How does Bilbo's character change over the course of The Hobbit?

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Tolkien, in The Hobbit , characterizes Hobbits as primarily concerned with respectability, and Bilbo is no different. However, even before he sets out on his adventures, there is an internal conflict within Bilbo, because while he endeavors to maintain that respectability, there remains an adventurous side to his personality. As...

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Tolkien, in The Hobbit, characterizes Hobbits as primarily concerned with respectability, and Bilbo is no different. However, even before he sets out on his adventures, there is an internal conflict within Bilbo, because while he endeavors to maintain that respectability, there remains an adventurous side to his personality. As far as the quest is concerned, we see that Bilbo simultaneously wants no part in this adventure, and yet, at the same time, another part of his personality very much wants to go on this journey, and see more of the world. He is in conflict with himself.

With this in mind, I would say that much of his transformation is actually the realization of qualities that he had all along. In The Hobbit's first chapter, Gandalf says of Bilbo: "There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a great deal more than he has any idea of himself." This statement, I believe, sums up much of Bilbo's own character arc and the sense of maturity and self realization that these adventures bring to him.

That being said, he certainly grows in his experience. When he first departs, he is woefully unprepared for the hardships of the journey. But at the same time, over the course of the story, he exhibits hidden resources of bravery he might not have suspected he possessed when the story began, as well as cleverness. He experiences the world and grows fully into himself as a person. When he returns home, it is to find that he has lost his previous air of respectability, but by this point, such concerns no longer matter to him. He has gained a sense of self-fulfillment and is content and happy with the life he lives.

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When Bilbo first considered the possibility of leaving the Shire, one could compare it to the opinion of a fish faced with the decision to exit the water. As far as Bilbo is concerned, and perhaps the hobbit stereotype in general, hobbits are not fit for adventures. Part of this expectation is derived from the belief that the 'comforts of home' are ostensibly connected to the 'location' of home. Given that Bilbo represents an advocate for modest goals and a perhaps mundane existence, it is entirely unexpected that he would develop into such a hero over the course of the story. Through his kinship with the dwarves whom he helps to retrieve treasures from the terrible dragon Smog, Bilbo discovers that he was certainly correct in thinking that there was a lot of evil and unpleasantry in the world outside of the Shire -- but the displacement of the dwarves from their home is just as easily something that could happen to the hobbits in the Shire.

Good will is still present in Middle Earth, even if it is not always tucked in the seclusion of a hobbit hole. Once Bilbo has made this journey from the Shire to the mountains and back, he realizes that he was always involved in the overarching struggle faced by the representatives of good. Home is not only the place where one starts, but anywhere they can find comfort and friendly faces, such as Rivendell, the home of the elves. Though he sees all of these places as foreign and threatening, he soon realizes that leaving the Shire does not mean abandoning it entirely. This portable feeling of home is exemplarized by Bilbo's journal, "There and Back again, a Hobbit's Tale," which concludes that the hobbit world is still preferrable to our intrepid adventurer -- but one never knows how good it really is unless they have seen how others live. I believe this tale is something of a preparation for the hobbit world, insofar as Bilbo is tasked with helping an outside group reclaim their shelter -- which is a scaled down version of Frodo's later journey to protect the whole of Middle Earth from Sauron's malicious will.

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Three ways that Bilbo Baggins changes from the beginning of The Hobbit to the end of the book are his understanding of the world around him, his sense of adventure, and his desire to live a comfortable life without thought for others. 

At the beginning of the book, Bilbo cares nothing for he world outside of the Shire or outside of his small hobbit home.  But by the end of the book, his eyes have been opened to the world outside of the Shire, and he has an understanding of different parts of the world as well as different people (elves, dwarves, dragons, to name a few) in the world. 

Also, his sense of adventure grows throughout the book.  At the beginning, Gandalf pretty much has to trick Bilbo into going on this adventure, but by the end of the book, Bilbo is much more courageous and willing adventure out on his own, as evidenced by his willingness to confront Smaug. 

Finally, although Bilbo is a hobbit who will always love his hobbit hole and his six meals a day, he has learned how to make sacrifices and how to live without these comforts if he must.  He even puts himself in danger when rescuing the dwarves from the Spiders and the Wood Elves and sacrifices his own comfort to ensure their safety. 

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Bilbo Baggins is tasked to leave the Shire and adventure while also dealing with the Evil Ring. As such, he is sent on a Quest, and it is this quest that changes him once and forever!

Throughout his quest, he is tempted, metaphorically, he loses blood (suffers loss), and is a changed hobbit by the end of the novel. As he struggles to cope with all the change in his once peaceful life, he discovers things about his world that he wished he never knew! Bilbo is transformed by the end of the book on his journey from innocence to experience!

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Throughout his journey, Bilbo moves beyond the safety of The Shire to the risk and vulnerability of the outside world.  From a place of relative control over his environment, Bilbo discovers his ability to meet with "adventure," the unexpected events and people. 

Bit by bit, he discovers his own abilities.  With each success, he gains confidence to meet the next great adventure.

Yet he also learns how to deal with failure, both in himself and in others.  He learns to accept and forgive these failures and bestow mercy, rather than judgment.  This legacy will be passed on to Frodo in "The Lord of the Rings."

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