We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.
After Gandalf mentions to Bilbo that he’s looking for an adventurer, Bilbo quickly shuts the wizard down. At the start of the story, Bilbo makes clear that he has no interest in heroism whatsoever, believing adventuring to be too dangerous and also the realm of a different kind of person. Bilbo doesn’t view himself as capable of heroics of any sort. This belief is less a reflection of a lack of self-confidence and more a product of the safe, predictable environment in which Bilbo lives. Bilbo will eventually learn that heroism does not require a certain kind of personality—just the ability to capitalize on one’s own unique gifts.
I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found.
Here, Gandalf talks derisively of warriors who have more interest in pride and personal glory than the greater good. His disdain illustrates one of the story’s key points about heroism: Outward appearance is no metric for judging heroic capability. Those who look the most like heroes, who purposefully project an aura of courage and strength, often end up less truly virtuous than those who call no attention to themselves at all. When Gandalf selects Bilbo to join the dwarves’ quest, the dwarves question the small, bumbling hobbit’s usefulness—but Gandalf knows better.
Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce.
After overhearing that the dwarves believe him to be soft and meek, Bilbo resolves to prove his capability to them. This moment introduces another aspect of the story’s examination of heroism: that heroes can still be imperfect, fallible, and human. The desire to prove someone wrong doesn’t represent the purest motive for heroics but stands as an understandable feeling to anyone. Now that Bilbo feels stirred to action, he will have plenty of opportunities to strengthen his motives and integrity.
I may be a burglar—or so they say: personally I never really felt like one—but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less. Anyway I am going back now, and the dwarves can do what they like to me.
After Bilbo steals Thorin’s treasured gem—the Arkenstone—and gives the enormous jewel to the elves to use as a bargaining chip, he announces that he will return to the dwarves’ ranks to receive whatever punishment they see fit. Bilbo shows great bravery and integrity here. Not only did he do something very difficult in the interest of the greater good, but, crucially, he is willing to accept the consequences for his actions—even if those consequences are very grave. Bilbo has found true heroism within himself, a courage born not of overconfidence or bluster but of the knowledge that he has done the right thing.
This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.
At the end of Bilbo’s journey, the narrator explains how Bilbo finds himself quietly ostracized from the hobbit community in his hometown, separated from them all by the otherness of his experiences. After all, hobbits work hard to avoid adventure, and Bilbo returns after experiencing events other hobbits couldn’t begin to understand. Though the Bilbo readers meet at the story’s start would likely be distressed by this, the Bilbo who returns from the Lonely Mountain couldn’t care less what the other hobbits think of him. Firm in himself, having proven his worth as an individual and acquired some truly remarkable memories, as well as friends in the elves and dwarves who visit him, Bilbo can forget the opinions of others and live his life to the fullest—a true hero’s reward.