Virtually every one of The Hobbit’s primary characters—including both the heroes and the villains—is at least partially motivated by a desire for unnecessary material things. Smaug, the primary antagonist of the novel, is so greedy that he notices when Bilbo steals a single cup from his vast collection of treasure. (Tolkien notes that his anger is that of a rich man who’s lost something he never uses.) The dwarves are struggling to reclaim what is rightfully theirs from Smaug, but when they succeed in their quest, it becomes clear that their love for treasure is almost as obsessive as Smaug’s—notably, they refuse to use their riches to repair the town Smaug destroys, even though it is during its destruction that Bard kills Smaug, guaranteeing the dwarves their wealth. Similarly, the wood-elves who imprison Thorin and the other dwarves believe that they have a claim to some of the dwarves’ treasure. Tolkien doesn’t bother to clarify whether the dwarves or the elves are correct in this dispute—the point is that both sides are flawed by their greedy, irrational desire for things they don’t need. Even Bilbo, who is largely indifferent to the dwarves’ talk of glory and riches, shows occasional flashes of greed. Under the Misty Mountains, he pockets Gollum’s ring without thinking twice about it, and later takes the Arkenstone for himself because he’s afraid that the dwarves won’t honor their promise to give him one-fourteen of their treasure. (It’s also worth keeping in mind that Bilbo and dwarves are constantly in want of food, and when they eat, they eat huge feasts—while this isn’t greed per se, it does suggest that it’s natural to want things, and perhaps to want more than one needs.)
If everyone is at least a little greedy, Tolkien seems to say, then the best they can do is try to limit their nature with reason and self-control. Bilbo may be the best example of how to overcome greed—though Thorin offers him one-fourteenth of the dwarves’ treasure in return for his services, he’s satisfied to take back a smaller portion, reasoning that it’s enough to keep him satisfied for the rest of his life. Similarly, the dwarves, elves, and men ultimately overcome their greed by uniting together to defeat the wolves and goblins. On his deathbed, Thorin seems to renounce his former greed, saying that he’s now traveling to a place (presumably, the afterlife) where this is no gold or treasure. Greed, then, is ultimately futile—compromise and personal sacrifice are more important for maintaining peace and building mutual prosperity (as is evident in the fact that back before Smaug the communities of Dale, the Kingdom under the Mountain, and the elves of Mirkwood traded together and developed prosperity and mutual connection by doing so). In fact, the novel seems to place greed in direct contrast to trust and cooperation, and every overwhelmingly greedy character lives in almost complete isolation: Smaug, Gollum, and, for a time near the end of the novel, Thorin. Looked at on a larger scale, the races of dwarves, men, and elves are also separated by greed and the mistrust sown by greed. It is only after the attacking armies of the dwarves force the dwarves, elves, and men to band together in fellowship against this common enemy that they are able to rebuild their communities and attain their former prosperity.
Greed, Trust, Fellowship ThemeTracker
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Quotes in The Hobbit
As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walkingstick.
He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns.
Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up – probably somebody lighting a wood-fire-and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.
He had never thought that the dwarves would actually dare to approach Smaug, but believed they were frauds who would sooner or later be discovered and be turned out.
He was wrong. Thorin, of course, was really the grandson of the King under the Mountain, and there is no knowing what a dwarf will not dare and do for revenge or the recovery of his own. But the Master was not sorry at all to let them go. They were expensive to keep, and their arrival had turned things into a long holiday in which business was at a standstill.
"Let them go and bother Smaug, and see how he welcomes them!" he thought.
"Certainly, O Thorin Thrain's son Thror's son!" was what he said. "You must claim your own. The hour is at hand, spoken of old. What help we can offer shall be yours, and we trust to your gratitude when your kingdom is regained."
There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much.
"Now I am a burglar indeed!" thought he. "But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it sometime. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!" All the same he had an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvelous gem, and that trouble would yet come of it.
As you see, the Master had not got his position for nothing. The result of his words was that for the moment the people quite forgot their idea of a new king, and turned their angry thoughts towards Thorin and his company. Wild and bitter words were shouted from many sides; and some of those who had before sung the old songs loudest, were now heard as loudly crying that the dwarves had stirred the dragon up against them deliberately!
Bilbo thought that Thorin would at once admit what justice was in them. He did not, of course, expect that any one would remember that it was he who discovered all by himself the dragon's weak spot; and that was just as well, for no one ever did. But also he did not reckon with the power that gold has upon which a dragon has long brooded, nor with dwarvish hearts. Long hours in the past days Thorin had spent in the treasury, and the lust of it was heavy on him. Though he had hunted chiefly for the Arkenstone, yet he had an eye for many another wonderful thing that was lying there, about which were wound old memories of the labors and the sorrows of his race.
From that treasure Bard sent much gold to the Master of Lake-town; and he rewarded his followers and friends freely. To the Elvenking he gave the emeralds of Girion, such jewels as he most loved, which Dain had restored to him. To Bilbo he said:
"This treasure is as much yours as it is mine; though old agreements cannot stand, since so many have a claim in its winning and defense. Yet even though you were willing to lay aside all your claim, I should wish that the words of Thorin, of which he repented, should not prove true: that we should give you little. I would reward you most richly of all."
"Very kind of you," said Bilbo. "But really it is a relief to me. How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don't know. And I don't know what I should have done with it when I got home. I am sure it is better in your hands."