The Hobbit

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Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Analysis

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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.

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Greed, Trust, Fellowship ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Greed, Trust, Fellowship appears in each chapter of The Hobbit. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Greed, Trust, Fellowship Quotes in The Hobbit

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hobbit related to the theme of Greed, Trust, Fellowship.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Smaug
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this early scene, Bilbo invites a group of dwarves, led by the wizard Gandalf, into his home. The dwarves begin dancing and singing about their ancestral treasures—beautiful objects made from gold and jewels. As Bilbo listens to the songs, he feels a deep stirring of desire to go out into the world and explore the unknown. But suddenly, Bilbo feels a flash of fear, and abruptly stops fantasizing about adventure.

The quotation is important because it establishes that Bilbo has the potential to be a great adventurer, even if he's untrained. As Tolkien puts it, Bilbo has a trace of the "Tooks"—his wilder, more adventurous ancestors—in him. More generally though, he discovers here that he does have a secret desire to go off on adventures, a desire that few in his peaceful, complacent community would support. The passage also suggests how fear and routine act as barriers to happiness and curiosity. Bilbo might desire to explore the world, but right now he's too afraid of danger to translate his desire into reality.


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Chapter 10 Quotes

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."

Related Characters: The Master (speaker), Thorin Oakenshield, Smaug
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, the Master—the temporary leader of the men of Lake-town (the area near Smaug's lair)—deals with Thorin and the other dwarves. The dwarves have come to the Master's territory to ask for supplies with which to scale the mountain and defeat Smaug. The Master is amazed that the dwarves are actually going to attempt to kill Smaug, and because the Master himself is a rather cowardly liar, he naturally assumes that Thorin and his followers are liars, too, and that they're just in town for the free food and lodgings the townspeople have offered them.

The passage is amusing because of the way it juxtaposes the Master's thoughts—crass, petty, and greedy—and his words, which are grandiose and comically eloquent. Like many of the villains in the novel, the Master maintains his power by manipulating language, using speeches to convince the townspeople that he is their proper leader, and saying certain things even when he secretly believes the exact opposite. In general, the passage establishes a contrast between Thorin's noble dedication to his quest and the Master's opportunism. Tolkien reminds us who the real heroes of his story are, just before they go off to fight Smaug.

Chapter 12 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Thorin Oakenshield
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tolkien as narrator establishes some important information about dwarves: they're greedy and not particularly heroic. In other words, they're overly focused on their material possessions (their gold, treasure, etc.), to the point where they don't necessarily do the right thing. In the coming chapters, Tolkien will provide ample evidence of the fact that dwarves are too greedy: he'll show how Thorin and his followers nearly start a war because they refuse to share their gold with others. The interesting thing about this quotation is that it arrives so late in the novel. By this point, we've known Thorin and his followers for many pages, and yet it's only now that we're seeing their true colors (or at least their true colors as the narrator portrays them). As Bilbo becomes more heroic and self-reliant, he has an easier time seeing through Thorin's bluster; i.e., seeing him for the person he truly is. By the same token, Tolkien begins to portray Thorin as increasingly un-heroic in certain regards, contrasting Bilbo's bravery and complex view of morality with Thorin's childish greed.

Chapter 13 Quotes

"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.

Related Characters: Thorin Oakenshield
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo finds the Arkenstone—the most beautiful, valuable part of the dwarves' treasure—and makes the difficult decision to keep it for himself, without telling the dwarves about it. Bilbo knows that the dwarves have promised him a fair share of the treasure, which he's free to choose as he sees fit. Nevertheless, he knows that he's not really supposed to choose the Arkenstone—it's crucial to Thorin's idea of his "birthright," for one—so Bilbo instinctively feels guilty and keeps his action a secret.

Bilbo's decision in this passage represents one of the first times in the novel when he truly violates an agreement with his allies, the dwarves. In the past, Bilbo has toyed with the dwarves out of exasperation or frustration, but it's not until this moment that he goes behind their backs altogether. Bilbo has finally been seduced by the spectacle of wealth (he's like Gollum, jealously obsessed with the ring). In other words, Bilbo is falling into the same trap as the dwarves themselves—valuing objects more highly than his relationships with his friends.

Chapter 14 Quotes

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!

Related Characters: The Master, Smaug
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Tolkien describes how the Master of Lake-town manipulates his followers. The Master knows that if the dwarves can defeat Smaug and reclaim their rule of his mountain, the Master's own position as a leader will be in danger. In order to maintain the current order, then, the Master riles up his people, convincing them that they should be fighting against Thorin and his dwarves instead of welcoming them as returning rulers (as many had earlier). This shows how fickle a crowd can be in its sense of loyalty, as many of those men who had praised Thorin as king now consider him an enemy. But it also is another example of the power of language in the novel; more than almost any other character, the Master excels at using language and speech to control others and get what he wants. The difference between the Master and the other characters who excel at language (like Bilbo or Gandalf) is that the Master uses his gifts to support his own selfish needs, while the other characters often use it to help their friends or simply to escape danger.

In general, the passage is also a good piece of evidence for what Tolkien does—and doesn't—consider heroic. While there are many characters in the novel who excel at fighting or language, only a handful excel at both, and even fewer use these skills for unselfish reasons. Gandalf and Bilbo, and few others, exemplify this particular kind of heroism, while characters like Thorin are in murkier territory, and the Master is an example of someone who uses his skills only to help himself.

Chapter 15 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield, Smaug
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Thorin shows his true colors, and muddies Tolkien's definition of what a true hero is. Although Bilbo has helped the dwarves reclaim their treasure in dozens of different ways (saving their lives; finding out how to defeat Smaug; sneaking into Smaug's lair), Thorin is remarkably ungrateful for Bilbo's contributions. As Tolkien explains it, Thorin is too greedy for his treasure to listen to reason: he's too obsessed with possessions to hand any of them over to Bilbo. Thorin's behavior here reminds us of how one's connection to a home or other particular place can be a barrier to heroism and virtue. Thorin feels a deep, ancestral tie to his treasure—it's partly because of this ancestral bond (and righteous sense of victimhood, as this home and birthright was stolen from him) that he feels perfectly justified in treating Bilbo badly. Although Bilbo seems to feel an equally profound connection to his hobbit-hole, he doesn't let this connection interfere with his heroism. But Thorin is also dealing with forces and a history Bilbo doesn't have to face, and Tolkien further draws an implicit comparison between Thorin's lust and possessiveness regarding his ancestral treasure, and Bilbo's regarding his Ring.

Chapter 18 Quotes

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."

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Bard (speaker), Dain, The Elvenking
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo and Bard—the brave leader who slays Smaug—discuss the future of the treasure that the dwarves have claimed for themselves. Bard is now a leader of the men, and has been charged with distributing the share of gold that Thorin, on his deathbed, bequeathed to him. As Bard discusses his decisions with Bilbo, it becomes clear that he and Bilbo are rather similar, and are two of the most "heroic" characters in the novel. They're both modest, intelligent, and fairly uninterested in material wealth. (Unlike Thorin, Bard leads his followers without selfishly claiming a "right" to treasure—on the contrary, he gives away large quantities of treasure, and says that he would like to give even more to Bilbo.) Both Bard and Bilbo also feel a strong connection to a particular place: Bard to his hometown, and Bilbo to his hobbit-hole.

But where Bard's connection to a place leads him to become a leader, Bilbo's nostalgia for home draws him away from adventure and back to a life of peaceful complacency. As Bilbo explains here, he wants to return to his hobbit-hole, and has no real interest in treasure anymore. Bilbo has received something more valuable than treasure: an unforgettable experience.