The Hobbit

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Home and Birthright Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hobbit, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Home and Birthright Theme Icon

The desire and love for a home motivates most of the main characters in The Hobbit. Sometimes, the characters’ desires for home contradict each other. For instance, Bilbo Baggins says at many points throughout his journey that he regrets ever leaving his home in hobbit-town, while the dwarves with whom he’s embarking on his adventure seek to return to (and reclaim from Smaug) their home under the Lonely Mountain. In many cases, having home means having a claim to some position or material wealth. Thus, Thorin, the descendant of many dwarf kings, has a claim to his ancestors’ treasure, which lies under the Lonely Mountain; similarly, Bard, the descendant of the lords of Dale, can claim lordship of Dale as his birthright.

But having a birthright isn’t only a privilege—it’s a duty. To have a home, one must also be a fair and generous “host,” treating one’s guests, subjects, and property with respect. Most of the antagonists in The Hobbit —the three trolls, the goblins, Gollum—are ungracious hosts who refuse to entertain Bilbo and the dwarves during their long quest. Some of the other antagonists, such as the Master and Smaug, play the part of a good hosts but are actually doing so for the wrong reasons, like the Master (who’s trying to stay in power by manipulating the crowd), or trying to lure travelers into a false sense of security, like Smaug (who tells Bilbo to take what he wants of the treasure). Yet even the dwarves become ungracious hosts once they regain their treasure and their home under the Lonely Mountain, refusing to help the wood-elves or the men whose town Smaug has destroyed. Thorin even becomes ungracious to his own subjects, condemning Bilbo and the twelve other dwarves to starve during a siege. As a result, Bilbo leaves the dwarves, and a war breaks out between men, elves, and dwarves. The desire for a home is a universal human feeling, so we sympathize with Bilbo and the dwarves because they feel this desire particularly strongly. But sometimes, this desire becomes too powerful, and leads the characters, such as the dwarves, to be ungracious hosts and overprotective of their home—to make of their home something to be owned rather than shared.

In the end, Tolkien implies, having a home means loving it, but not too much. Bilbo is a good model for how to regard one’s home—he loves his hobbit-hole, but he’s willing to invite others into it and to travel far away from it, too. Bard provides a good example of how to treat one’s birthright. Unlike the Master, he doesn’t exploit his position as the lord of Dale; on the contrary, he fights to feed and shelter his people, eventually bringing great prosperity the town.

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Home and Birthright ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hobbit related to the theme of Home and Birthright.
Chapter 3 Quotes

The master of the house was an elf-friend-one of those people whose fathers came into the strange stories before the beginning of History, the wars of the evil goblins and the elves and the first men in the North. In those days of our tale there were still some people who had both elves and heroes of the North for ancestors, and Elrond the master of the house was their chief. He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer. He comes into. many tales, but his part in the story of Bilbo's great adventure is only a small one, though important, as you will see, if we ever get to the end of it.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Elrond
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tolkien describes Elrond, the master of the Elves. Elrond is wise, extremely old, and noble. He gives shelter to the dwarves and Bilbo on their way to Smaug, proving that he is a good, respectable person. Moreover, Elrond's presence in this scene provides evidence that Bilbo's story, while important, is only one insignificant part of the history of Middle Earth—the fictional universe in which Tolkien's novels are set. As Tolkien writes, Elrond is unimportant in Bilbo's tale, although he's enormously important in some of the other tales of Middle Earth (as Tolkien makes clear in his other works). Tolkien's observation reinforces the vastness and complexity of his novel: it's as if Bilbo, as he ventures farther and farther from his home, is becoming gradually more and more aware of the world's size and scope. In short, Bilbo is constantly discovering more about his world, and his encounter with Elrond is a milestone in the path of discovery.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

The goblins were very rough, and pinched unmercifully, and chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices; and Bilbo was more unhappy even than when the troll had picked him up by his toes. He wished again and again for his nice bright hobbit-hole. Not for the last time.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins
Related Symbols: The Misty Mountains
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Bilbo and the dwarves stumble into a cave where they're attacked and arrested by goblins: the cruel, violent inhabitants of the underground world. At this early point in the novel, Bilbo is still uncertain about his role as an ally and friend to the dwarves. While he's excited to go off on adventures, he's still so used to his life as a hobbit that when danger strikes, his first reaction is to pine for his hobbit-hole—a womb-like place where everything was uneventful and complacent, but also warm and safe.

Bilbo's love for his home undergoes many changes during this novel. In this quotation, Bilbo's love for home eclipses his love for adventure. He's still an "armchair adventurer"—someone who has vague fantasies of exploring the unknown, but doesn't know how to go about doing so, and who finds himself longing for home when the adventure turns dangerous.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Mr. Baggins saw then how clever Gandalf had been. The interruptions had really made Beorn more interested in the story, and the story had kept him from sending the dwarves off at once like suspicious beggars. He never invited people into his house, if he could help it. He had very few friends and they lived a good way away; and he never invited more than a couple of these to his house at a time. Now he had got fifteen strangers sitting in his porch!

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Beorn
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Bilbo watches as the wizard, Gandalf, tricks a powerful man named Beorn into letting a large number of dwarves into his home. Gandalf tells Beorn a colorful tale, which Beorn is too interested in to ignore entirely. As Gandalf tells Beorn this tale, he mentions dwarves, and they enter one or two at a time. Because of his interest in the story, Beorn has no choice but to let the dwarves into his house, despite his dislike of visitors.

Gandalf's tactics are a good example of how the characters in the novel use language as well as physical force to get their way. At various points in the book, characters obtain food and shelter and even save their own lives by telling interesting stories. Furthermore, the scene illustrates the basic "tit for tat" of hosting and hospitality in Middle Earth. On many occasions, one character will seek lodgings from another. In order to "pay" for his lodgings, the character will sometimes tell an entertaining story, just as Gandalf does here. In The Hobbit, the most villainous characters are often the worst hosts (the goblins, Gollum, Smaug, etc.). Therefore, the fact that Beorn is reluctant to take in the dwarves but does so anyway clues us into his being a grumpy but basically trustworthy character.

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.

Chapter 19 Quotes

"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Gandalf (speaker)
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:

Years after Bilbo's adventures in Middle Earth, he's back in his hobbit-hole, and gets a surprise visit from Gandalf the wizard. Gandalf suggests to Bilbo that he was being "helped" through his adventures by powerful, invisible forces. (At various points in the novel, it's suggested that these "forces" are simply fate, the gods of Middle Earth, or even Gandalf himself.) Surprisingly, Bilbo doesn't dispute Gandalf's suggestion at all—he acknowledges that he's simply not that strong and independent, and is "only quite a little fellow in a wide world."

It's especially surprising that Bilbo agrees with Gandalf's statement since he's admitting that he's not really much of a "hero" in the end. Bilbo has proven himself to be a capable, intelligent adventurer. And yet Bilbo ultimately comes to reject the world of traditionaly heroism—the world of treasure, battle, and centuries-long feuding. In spite of his talents, he washes his hands of adventure, and retires. And yet Bilbo's adventures with Gandalf and Thorin haven't been for nothing. On the contrary, his adventures have made him a more confident, capable hobbit, with a wealth of wisdom and experience.