The Hobbit, although geared towards younger readers, is a literary masterpiece that every lover of fantasy should take the time to analyze.
The Hobbit Themes
Greed for power, wealth, and influence comes up several times in the novel. It is in part greed that drives the dwarves back to their home and certainly greed that inspires Smaug to lord over their treasure. The leader of the party, Thorin, is at the center of this theme. Towards the end of the novel, before he loses his life in the Battle of the Five Armies, he exhibits manic greed about acquiring the Arkenstone and his belief that it’ll make him the rightful king under the mountain.
Bilbo is usually, although not always, at the opposite end of the spectrum. While he values home above almost everything else, he does pocket Gollum’s ring in the caves and is determined to keep it. There are other examples of characters’ greed, such as the scenes of the group eating ravenously and the wood-elves imprisonment of the dwarves in order to try to claim some of their treasure.
When the novel begins, Bilbo is undoubtedly cowardly. He has no desire to step outside his comfort zone. But, as the story progresses, he starts to discover that he’s braver than he thought. He can be defined as a “reluctant hero,” someone who has been forced into the role of hero and taken it on because he had to. He’s not a character who sought out the chance to prove his bravery. It is interesting to consider while reading the novel how exactly Tolkien defines heroism. What does it take to describe a character as a hero in Tolkien’s world?
Home is one of the most important themes in all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. For the main character of The Hobbit, home is even more crucial. At the start of the novel, Bilbo has no desire to leave his home and travel into danger’s path. He’s content where he is. On the other side of the equation are the dwarves who are embarking on this quest in order to take back their home. It’s their courage that finally convinces Bilbo that he supports their quest and is willing to help them.
By the time readers get to the end of the novel, Tolkien has defined home as a place one has to love, but not so much they never want to leave it.
Analysis of Key Moments in The Hobbit
- Gandalf selects Bilbo Baggins to accompany an expedition of dwarves as a “burglar.”
- The group encounters three trolls who try to eat them.
- They are saved by Gandalf who distracts the trolls until the sun turns them into stone.
- They discover a cache of swords they take with them on their journey.
- The group goes to Rivendell to speak with Elrond.
- Elrond translates Thorin’s map.
- The dwarves and Bilbo are kidnapped by Goblins in the Misty Mountains.
- Gandalf again rescues them but Bilbo is separated from the group.
- He meets Gollum and acquires the One Ring.
- The dwarves and Bilbo escape the goblins with the help of the eagles.
- They meet Beorn, travel through Lake-town, and Bilbo enters the Lonely Mountain.
- He encounters Smaug, steals the Arkenstone, and Smaug destroys Lake-town.
- Bard kills Smaug.
- The Battle of the Five Armies occurs and Thorin dies.
- Bilbo returns home to find his possessions are being auctioned off.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
J.R.R. Tolkien used a light and fun tone to tell the story of Bilbo’s adventures. It’s structured as a children’s story, one that alludes to the darkness at the heart of the story but doesn’t go into detail about it. The text is meant to be fun to read and not too disturbing for young audience members. There are several great examples of this in Tolkien’s depiction of scenes that could otherwise be quite disturbing. For example, these lines from Chapter 2 when the dwarves have been kidnapped by the trolls:
there were lots of clothes, too, hanging on the walls – too small for trolls, I am afraid they belonged to victims – and among them were several swords of various makes, shapes, and sizes.
Tolkien is alluding to the many victims that the trolls have eaten without doing so in a way that would scare children. The gruesomeness of the scene is masked by his light tone and the style he uses while writing. He uses words like “I am afraid” in this passage to make the revelation that “the dwarves might be eaten by trolls” easier to digest.
Throughout The Hobbit, Tolkien uses examples of figurative languages, such as metaphors and similes, in order to depict various scenes. Some other devices that can be found in the poem are flashbacks, examples of foreshadowing, onomatopoeia, and personification, among others. The latter can be seen in the first chapter when Tolkien describes the “winds…moaning in the night.” There are good examples of similes throughout the novel, such as “quick as lightning” also found in Chapter 1. There is a great example of foreshadowing in the first chapter as well. Gandalf, when speaking about Bilbo, says:
he is a Burglar, then a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, a deal more than he has any idea of himself.
Analysis of Symbols
The two swords the dwarves and Bilbo find in the trolls’ hoard, Orcrist and Glamdring, are symbols of the past and heroism. The swords embody the histories they were a part of and inspire those who wield them. It should also be noted that swords are an important part of many examples of heroic literature. With his sword, Bilbo starts to turn into the courageous hobbit he is at the end of The Hobbit.
The Ring is one of the most important symbols throughout Tolkien’s best-known novels. It symbolizes power and the ability to make the impossible possible. With the ring, one can turn invisible. Its power is easily felt and it inspires greed in even the kindest and most open people. Once Bilbo takes possession of it, he’s braver and far more confident than he was before.
The Arkenstone, the prize of the treasure in the Lonely Mountain, is a symbol of a different time. One in which the dwarves ruled peacefully over the land. For Thorin, it is also a symbol of his power and what his heritage means he’s due. He hoards it greedily, not wanting to share it with anyone. He’s eventually buried with it after he dies. This final act symbolizes Thorin’s peaceful return to a time before greed and death were so much a part of their lives.