Marxist Analysis: The Role of Bilbo Baggins

In the JRR Tolkien novel, The Hobbit, several races and class stratifications are introduced. In a true Marxist tradition, these classes are divided not only by wealth and tradition, but by power and stature. Each member of the aristocracy looks down upon the members of the bourgeoisies, who, in turn, look down upon the proletariat. What is most fascinating about The Hobbit is the allegiance to class which blinds the upper classes to the potential and possibilities of one of the lowest classes – the hobbits.

In a rather extensive search for any critical analysis of The Hobbit, one discovers that more attention is paid to Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Critics spend more time on the trilogy because they most often view The Hobbit as children’s literature or as a simplistic prelude to Tolkien’s trilogy. It then becomes necessary to refer to textual references for a background in Marxist theory and critical approach.

As Donald E. Hall suggests in Literary and Cultural Theory: From Basic Principles to Advanced Applications, Marxist analysis includes eight key principles: attention to material conditions to achieve positive social change; the traditional social structure is based on the oppression of workers; social classes ultimately have conflicting interests; literary and cultural texts are ideological in background, form, and function; the production and consumption of texts reflect class ideologies; representations within texts reflect class ideologies; production, consumption, and content of criticism is ideological in nature; and a key role of the critic is to further class awareness and positive social change (76-81).

One can now apply these principles to an examination of The Hobbit as a novel. In the novel, one can see that attention to material conditions is used to achieve positive social change. Bilbo agrees to the quest because he has the opportunity to improve his financial status. The dwarves, a working, proletariat class, seek the treasure in the mountain as not only a recovery of their property, but an opportunity to improve their social status from a financial perspective. The traditional social structure which oppresses workers is demonstrated through the chain of command and control exhibited within the group of dwarves. Each dwarf has his responsibilities and those are governed by the dwarf in charge, Thorin. Often throughout the text, Thorin acts as a tyrannical leader and can be seen as oppressing the other dwarves. The conflicting interests that exist between the classes are not fully evident until the traveling party of Bilbo and the dwarves encounter the Men of the lake. The Men, a bourgeois class, have interest in the destruction of Smaug so that they can capture the wealth of the mountain. The Men already enjoy a fine lifestyle (in terms of Middle-Earth) and see the dwarves as a lower class that does not deserve a share of the treasure. The dwarves also seek to destroy Smaug, but their interest is in reclaiming that which already belongs to them.

 The ideologies of the text, in background, form, and function, are evident throughout. The background of the story places each group within the social constructs of class stratification. The form of the story, primarily a fairytale, includes components that separate characters into specific social roles. The function of the story, to present an adventurous tale, can only be achieved through the separation of characters into specific roles such as hero, worker, and pawn, mimicking the Marxist roles of aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and proletariat. The production and consumption of the text, along with representations within the text are most definitely ideological in nature and are reflected within the background, form, and function of the text. The key role of the critic to further class awareness and effect positive social change is an area that has not been fully addressed in regards to the novel, The Hobbit. This critical approach is one that can and must be examined in order to give the novel its due attention.

The main character, hobbit Bilbo Baggins, represents his class in outstanding fashion. He wastes not one moment worrying about his appropriate place in the class structure; he expends his energy evolving from a simpleton into a respected hero, a position that the upper classes cannot imagine a hobbit could achieve. Bilbo breaks through the boundaries of class and earns the respect of all who hover artificially above him. Bilbo’s stunning acts of selflessness and heroism catapult his character out of his class designation and demonstrate the potential that exists in all creatures regardless of class.

Barnett, Malcolm Joel. “The Politics of Middle Earth.” Polity 1.3 (Spring 1969):
383-387. JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort  Wayne, IN. 30 Oct. 2007
<http://www.jstor.org>.
            Though Barnett’s work is a thorough examination of the politics of the realms of Middle Earth, he does not give adequate representation to the novel The Hobbit. Barnett instead focuses on The Lord of the Rings trilogy and how the quest for the ring of power brings the different political structures of the land into conflict. Barnett gives brief mention to the primitive-democratic world of the Shire of the Hobbits, but only in relation to the small nation-states of Men and the totalitarian worlds of Mordor, Lothlorien, and Rivendell.

Basney, Lionel. “Tolkien and the Ethical Function of ‘Escape’ Literature.”
            Mosaic 13.2 (Winter 1980): 23-36. JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne,
            IN. 30 Oct. 2007 <http://jstor.org>.
            Though one can hope to find a reference to class and Marxist analysis within an “ethical” discussion of Tolkien’s work, the only reference in Basney’s piece to The Hobbit, is hobbits as characters. What is somewhat disturbing about Basney’s piece is the overt attitude of the bourgeois academy that Tolkien, as a lower-middle-class citizen, has wasted his time on fiction.

Bowman, Mary R. “The Story Was Already Written: Narrative Theory in The Lord
 of the Rings.” Narrative 14.3 (Oct. 2006): 272-293. Academic Search
Premier. EBSCO. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN. 28 Sept. 2007
<http://search.ebscohost.com>.
Bowman spends the bulk of her article discussing The Lord of the Rings, however, she does attempt to connect the narrative threads of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Bowman discusses the changes made by Tolkien at the end of The Hobbit and how it aids in continuing the story in The Lord of the Rings.
She also makes reference to  the connection between Bilbo’s adventure in The Hobbit and the continuing adventure of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Bowman makes a great link between Bilbo’s attitude at the end of his adventure and the “frightful nuisance” adventure can be. This reference presents a clear picture of Bilbo’s desire to maintain his place in society and his lack of desire to make change.
Bowman makes further connections between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and how the narratives function as prequel and sequel.

Brooke-Rose, Christine. “The Evil Ring: Realism and the Marvelous.” Poetics
            Today. 1.4 (Summer 1980): 67-90. JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN.
            30 Oct. 2007 <http://jstor.org>.
Brooke-Rose’s piece is a thorough review of the realism of The Lord of the Rings and gives very little attention to The Hobbit. She uses the opening paragraph to review the general plot of The Hobbit and then moves immediately to The Lord of the Rings. Although Brooke-Rose does mention Bilbo Baggins in passing during the course of the piece, her examination does not give due attention to The Hobbit.

Caldecott, Stratford. “The Horns of Hope: J. R. R. Tolkien and the Heroism of
            Hobbits.” The Chesterton Review 28.1-2 (2002): 30-55.
            Caldecott uses this piece to review many areas of Tolkien’s trilogy. Caldecott’s only mention of hobbits is in reference to the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. However, Caldecott does make reference to the innate characteristics of hobbits and how various adventures do help demonstrate the innocent, calm joy that exist alongside courage and heroism within the little people of the Shire.
            This reference to the adaptability and transformational qualities of hobbits were born in The Hobbit with Bilbo Baggins. Caldecott’s further reference to Tolkien’s taking the hobbits out of the “everyday world of the Shire into the universe of high romance and chivalry” gives notice to the proletariat class to which hobbits belong.

 Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1977. 176-182.
Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien truly is a review of Tolkien’s thought processes and life story during the composition of his works. Chapter 1 of the section, 1925-1949 (ii): The Third Age, entitled “Enter Mr. Baggins”, is devoted to The Hobbit. There are quotes not only from Tolkien himself, but his son Christopher as well. Like many other critics, the author spends a significant amount of time comparing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
What is interesting is Carpenter’s reference that Tolkien, in writing the death of Smaug the dragon, made a note that his original idea (that Bilbo stab the dragon to death) “hardly suited the character of the hobbit and did not provide a grand enough death for Smaug.” This is the only reference in the chapter that provides any insight into Tolkien’s view of the characteristics of hobbits.

 Dubs, Kathleen E. “Providence, Fate, and Chance: Boethian Philosophy in The
 Lord of the Rings.” Twentieth Century Literature 27.1 (Spring 1981): 34-42.
 JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN. 30 Oct. 2007 <http://jstor.org>.
Dubs’ work begins with a thorough review of Boethian philosophy. Dubs suggests that the freedom of will under the watchful eye of benevolent providence (Boethian philosophy) is identical to the realms of Middle Earth. While this philosophy gives a nod to Marxist societal structures, Dubs does not adequately address The Hobbit as a novel. Rather, she focuses specifically on Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.

Enright, Nancy. “Tolkien’s Females and the Defining of Power.” Renascence
            59.2 (Winter 2007): 93-108. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Helmke
            Library, Fort Wayne, IN. Sept. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com>.
            Enright takes a thorough look at the role of female characters in The Lord of the Rings. However, beyond a brief mention of The Hobbit as part of the development of the theme of power, Enright turns her full attention on the trilogy.

Green, William H. The Hobbit: A Journey Into Maturity. New York: Twayne
            Publishers, 1995.
            Green’s contribution to Twayne’s Masterwork Studies offers varied insights and background into a single classic text. The book offers Historical Context, Importance of the Work, Critical Reception, Theory of Fairy Stories, and The Psychology of Dragon Slaying. The work also offers an in-depth reading of the novel itself.
            In the chapter, “The Importance of the Work”, Green addresses archetypes of adventure stories, examines the protagonist (in this case, 50-year old Bilbo) as a step outside the norm, and discusses how Tolkien reinvents traditional heroism with the unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins.

Green, William H. “King Thorin’s Mines: The Hobbit as Victorian Adventure
            Novel.” Extrapolation 42.1 (2001): 53. Literature Resource Center. Gale
            Group. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN. 14 Nov. 2007 <http://galenet.
            galegroup.com>.
            Although the title suggests that this article will be a full discussion of The Hobbit, Green presents an analysis of the similarities between The Hobbit and King Solomon’s Mines, both as works of fiction aimed at young boys.
            However, there is a large section devoted to the “reluctant hero,” Bilbo Baggins. Though there is a lengthy comparison to the hero in Mines, Bilbo is described in socioeconomic terms and there is mention of his class. Green lists Bilbo as being of “good birth, with modest wealth and education.” A man of good birth would be considered a member of the bourgeoisie, particularly a man of wealth and education.
            Green also makes note of Bilbo’s transformation from a man of wealth and education to the appointed “burglar” of the expedition. Bilbo, a true renaissance hobbit, makes this transition with the air of an experienced businessman, a nod to his true class and stature. Bilbo wants information regarding “risks, out-of-pocket expenses, time required and remuneration, and so forth.”
            Green makes mention of the womanless environs of The Hobbit, an issue he fully explores in another article, “’Where’s Mama?’: The Construction of the Feminine in The Hobbit.” However, he does mention here the lack of attention given to women within the story. This is a clear demonstration of how the class structure within the book follows the standard, medieval position of women throughout history: a class with no power or position in society except as vessels of childbearing.

Green, William H. “’Where’s Mama?’: The Construction of the Feminine in The
            Hobbit.” Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature
            22.2 (Apr. 1998): 188-195. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO.
Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN. Sept. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com>.
            Green’s examination of the feminine (or lack thereof) in The Hobbit is one of the only definitive, critical works that does not simply give a nod to the novel. Rather, Green completes a full study of the role of the feminine in the book. One cannot say “women” or “females” because there are no major female characters in the text. What Green suggests is that Tolkien’s relationship with his own mother has led to this exclusion (Tolkien’s mother passed away when he was only twelve). The only women in the story exist within the community of men who live in the shadow of Smaug’s mountain. The women have no dialogue and are treated as a minor prop, equivalent to weak and useless. Within his discussion, Green also offers that a “womanless world . .  .may be seen as a Utopian construction . . . without sexual tension or guilt . . . a world consonant with pre-Freudian ideas of childhood innocence.”
            Finally, Green offers that the mother figure is “implicit in the glorification of ‘feminine’ versus ‘masculine’ values – the humiliation of men who lack an impulse to nurture, a gift for domesticity, and self-sacrifice. Bilbo, the androgynous male protagonist, is a throwback to a mid-Victorian vision of domestic virtue.” By assigning Bilbo a feminine side, Green is saying that the mother figure still exists in the text, but within the context of a male character.
            This examination, while not strictly Marxist, does give a nod to the position of women within the novel as a social class. Tolkien gives women no place in the society of Middle Earth other than as childbearing vehicles and domestic aids. Though this does change dramatically in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit does not give women any viable position in the aristocracy, bourgeoisie, or proletariat.
A feminist reading of The Hobbit would yield a sense of frustration and hostility due to the lack of female characters. A historicist reading would most likely agree with the treatment of women because in fantasy literature, which more often takes place in medieval times, women are most often not given positions of importance. Other critical readings may offer different interpretations of the place of women in the society of Middle-Earth.

Hall, Donald E. Literary and Cultural Theory: From Basic Principles to Advanced
            Applications. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 73-81.
            This reference book offers insight into various literary and cultural theories of applied criticism. The chapter on Marxist and Materialist analysis provides a new critical writer with the necessary background and key principles to aid in understanding the approach and applying it to literary texts.

Kirk, Elizabeth D. “’I Would Rather Have Written in Elvish’: Language, Fiction,
            and The Lord of the Rings.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 5.1 (Autumn
            1971): 5-18. JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN. 30 Oct. 2007
 <http://jstor.org>.
            Kirk addresses Tolkien’s primary focus in writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy: linguistic inspiration. Tolkien’s desire in the trilogy was to provide a background for the history of Elvish tongues. These are Tolkien’s own comments as they appear in the preface of the paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings. Kirk gives only one brief mention of The Hobbit throughout the piece, referring only to its “simple plot” in comparison to “the vast tapestry of the trilogy.”
This suggestion of a “simple plot” also suggests “simple” vocabulary and diction. Kirk herself is making a Marxist evaluation in comparing the stories and languages of The Hobbit versus The Lord of the Rings. By referring to “the vast tapestry of the trilogy,” Kirk is commenting that the simplicity of The Hobbit is reserved for a lower-class reader and The Lord of the Rings is reserved for more advanced, academic consumers of literature.

Kocher, Paul. H. Master of Middle-earth: The Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien.
            Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972. 19-33.
            Kocher spends Chapter Two of his review of Tolkien’s works on The Hobbit. His review of the piece primarily deals with the fact that the work is more geared towards children and not a true “prequel” to The Lord of the Rings. Kocher makes the point that anyone seeking to read both works should not read them sequentially; rather, the reader should treat each as an individual work with different audiences, different purposes, and different voices.
            Kocher also spends some time addressing each of the different races and what identifies them. Kocher points out that Tolkien addresses the different qualities of each race and interjects personal opinions and lively comments, such as, “Yes, I am afraid trolls do behave like that, even those with only one head each.”
            Unfortunately, Kocher spends the majority of the chapter comparing The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings. He mentions characters, locations, and objects that will appear later in the epic trilogy but which are introduced in The Hobbit. This movement to a comparison with The Lord of the Rings turns a thorough investigation of The Hobbit into another criticism of the epic trilogy.

Kuznets, Lois R. “Tolkien and the Rhetoric of Childhood.” Tolkien: New Critical
            Perspectives. Eds. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo. Lexington, KY:
            University Press of Kentucky, 1981. 150-162.
            Lois Kuznets’ examination of The Hobbit is a full breakdown and investigation of how the work is truly childhood literature. She gives a complete analysis of the classic rhetorical characteristics of children’s literature: an obtrusive narrator who addresses the reader with descriptive prose; characters with whom children can comfortably identify and relate as they develop and change in much the same way children do; an emphasis on the relationship between time and development with a compressed narrative time scheme; finally, a circumscribed geography and significant concern with the security or danger of specific places in the setting.
            Once again, as with other critics, Kuznets continually compares The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings. However, Kuznets also compares the work with other, related children’s tales of the same general time period and similar structures.

Landa, Ishay. “Slaves of the Ring: Tolkien’s Political Unconscious.” Historical
            Materialism 10.4 (2002): 113-133. JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne,
            IN. 30 Oct. 2007  <http://jstor.org>.
            Landa does a remarkable job of covering the political realm of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in this piece. Although there is no specific reference to Marxist theory, Landa does spend time dealing with the historical implications of autonomy, social totality, capitalism, and collectivism. However, Landa does spend more time on the evils and power of capitalism than on the other implications. Landa argues that the capitalistic quest of The Hobbit is a crisis that must be contained. The resolution of the “crisis” is no more than symbolic in Landa’s view.
When taking Landa’s view and interposing it with Marxist and Materialist theory, one can see how the capitalist quest of The Hobbit seeks to achieve one of its key principles: attention to material conditions to achieve positive social change.

Taylor, William L. “Frodo Lives.” The English Journal 56.6 (Sept. 1967): 818-821.
            JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN 30 Oct. 2007  <http://jstor.org>.
            Taylor discusses the usefulness of teaching classics to children. Although he does give much time to The Lord of the Rings, he only briefly mentions some of the action in The Hobbit. His examination of that action takes a psychoanalytical approach, which discusses changes in human personality when contact with evil occurs. Specifically, Taylor mentions how Bilbo Baggins, while not the slayer of Smaug, is nonetheless altered by his confrontations with the dragon. Although Bilbo is not strictly human, Hobbits do share many common characteristics with humans and serve in that capacity throughout the pages of The Hobbit.

Thomson, George H. “The Lord of the Rings: The Novel as Traditional Romance.”
            Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 8.1 (Winter 1967): 43-59.
JSTOR. Helmke Library, Fort Wayne, IN 30 Oct. 2007  <http://jstor.org>.
            Thomson does a thorough review of The Lord of the Rings as traditional romance in this piece. He does, however, also give a fine summary of The Hobbit, in particular the character of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures in the varied lands of Middle Earth. Though his summary cannot be qualified as having a specific critical approach, his designations of the different lands and creatures give the reader a sense of the social stratifications of Middle Earth that Bilbo and the dwarves confront. Thomson uses this summary as a preface to his discussion of The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “Shot From the Canon.” Chronicle of Higher Education 48.2
            (07 Sept. 2001): B4. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Helmke Library,
            Fort Wayne, IN. 28 Sept. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com>.
            In preparation for release of the film version of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien himself took part in the evaluation of why his works are not part of the literary canon. Although his works are not specifically examined in great detail, Tolkien as an author, is given considerable attention.
            Even though there is very little criticism available that discusses The Hobbit in terms of Marxism, all of the experts consulted for this work do address class structures and other Marxist components involved in the academic community and how Tolkien specifically broke through bourgeois barriers from a lower-middle-class position. The academy created a rather hostile environment surrounding Tolkien and were not shy about disrespecting his works.
            Tom A. Shippey, professor of English at Saint Louis University, mentions that Tolkien specifically addresses issues of “social upheaval”. He also states that the antagonistic reaction of the “haute bourgeois” is a symptom of their desire to decide what literature is and what is not. They refer to Tolkien as a lower-middle-class person with no place in the literary canon.
            Jane Chance, professor of English at Rice University, claims that the reactions to Tolkien have to do with his going outside the main – writing to children – which is seen as feminine. She also claims that British academics “don’t value contemporary fantasy as much as do American academics.” Chance makes the statement that Great Britain is still a feudal system where striations of class “still limit mobility and advancement.”
            Verlyn Flieger, professor of English at University of Maryland at College Park, points out that the academy felt Tolkien “wasted his time on fiction when he should have been producing scholarship.” Flieger also indicates that sense in the academy that any writing with mass appeal cannot be worthy of study. Finally, Flieger points out the tendency of the masses to “superimpose Middle-Earth on the actual world” which is seen as a childish phenomenon.
            Finally, Brian John Rosebury, principal lecturer in English Literature at the University of Central Lancashire, declares that Tolkien’s fans are naïve enthusiasts that are not equipped to provide a sophisticated explanation of why they enjoy Tolkien’s works. Rosebury bemoans the fact that the release of the film, The Lord of the Rings, will “renew this effect, unfortunately.”

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