her forget her vanity. She sends Laban for Gabriel and hopes that he has not gone away for good. Gabriel, however, sends back word that he will not come until she makes her request politely. he sight of another dying sheep sends Bathsheba running to the house to write a note to Gabriel, with the personal plea that he should not desert her. Everybody anxiously waits and hopes for Gabriel's return. He comes this time without much fuss. Bathsheba scolds Gabriel gently, and he is puzzled by the change in her behavior. Oak at once inserts a small tube on the skin of each sheep in order to allow the surplus air to escape. The sheep are saved, all fifty-seven of them. Bathsheba comes up to Gabriel, and confident of his love for her, asks him to stay on her farm. He agrees to do so.


Notes

Fate again comes strongly into play in this chapter. Immediately after Bathsheba dismisses Gabriel, her sheep grow sick. The shepherds tell her that it is only Gabriel who can save them. She immediately sends for him. Once again, Gabriel shows Bathsheba how far she can take liberties with him. He will not come when she demands it; instead, he makes her realize how it is necessary to be humble. As a result, she writes a kind note to him and calls him back on his own terms, for she realizes he is indispensable to the smooth running of the farm. He comes, saves the sheep, and he stays. He also continues loving Bathsheba, and it is his love that is actually improving her nature.

The chapter is also filled with wonderful descriptions. Hardy details with fine realism the illness of the sheep. He also describes how the rustics cannot act in a crisis. They stand back in confusion, watch the sheep die, and look to Gabriel as a savior in times of trouble. Here, Hardy's class biases are revealed. However much his contribution to literature stems from his depiction of common people, he retains a romantic and middle class bias which disables him from viewing common people as totally capable and competent. Gabriel is depicted as the exception to the rule of the good intentioned, but bumbling rustic. Hardy stresses the fact that Gabriel is the only person who can cope with the crisis. In a farming community that goes back generations in the husbandry of sheep, it is unlikely that only one man would know how to administer a cure.

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