The Madding Crowd Essay
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The first thing the reader sees is the chapter heading, and in Hardy’s case, he uses chapter headings as a summary for the chapter; “Mistress and Men” implies a Mistress holding power over men. It is this subversion of gender roles, which lends the attraction for ladies of leisure in the 1900s, and also generates humour; as at the time the thought of a woman in control of men would have been laughable. It also serves to impress upon the ladies of leisure that would have read this format of writing, that women could be self-reliant.
This could have been seen as a dangerous ideal, as it promotes independence, something not required of the middle and upper class ladies of the time. The main technique Hardy used is the subversion of gender, and this is shown when Bathsheba speaks to the men. There is a reciprocation of gender roles; she shows independence and speaks to the men with great determination and coolness, whilst the men are attempting to win her attention. The rise in social class of Bathsheba also coincides directly with Farmer Oak’s fall in status to become shepherd Oak.
This is a role reversal technique, to enable Bathsheba to take on a higher status than Gabriel. It could be that this is Hardy demonstrating women’s strengths, as he, himself respected women, which is evident equally in both the general narration and the description of Farmer Oak. However, this technique is balanced out as, at some points in this chapter, Bathsheba appears to be nai?? ve and innocent, “young farmer”, especially when dealing with the wages.
She gives presents of money, which suggests she is used to having certain amounts of wealth, “Ten shillings in addition as a small present”, and she trusts the men to tell the truth. This corresponds directly to her growth throughout the novel, which ultimately leads to her marrying Oak, as she goes from a nai?? ve and vain girl, to a mature and sensible woman. Hardy uses positioning to denote status throughout the novel and it is, therefore interesting to note that Bathsheba enters through the “upper end of the old hall,” followed by “Liddy”.
Hardy then gives the impression that Liddy derives her status from her proximity to Bathsheba, “position at her elbow,” which suggests that Liddy is a woman following the example of Bathsheba, which is again implied by Hardy at the end of the chapter, “not entirely free from travesty. ” Also linked to positioning is the fact that Oak stays by the door of the house, which is represented as Bathsheba’s heart, and is neither inside nor outside.
This symbolises the fact that Bathsheba is still proudly refusing the proposal, but the shepherd has saved the shed from catching fire, so he was neither in nor out of love. Hardy’s reversal of the gender roles can lead to instances that would have been ridiculous to the intended Victorian audience, for example the unexpected dismissal of the bailiff. A male farmer could have been able to manage a farm that size without a bailiff, but women were supposed to need a bailiff.
This point is further underlined by the men’s ” audible gasp of amazement”, which is linked to the famous quote at the end of the chapter, “In short, I shall astonish you all. ” This is an ironical prefiguration of how Bathsheba manages to astonish everyone, but in the wrong way, which is why Hardy uses “astonish” instead of amaze. Another technique used by Hardy to demonstrate gender control is that all of her men are all described as stereotypical country folk, “I mane” which further emphasises Bathsheba’s dominance over them, whilst demonstrating the typical easy lifestyle enjoyed by rural dwellers.
There is also an issue of humour here, as urban readers would have found entertainment from the simple, rural lifestyle, “Thompson’s Wonderfuls with a dibble. ” Therefore this chapter could be seen as a humorous interlude to sustain interest in the book, and to give a break from the main plot. The way Hardy describes Bathsheba contrasts directly with the way he depicts the women working on the farm, “Yielding women”, he suggests they are promiscuous, “scarlet” women, which is ironic when one considers the certain similarities between them and Bathsheba when she is wooing Sergeant Troy.
That is, when she marries Sergeant Troy, she becomes subservient, and she takes a deferent view towards Troy. We can also see Bathsheba’s dominant nature reflected again in the behaviour of Laban Tall, whose wife dominates him, “I be his lawful wife! ” Bathsheba has a large speech towards the end of the chapter detailing the change of gender as she warns the men, “Now mind you have a mistress instead of a master.
” This dominant, and imperious voice is relevant to her status, but many people at the time would have found this laughable, “because I am a woman I don’t understand the difference between right and wrong,” which suggests one of the conflicts the play is built around; good against evil, peace against war or Shepherd Oak against Sergeant Troy. In conclusion, Hardy uses many linguistic devices to build up an impression of a dominant mistress, and subservient men. The main of these is the subversion of gender as Hardy reciprocates the normal positions of males and females.