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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Gabriel Oak, the protagonist of the novel, is introduced to the reader in the opening pages. Farmer Oak, who is twenty-eight years old, is not dashing in manner or appearance. Instead, he is portrayed as a simple, proper, and dignified man who is respected by all his neighbors in the village. They recognize his soundness of character and judgment, even though he is still young and an unmarried man.
When the action of the story starts, Gabriel Oak is standing on Norcombe Hill, a ridge in the field. Oak sees a gaily-painted wagon, piled up with household goods coming towards him. The vehicle halts nearby. The wagoner is asked by the woman passenger to walk back and retrieve the missing tailboard of the wagon, which has fallen off. While the wagon is stopped, the woman takes out a mirror and admires herself. She appears to be pleased with her reflection. Very soon, however, the wagoner's footsteps can be heard returning, and the woman puts away the mirror.
At the turnpike-gate, the young woman refuses to pay the gatekeeper the extra two pence that he demands. A dispute starts between the wagoner and the gatekeeper. Gabriel Oak puts an end to the dispute by giving the two pence to the gatekeeper himself. Though the young woman has seen and heard it all, she refuses to thank Farmer Oak for his kindness and moves carelessly on. Farmer Oak is quite hurt by this indifference of the part of the fair woman. When the gatekeeper speaks to Oak about the woman's beauty, Farmer Oak adds that her beauty is not an innocent beauty. In his opinion, the woman is a vain person.
The first chapter introduces the protagonist and the lady he will pursue throughout the novel. Gabriel, a plain and humble shepherd, is a complete contrast to the vain and beautiful woman. His simple attitude and habits demonstrate that he is indeed living a life "far from the Madding crowd." Not pressed for time in any way, he lives at his own pace, making time for others. In the incident concerning the gatekeeper and the young woman, Gabriel does just that. He pays the gatekeeper what are the woman's dues. Thus, his generosity and thoughtfulness are established. In addition to his kind and gentle nature, he is also a perceptive judge of character. He looks beyond the external beauty of the young woman and pinpoints a major flaw, her vanity. The first chapter, therefore, introduces and contrasts the basic traits of the hero and heroine. This first meeting also hints that the plot will revolve around these two characters. For a complete understanding of the novel, this first chapter must be contrasted with the final chapter, where both Gabriel and Bathsheba have fully matured.