Love is dominant theme in this novel. Two major love themes are that class barriers interfere with love and that mistakes in love cause grave damage.
Gabriel Oak early on falls in love with and proposes to the headstrong Bathsheba Everdene, but she turns him down. As her fortunes rise and she becomes mistress of a farm, Gabriel faces disaster when his overzealous sheepdog drives his herd of sheep over a cliff. To survive, he has to go to work for Bathsheba. The class barrier between them makes it more impossible than ever that they get together. The faithful Gabriel can only love and serve Bathsheba from afar.
Bathsheba shows consistently poor judgment in affairs of the heart. Not only does she not perceive the worth of Gabriel but she impulsively and in a silly way sends a flirtatious valentine to an older neighboring farmer, Boldwood. He falls hopelessly in love with her on the basis of the valentine. This love, which is unreturned, will ultimately break his heart. But Bathsheba's worst act of ill judgment is to fall for and elope with the flashy solider Troy, who marries her for money while his heart is given to another. This marriage makes both Troy and Bathsheba miserable—not to mention Oak and Boldwood, who have to watch the disaster from afar.
Earlier, Troy's true love, Fanny Robin, had gone to the wrong church the day she was supposed to wed Troy. He is humiliated and only finds out after she dies that she was carrying his child.
The novel sends the strong message that one should marry for love, not money or class, and that a key component to both individual and community happiness is for people to develop the character to be able discern which person is truly worthy of their love and meant for them as a mate.