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Gabriel Oak is the protagonist of the novel. His most striking quality is his devotion and loyalty to Bathsheba. His love is not short-lived like that of Troy. It is not possessive like that of Boldwood. Though he is employed as a shepherd for much of the book, he performs all the duties of a bailiff. He is the personification of a true farmer; he loves the land and is in tune with nature. He warms his lambs by the fire, notices the movements of insects, senses the impending weather, and tells time by the stars. He is also a smart and sensitive worker. Almost single-handedly, he saves Bathsheba's harvest from rain and storm. He has a strong sense of duty.
Another quality of Oak is his simplicity. When he meets Bathsheba's aunt to place his marriage proposal, he does it in a simple way without a formal preface. He is also a straightforward person. He rebukes his mistress for having played a coquettish trick on Boldwood. He is also simple in his approach to trouble. He endures his misfortunes calmly and resolutely. When he loses his sheep farm, he is able to bear his financial loss courageously. He shows the same endurance in his love for Bathsheba. Though Bathsheba rejects his love, he is not defeated like Boldwood. He does not grumble when Bathsheba is married to Troy, but accepts the fact he will never have the woman he loves. Instead, he will simply continue to serve her.
Gabriel is also a smart person. He has a great knowledge of farming and nature and uses the knowledge wisely to the benefit of everyone, especially Bathsheba. Early in the novel, he saves the farm from ruin by fire. He later saves a year's worth of crops from the rain. Gabriel is also widely read and has literary taste. His collection of books includes Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim's Progress, and Robinson Crusoe. He also plays the flute in a pleasing manner.
Truly, Gabriel Oak is a gentle, kind, amiable, wise, and honorable character. He is also patient. At peace with himself and nature, he does not rush. He serves Bathsheba throughout the novel, with no hope of ever winning her. The reader is delighted that the story ends in a comedy for this well-liked protagonist. In the end, he wins Bathsheba not through guile, guilt, or manipulation. She falls in love with him because he is truly a worthy and good person.