Oak suddenly remembered that eight months before this time he had been fighting against fire in the same spot as desperately as he was fighting against water now—and for a futile love of the same woman. As for her—. But Oak was generous and true, and dismissed his reflections.Far from the Madding Crowd p. 223
The destructive possibilities of nature and the destructive possibilities of love. Both present here with Oak. Fire and water can ruin the months of nature’s and man’s hard work in a matter of minutes. Pining over what is not can ruin a man, one musing at a time, until despair or bitterness consume him and those around him.
But Oak was not afraid to match up against nature to save the hard work—and livelihood—of stranger or friend. Duty to love of neighbor was ingrained in Oak. Yet he was certainly, like all men, prone to the temptation of despair. Why do what we do, especially if it goes unreciprocated? If Oak had simply been doing all for Bathsheba alone, then bitterness or despair would have eventually taken root: the motivation of where and when he would give of self would wax and wane depending on the association with Bathsheba.
But Oak was generous and true. He fought the fire not knowing he was doing so for Bathsheba. He fought the effects of rain in her employ as the right thing to do because it involved neighbor. His character thrust aside lesser motives as detrimental to the right thing to do in the moment.