Hobbit class system

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Blossom Boffin 25/Dec/2006 at 11:45 AM
Farmer of the Shire Points: 598 Posts: 75 Joined: 17/Dec/2006
I’m re-reading FotR for the first time in a few years, and I was thinking about something which I know has been discussed at length, the hobbit class system. Tolkien doesn’t mention anything about Hobbit social classes in "Concerning Hobbits," but it’s clear from the first chapter that there is a fairly rigid class system in place within Hobbit society. Tolkien refers to Gaffer Gamgee, Ted Sandyman, and others as "rustic hobbits". It’s noticeable from their speech alone that they don’t fall into the same class as the Bagginses, Brandybucks, etc., and of course Sam calls Frodo "Mr. Frodo" to the very end. It seems that most discussion I’ve seen on this topic has been to point out class indicators, rather than explain why Tolkien instituted them in the first place.

My question, which can hopefully be answered by someone more versed in the letters and other writings of Tolkien than I, is this: did Tolkien ever specifically discuss the reasons he set up the social structure of the Shire in this way? Was it simply because Hobbits were meant to mirror a "rustic" human society, particularly a British one, with all the class distinction that this entails? Or was there some deeper reason? I’d love to be referred to some of Tolkien’s own writing on the subject.
KingODuckingham 25/Dec/2006 at 12:01 PM
Grey Counsellor of Isengard Points: 15053 Posts: 15390 Joined: 27/Aug/2006
Is there any society in ME that is not classless? Even those we do not hear much about and do not seem to exhibit much in the way of classes (particularly the elves) had leaders and those who are more noble. (Gwindor was a lord of Nargothrond in the Sil). And at the time he was writing, what classless societies were there? What are there now? If the Shire is based at all in real life, he would not at all create a classless society.
Blackrose Bugg 25/Dec/2006 at 12:35 PM
New Soul Points: 21505 Posts: 30286 Joined: 19/Jan/2003

From Letter 178 -

{The Shire} is in fact more or less a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee.

I am from the US - but have a resonating view of English villages as places with a pretty evident class structure - starting at the top with the "Lord of the Manor" and going right on down to the "village idiot" - or terms like that.   The Shire, being such a village would have its wealthy citizens, its tradesman and craftsmen, goodwives and homemakers, and at the bottom - the ne’er do wells.  The existence of a servant class is no surprise in such a village - nor should it be in the Shire.  The following two quotes offer a little more insight into Tolkien’s view of the Shire...

From Lettter 181

There is no special reference to England in the Shire - except that as an Englishman brought up in an ’almost rural ’village of Warwickshire on the edge of the prosperous bourgeoisie of Birmingham (about the time of the Diamond Jubilee) I take my models like anyone else = from such ’life’ as I know. (emphasis mine)

As far as I am concerned- this line explains his motivation for the class system in the Shire- he was writing what he was familiar with - and that included the presence of various classes.

From Letter 183

It seems clear to me that Frodo’s duty was ’humane’ not political. He naturally thought first of the Shire, since his roots were there, but the quest had as its object not the preserving of this or that polity, such as the half republic, half aristocracy of the Shire, but the liberation from an evil tyrrany of all the ’humane’ (emphasis mine)

Blossom Boffin 25/Dec/2006 at 12:44 PM
Farmer of the Shire Points: 598 Posts: 75 Joined: 17/Dec/2006
You make a good point...actually, as I was writing my original post, I almost said that it’s the only social class we see in Middle Earth, and then I thought about how Minas Tirith has a clear servant class. I might have been a little unclear on what I meant by "class"--I didn’t mean a society where there’s a ruling class or set of leaders and then everyone else. I was referring more to a rigidly ranked society such as you see in Britain (or at least used to) with a clearly defined lower class, middle class, upper class, and aristocracy. I guess what I’m really wondering is not why Tolkien chose to include classed societies in his writing, but why he chose to feature the one inhabited by the Hobbits so prominently. Of course, if the answer is just, "because that’s the way the world is," then I guess that’s reasonable!
Blossom Boffin 25/Dec/2006 at 12:45 PM
Farmer of the Shire Points: 598 Posts: 75 Joined: 17/Dec/2006
(The above response was directed at KingODuckingham. Thanks, Helleborus, that’s what I was looking for!
Steophan 25/Dec/2006 at 01:36 PM
Stablehand of the Mark Points: 290 Posts: 29 Joined: 24/Dec/2006
I don’t have the letters or biography available at the moment, but isn’t there a reference somewhere to the relationship between Frodo and Sam as being analagous to or inspired by the relationship between an officer in the British Army, as Tolkien was, and one of the lower ranks?
Apologies if I misremember this...
Brandywine74 25/Dec/2006 at 05:32 PM
Foolhardy Ent of Fangorn Points: 1291 Posts: 562 Joined: 20/Apr/2006

Yes- Sam and Frodo’s relationship is based on the Batmen in the British army. They were mainly defined by their dedication to their superior and we see this with Sam and Frodo.

Strictly speaking the different groups aren’t ’classes’ as such as this is more industrial revolution type terminology. I suppose it’s better to say that the different groups had their ’station’ in society. There isn’t the same negative conotations with ’station’ as their is for ’class’, ie. Frodo and the others didn’t look down on Sam etc. in the way that different ’classes’ might.