What is the importance of the rustic characters in the novel?

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One theme that runs throughout Hardy's work is the moral purity of the natural world, and of the people who live by the natural rhythms and impulses of a humble life, close to nature. Hardy criticized the empty moral and religious forms constructed by high society by contrasting them with the sincere, simple good faith of his rural and/or poor characters.

In this novel, Hardy depicts Bathsheba and Gabriel at their best when they are managing the farm and interacting with the farmhands in a hands-on way. Furthermore, the farmhands are generally depicted as capable and honest. Gabriel and the other rural characters are contrasted with the morally lax Troy, who is a lazy and inept farm manager and prefers mixing in society and showing off his wealth over caring for the crops and livestock.

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The rustic characters in Hardy's novel perform several functions. First, they provide local color. But more importantly, they represent and articulate the "view from below," the point of view of the lower classes, whose outlooks often weren't expressed in 19th-century novels. (We don't, for instance, get the viewpoint of rustics in Jane Austen's novels.)

Because Hardy's rustics have down-to-earth common sense, their opinion carries weight and helps characterize more important characters like Bathsheba and Gabriel as decent people.

Most markedly, we know Gabriel is a good guy because he can relate to the rustics, and they trust and respect him as a leader. He comes from similar roots, and when he is cast down to their social class by the misfortune of losing his sheep flock, he does not despise himself or fear working hard with his hands. In this novel, rustics represent a positive force, in contrast to corrupt figures like Troy.

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Typically, Victorian literature exalted social hierarchy. Money and status made a character interesting. Hardy was unique and ahead of his time because his characters were everyday working people. Hardy found something interesting and worthwhile in the lowliest of farmers. His love for his characters is apparent in his writing.

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