The Hobbit Themes
The main themes in The Hobbit are the meaning of heroism, the consequences of greed, and the longing for home.
- The meaning of heroism: The novel suggests that heroism is defined not by fearlessness but by persevering despite one's fears.
- The consequences of greed: Many of the figures and creatures in the novel are driven by greed, a force that causes conflict and erodes camaraderie.
- The longing for home: Bilbo and the company are dwarves are motivated by a desire for home, whether by returning to one's origins or by recovering a lost ancestral homeland.
Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1034
The Meaning of Heroism
In The Hobbit, heroism comes from unlikely places. The tale traces Bilbo’s transformation from a fearful hobbit, concerned only with himself and his private livelihood, to a brave leader who makes sacrifices for his friends.
Heroism often takes understated forms. Sometimes merely a private thought of sacrifice proves one’s bravery. For example, when Bilbo finally escapes from the goblin caves alone, he does not know whether his friends have escaped too. As such, he decides to go back into caves to save the rest of them, thinking of this as his “duty.” Ultimately he does not go back, for he finds them safely outside of the caves. But his determination to dare further danger and to sacrifice himself on behalf of his friends is framed as an act of true bravery.
The Hobbit also shows that bravery is defined not by fearlessness in the face of danger but by perseverance despite one’s fear. As Bilbo walks down the dark tunnel toward Smaug’s lair, he begins to feel the heat of the dragon’s breath and becomes deathly afraid, yet he continues:
Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it.
It is not facing danger that is the mark of bravery, but rather going on despite being gripped by fear of the danger that may come.
Bravery in The Hobbit also involves hope. While his friends are despairing of escaping from the tunnels in the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo suddenly feels “a strange lightening of heart” and encourages the company by saying, “While there’s life there’s hope! As my father used to say…” It is then that he decides to go to the dragon’s lair a third time. Bilbo’s rallying of the company to continue shows his newfound abilities as a leader and proves that sometimes darkness and danger are combated not with weapons but with the courage involved in keeping one’s faith alive.
The Consequences of Greed
Many characters in The Hobbit are driven by greed. The dwarves, most especially Thorin Oakenshield, are driven by their desire to reclaim their long-lost treasure. This leads to many foolhardy actions. As the narrator puts it,
When the heart of a dwarf, even the most respectable, is wakened by gold and by jewels, he grows suddenly bold, and he may become fierce.
Greed leads Thorin to refuse a truce with men and elves in exchange for a share of the treasure. This eventually leads to the Battle of the Five Armies. His greed also leads him to be so angry at Bilbo that he forswears his friendship with him.
Even Bilbo at one point is possessed by a greedy desire: though he is not as bewitched by the dragon’s hoard as the dwarves are, when he sees the hoard, “his heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of the dwarves.”
Other races, however, display an even greater propensity for greed. The trolls whom the company comes upon eat anything that comes into their circle of firelight, regardless of who or what it is, and they have stolen many treasures from other races. The creature Gollum possessively guards the ring he calls his “birthday present.” When Bilbo steals it from him, Gollum is filled with despair, because his life is defined by his possession of the ring. Finally, Smaug is driven by his greedy possessiveness of his hoard of treasure. When the dwarves steal his treasure, he is so wrathful that he takes revenge by burning and destroying Lake Town. Smaug’s greed for...
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those riches causes him no joy, even when he is left alone to it. This becomes clear when the narrator says that Smaug displays the sort of rage
only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never used before or wanted.
The Hobbit suggests that the deceptive power of greed lies in its ability to make the possessor feel he can become fulfilled by possession of more and more when in fact such possession is no source of joy. Greed makes the possessor believe he is in control of what he possesses, but in reality he is controlled—or possessed—by his possessions. Greed drags the possessor down a road of destruction and havoc.
Ultimately, The Hobbit shows that bravery, sacrifice, joy, and friendship are only possible when greed is put aside. When one no longer defines oneself through one’s possessions, when one is willing to let go of what one has gained, does one gain the true prize: a good and noble life, lived in simple dignity with friends.
The Longing for Home
The idea of home or a homeland is central to many of the characters in The Hobbit. From the beginning, Bilbo is defined as a lover of home. For Bilbo, home stands for safety, security, and bucolic simplicity and happiness. Throughout the journey, Bilbo’s strongest desire is to make his way back to the comfort of his home. The memory of home often brings him sanity and solace on the long, dangerous, and often lonely journey. At the end of his adventures, when he does return home, he marks the event with a song, “Roads go ever ever on,” about the simple joy of returning home to see a familiar place after long wandering. The song implies that his true goal all along has been to return home with a heightened appreciation for its beauty.
The dwarves, too, are defined by their longing to reclaim their homeland. Though it is possible to see their strongest desire as greed for gold, they also desire to return to a place that is rightfully theirs and restore it to its former glory. For them, homecoming means a rebirth and a restoration of their shared past. The dwarves express this desire from the beginning, notably in the song they sing at Bilbo’s house, “Over the Misty Mountains,” in which they speak of reclaiming their long-forgotten gold. For the dwarves, as for Bilbo, their journey is ultimately about finding home.