It is generally admitted that mastery of character is the first essential of the novelist's art. Hardy's greatness in this field is seldom questioned. Gabriel Oak is the hero of ' Far From the Madding Crowd'. He is one of the Hardy's most impressive creations. He is the protagonist of the whole human drama. He represents Hardy's conception of rural character at its best.
Gabriel Oak is an ideal shepherd farmer. He knows well how to take care of newborn lambs and to feed them. He works as double supervisor of Bathsheba's and Bold wood's farms. He shows the gifts of management and prudence in agricultural affairs. After Bold wood's imprisonment, he makes arrangements for taking the Little Weatherbury farm in his own hands. Thus he is a complete shepherd and a complete farmer.
Hardy's ' Far From the Crowd' begins with the description of Gabriel Oak as a countryman. He has all the good qualities of a countryman. He loves nature and enjoys outdoor life. He is simple and unsophisticated man. He is an animal lover. He has good regard for dumb creatures of nature.
Gabriel Oak falls in love with Bathsheba. Though she turns down his proposal of marriage, he remains her faithful lover. He becomes a shepherd of his mistress and goes on serving her whole-heartedly. Oak is an ingressive lover. His chivalry has been presented in a beautiful scene. When his friends are speaking against his beloved at Malt house, he shakes his fist against them.
Gabriel Oak is the most steady man among Hardy's heroes. He is always guided by reason and controls his rebellious emotions. When Bathsheba rejects his offer of marriage, he accepts that his love for Bathsheba must be put aside. The character of Oak can be compared to a large Oak tree.
In short, Gabriel Oak is an embodiment of the best features of rural manhood and simplicity. He is a Wordsworthian man. In fact, he is a master in the art of life. With his courage, patience, endurance, tenderness and unselfishness Oak occupies a secure place in our hearts.