Study Guide

Far From the Madding Crowd Themes

  • Marriage

    No matter what page you turn to in Far from the Madding Crowd, it seems like marriage is always on one of the main characters' minds. First Gabriel wants to marry Bathsheba, then Boldwood does, then Sergeant Troy does, and then Boldwood does again. Fanny Robin wants Troy to make good on his promise to marry her, and then Bathsheba actually does marry Troy. And then she marries Gabriel. It's a freaking marriage three-ring circus. After all, marriage in Far from the Madding Crowd is both a question of love and a question of finance. And for farmers in 19th century England—or 21st century anywhere, for that matter—what else is there?

    Questions About Marriage

    1. What do you think of Farmer Boldwood's attempts to get Bathsheba to marry him? Does the guy come on too strong, or is it Bathsheba's fault for leading him on?
    2. Why do you think Bathsheba sends Farmer Boldwood the Valentine with "Marry Me" written on the seal? Use specific evidence from the text to support your answer.
    3. Why does Bathsheba refuse Gabriel Oak's proposal the first time? Why does she accept it the second time?
    4. What is it about Sergeant Troy that makes Bathsheba agree to marry him? What does he offer that Oak and Boldwood can't?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows us that in the end, it's always important to choose substance over style when choosing a marriage partner.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, we learn that marriage is pretty much the most important event of a person's life back in the 1870s.

  • Religion

    Far from the Madding Crowd is set in Victorian England, which means that you're going to get a double dose of religion. More specifically, this novel observes the way in which religion shapes people's moral codes. Whenever someone needs to make sense of a difficult situation, they often do so by referring to a passage in the Bible that tells of a similar situation.

    One of the funny things you'll find throughout this book, though, is that characters who can't read well are constantly misquoting the Bible, meaning that they take comfort from expressions that aren't in the Bible to begin with. But that doesn't change the fact that these people still find comfort in thinking that they're quoting the Bible.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Do you get the sense that any character in this book is truly religious, or do they tend to quote from the Bible without thinking deeply about the words mean?
    2. In what types of situations does Hardy's narrator drop Bible references into this book? Why?
    3. What lie does Sergeant Troy tell Bathsheba to explain why she never sees him in church on Sunday? Does it work?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy shows us that life would be a lot easier if people just followed the Bible's guidance.

    In the end, Far from the Madding Crowd tells us that people might quote the Bible often, but that very few actually think about what the words mean.

  • Love

    First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. Or, for poor Fanny Robin: first comes love, then comes a baby, and then comes, um, death in the poorhouse.

    And for several characters in Far from the Madding Crowd, love and marriage don't have anything at all to do with one another.

    Boldwood, for example, doesn't care at all whether Bathsheba loves him, so long as she'll agree to be his wife. Gabriel, on the other hand, wants what is best for Bathsheba no matter what happens to him in the process. It's pretty easy to say that Gabriel's brand of love is a lot nicer than Boldwood's cold, practical desire to possess the woman he wants… and it's certainly nicer than Troy's amoral psychopath approach to L-U-V.

    Questions About Love

    1. Who do you think gives us the best example of a person who feels love in this book? Why?
    2. Do you think it's possible for two people to live a happy life together without loving one another, just like Boldwood suggests? Why or why not?
    3. Early in the book, Bathsheba tells Gabriel that she can't marry him because she doesn't love him. Does this change by the time she agrees to marry him? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, we learn that love triumphs in the end… even though a few people might get hurt along the way.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows us that there's no way to force someone to feel love, no matter how strong your own emotions might be.

  • Class

    Class is a really big deal in Far from the Madding Crowd. Certain characters move from one class to another as the story unfolds: Gabriel Oak, for example, starts the book as a farmer with his own land and sheep, but a freak accident plunges him into financial ruin and he needs to take a job as a shepherd. This is depressing to him, both because being broke sucks and because Bathsheba didn't want to marry him when he was just a farmer.

    As the novel progresses, you find out more and more how people's opinions and options tend to be determined by what place they occupy on the social ladder. The rich get to have options and opinions and the poor… don't.

    Questions About Class

    1. Do you think Bathsheba's pride comes from the fact that she's a wealthy owner of a farm, or is her pride a byproduct of her beauty? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
    2. Why does Bathsheba always talk about Sergeant Troy's family background when justifying her choice to marry him? What is Troy's background compared to his current position in the army?
    3. How does Gabriel Oak's behavior change when he starts making more money at Bathsheba and Farmer Boldwood's farms?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, we learn that no matter how much money or status a person has, the quality of their character is all that matters.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows us that a person's social class is important because things like money and education can totally change a person's personality.

  • Drugs & Alcohol

    If you just skim Far from the Madding Crowd, you can easily miss how important a role alcohol plays in its action. But beneath all the nature walks and cute baby sheep is more alcohol than on Mardi Gras weekend.

    We can tell that Sergeant Troy is a brute, for example, by the way that he can drink any other man under the table. By contrast, we know that Gabriel Oak is a good, Christian man by the way he tends to stay away from the sauce. There are some poor workmen like Joseph Poorgrass who just can't control themselves when it comes to drink, and for Hardy, this seems to happen out of a combination of addiction and personal weakness. On top of that, though, the plot of this book also calls for moments when people need to be a little more clumsy and dumb than usual, and alcohol is a really good way for a writer to make clumsy and dumb happen.

    Questions About Drugs & Alcohol

    1. What do you think this book's overall opinion of alcohol is? Is it for it? Against it? Does it distinguish between something like cider and, say, hard liquor?
    2. What do we learn about Sergeant Troy when he walks out of his barn whistling when every other man who has drank as much as him is stumbling around with a headache?
    3. What role does alcohol play in keeping Joseph Poorgrass from properly transporting Fanny Robin's casket to the Weatherbury cemetery? Who is to blame, apart from Joseph?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows us that it's best to just stay away from alcohol entirely if you're going to be a good person.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy draws a clear line between the enjoyment of alcohol and the abuse of it.

  • Pride

    You can't underestimate the role of pride in Far from the Madding Crowd, or in any Victorian novel, for that matter. Characters in Hardy novels are constantly looking for ways to satisfy their pride without appearing proud at all. It's all a very intricate social game, where everyone is trying to get the better of one another in the subtlest of ways.

    At times, though, it makes you want to see someone beaten down by the world until they learn to be humble. And luckily for you, that's something that Hardy loves to provide for his readers. Hardy's characters' favorite meal is humble pie.

    Questions About Pride

    1. Do you think Bathsheba ever truly gets over her sense of pride in this novel? Why or why not?
    2. Does the novel portray Bathsheba's pride as a good thing or a bad thing? Can it be both?
    3. One of the first things Gabriel Oak notices about Bathsheba is that she's proud. But in what ways is Gabriel just as proud? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
    4. In what way is Sergeant Troy's pride different from Oak's? How does Hardy use this difference to make us sympathize more with Oak? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, we learn that at the end of the day, pride will only set you up for horrible, horrible defeat. The best thing is to just be modest.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy suggests that pride can be really beneficial as long as you take pride in the right kinds of things.

  • Gender

    What do you get when a single woman living in the 19th century decides that she's going to manage her uncle's farm all by herself? You get some disgruntled workmen and a whole lot of conversation about gender, that's what. At first, Bathsheba doesn't seem to sweat it. But unfortunately, her independence as a woman (a good thing) seems to be tied inextricably to her vanity (a bad thing). Or in other words, it's really tough for Thomas Hardy to teach Bathsheba a lesson about vanity without also teaching her not to stand up for herself as a woman. And that can lead to some pretty interesting discussions on the (outdated) idea of gender in Far from the Madding Crowd.

    Questions About Gender

    1. Do you think Thomas Hardy's story is fair to Bathsheba, or is it too hard on her?
    2. Do you think that the book's ending celebrates Bathsheba's fall from independent woman into happy wife, or is the whole thing tinged with sadness? Why?
    3. Would Farmer Boldwood's aggressive marriage proposals be acceptable in today's society, or would the guy be charged with harassment?
    4. Do you think it's accurate for critics to call Bathsheba a feminist in this book? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows us just how hard it was for a woman to be independent and happy back in 19th-century England.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, we find that Bathsheba's vanity is always tied to the fact that she's a woman trying to prove herself in a man's world.

  • Man & the Natural World

    Thomas Hardy is a bit of a sucker for nature. In most of his books, you'll find a lot of nostalgia for a nice rural, nature-filled world that used to exist. This nature-filled world wasn't always a happy place: plenty of bad stuff happens to the country-dwelling characters in Far from the Madding Crowd, for example. But at the same time, Hardy always looks to nature as a source of hope, since nature always seems to be there, watching calmly over whatever drama comes out of human lives.

    Questions About Man & the Natural World

    1. Do you think that this book idealizes Gabriel Oak's relationship with nature? In other words, does Hardy turn Oak into a saint for being so close to nature all the time? Why or why not?
    2. Can you think of any scenes in this book in which a character needs to battle against nature? What does it tell us about the natural world?
    3. What do we learn about Gabriel Oak through his interactions with his flocks of sheep? Does he treat them kindly all the time, or is he practical about when to help them and when to kill them?

    Chew on This

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows us a world in which human beings are at peace with nature.

    In Far from the Madding Crowd, we learn that nature is a cold, uncaring thing that is completely indifferent to human life.