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Free Study Guide-The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-Free Online Book Notes
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THEMES ANALYSIS

Three main Themes are treated in The Hobbit: 1) the war between good and evil; 2) the theme of greed and its effects; and 3) the quest - both for the treasure and for Bilbo's heroic stature. Though each theme is distinct, all three are intertwined with each other and are integral to the plot and sub-plots of the book.

The war between good and evil begins with the company's first adventure, the encounter with the trolls. From then on, there are increasingly more dangerous skirmishes between the forces of good and evil, until the conflict escalates into the full-blown Battle of Five Armies at the end of the novel. There is, however, one point in which it becomes difficult to differentiate whether the dwarves, particularly Thorin, are characters of good or evil. Once they are in possession of the treasure, they begin to be corrupted by it, becoming possessive and greedy. In the end, however, all of the forces of good unite in the Battle of Five Armies to defeat the forces of evil, represented by the goblins and the wolves. After they are victorious, the dwarves share the treasure and live in peace. Even Thorin, who has been the most corrupted by greed, dies a heroic, redemptive death after repenting for his earlier evil actions.

The theme of greediness is developed from the beginning of the novel. It is initially seen in the dwarves' strong desire to regain the treasure for themselves and in Bilbo's greediness for food. Though Bilbo loves to eat and to have other comforts, he is able to live without them and never lets his desires overcome his sense of duty and right. The dwarves' love of treasure, however, stands in their way and almost defeats them. Tolkien compares and contrasts the dwarves to other characters they encounter during their adventures. Beorn, for example, is completely free of any desire for treasure, for he finds joy in the beauties of nature and the friendship of animals. Unlike the dwarves who are ready to do battle to seize what they want, the Elvenking does not believe that any treasure is worthy of bloodshed.


Ironically, the dwarves are pictured in many ways to be like Smaug, their stated enemy. Although he is intelligent and powerful, the dragon, like the dwarves, is driven by his hunger for treasure; as a result, he jealously guards his stolen loot and flies into a rage over the theft of a single cup, which he cannot and does not use. Thorin, in particular, seems to be very similar to Smaug. Not only does greed take over his character, it also corrupts all that is right and good about him. He becomes ungrateful, cold-hearted, dishonest, and treacherous. He refuses to share with Bard or help the people of Lake-town; he casts out Bilbo as a traitor; and he shoots at those who come to collect the treasure he has promised to share. Through Thorin and the dwarves, Tolkien shows that greed can and does corrupt, leading to misery and disaster. It is only at the end that Thorin realizes what Bilbo understands intuitively: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

The theme of the quest is also developed through the entire book. The desire of the dwarves to regain their ancestral treasure is what sets the plot in motion. At no point in the novel, do the dwarves lose sight of their objective - to reach Lonely Mountain, defeat Smaug, and seize his hoarded stockpile of gold and jewels. Unfortunately, when the dragon is killed and the treasure is in their hands, they become so possessive and greedy that they almost defeat themselves. Thorin even imagines himself as the rich and mighty King of the Region. It is ironic that in pursuing their quest, the dwarves do not suffer nearly as much as they do after achieving it. In the end, however, they are able to share the treasure and live in peace.

Bilbo undertakes the quest with the dwarves, but his quest really becomes his own search to prove himself as a brave man and heroic leader. As the novel progresses, Tolkien traces the theme of Bilbo's growth from an inept, almost foolish, hobbit to one who is capable of going alone into a dragon's lair and of leading his companions to safety through many dangers. The more he is forced to rely on himself, the more brave and capable he shows himself to be. His biggest challenge is when he finds himself in the tunnel leading to Smaug's lair and must decide whether to go on or not. His decision to face the dangers ahead of them, whatever they may be, is his "bravest" act and crystallizes his position as a heroic figure. When he later uses the Arkenstone to buy peace (arguably even a braver act), he shows that he is a wise, fair, and cool-headed leader, a total change from his earlier inept and fearful being.

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