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.


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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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 1034 words.)

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Chapter Summaries