Summary: Book 2, Chapter 10: The Breaking of the Fellowship
That night, Aragorn is uneasy and wakes during Frodo’s watch. He asks Frodo to take out his sword, Sting. The sword glows faintly, indicating that Orcs are near—though they do not know how near.
The next morning, Aragorn declares that Frodo must decide where the Ring is to go; the rest of the Company may continue where they will. Frodo asks for an hour alone to decide, and he walks up through the woods on Amon Hen. Secretly, Boromir follows, and, once in the isolation of the woods, he approaches Frodo. Boromir tries to convince the hobbit to turn toward the safety of Minas Tirith, and not to throw the Ring away when it could be used as a weapon against Sauron. When Frodo disagrees, Boromir grows angry and is suddenly taken with an uncontrollable desire for the Ring. He leaps toward Frodo, who is forced to put the Ring on his finger and disappear. The madness then leaves Boromir. Realizing what he has done, he falls to the ground and weeps.
Frodo runs breathless to the top of Amon Hen. From this high point, and with the vision the Ring gives him, he can see many things—but mostly war, gathering on all fronts. He looks toward Mordor and beholds Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower of Sauron, and he feels Sauron’s Great Eye searching for the Ring-bearer. The Eye has almost found Frodo when a voice suddenly comes into his head, telling him to take the Ring off his finger. Frodo struggles between the two forces, the Voice and the Eye, before he suddenly realizes that the choice is ultimately his to make. He removes the Ring, and the Great Eye does not find him. Frodo now knows that he must go on to Mordor alone. The Ring has already corrupted one of the Company—Boromir—and Frodo loves those whom he can trust too much to lead them to what seems a certain death. Going back into the cover of the forest, the hobbit slips the Ring on his finger again.
Meanwhile, the others down at the shore begin to worry, debating among themselves where the Ring should go and wondering why Frodo is taking so long to decide. Boromir returns, sad and grim, and tells them that he scared Frodo off, though Boromir does not reveal that he tried to take the Ring from the hobbit. The Company, filled with concern, scatters and calls out for Frodo. In vain, Aragorn insists that they divide up into pairs and search. He runs off after Sam and sends Boromir to look after Merry and Pippin.
Aragorn quickly catches up to Sam and tells him he thinks there is danger near. The Ranger decides to go up to the top of Amon Hen to look around. Sam hurries after Aragorn for a bit, but soon loses sight of him. Sam stops, realizing that Frodo is probably making for the boats, intending to go to Mordor alone. He quickly dashes down to the shore and sees a boat slipping into the river, seemingly on its own. He tries to run after it, nearly drowning himself. Frodo is forced to save Sam and to come back to shore and take off the Ring. Sam refuses to be left behind; Frodo, with some relief, accepts his friend’s company. Sam grabs his pack, and they push off from shore, toward Mordor.
We get an interesting insight into Frodo’s self-discovery when he sits at the top of Amon Hen wearing the Ring. With the special sight the Ring gives him, he sees much around him, but he also opens himself up to Sauron’s searching Eye, with its “fierce eager will” that urges him to keep the Ring on his finger. Then Frodo hears a voice telling him to take off the Ring. For a long moment, he is caught between those two forces: “perfectly balanced between their piercing points, he writhed, tormented.” Then, suddenly, he becomes aware of himself: “Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so.” We might read this conflict in a straightforward Freudian manner. Sigmund Freud was a doctor and philosopher who, around the turn of the twentieth century, created the field of psychoanalysis, which developed and popularized the notion of the unconscious mind. In a Freudian reading, the Eye of Sauron, with its fierce will and desire for the Ring, becomes what Freud called the id, the part of the psyche that is all instinctual, animal desire. The Voice, with its stern command to take off the Ring and defy Sauron, is effectively the superego, the part of the psyche that is rational and obedient to societal demands for what is right and just. Frodo himself—“neither Voice nor the Eye”—is the ego, the part of the psyche that must negotiate between the id and superego.
Though Tolkien—who resisted highly theoretical interpretations of his work—would likely find any reading linking him to Freud somewhat inappropriate, the point remains that the scene at Amon Hen serves as a dramatic representation of the role of free will and the part it plays in the battle between reason and desire. Frodo, in saying that he is affected by duty and desire, but not totally identified with either, describes the condition of every human being, pointing out the basic conflict that Freud discerned at the core of human nature. What makes Frodo unique is that he is willing to meditate on the matter. His introspective moment at Amon Hen is a time of self-exploration, which in turn is a sign of wisdom. It is impossible to imagine an evil warlord like Sauron meditating on his conflict between duty and desire. Frodo’s wisdom also distinguishes him from characters like Boromir, for example, who are inordinately subject to stormy fits of passion and desire. Though we are given indications throughout The Lord of the Rings that Frodo is fated to be the Ring-bearer, Tolkien uses episodes such as the one at Amon Hen to remind us that self-knowledge, and the wisdom that springs from it, make Frodo worthy of his destined role.
Frodo and Boromir are the two focal points of the conclusion of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the contrast between them shows us the diverging developments they have undergone in the story thus far. At the beginning, Frodo and Boromir are committed to the same cause, and they appear to be of more or less similar character. Frodo, however, has kept his original honesty, as we see from his sincere conversation with himself at Amon Hen, while Boromir has become deceptive, not admitting to the rest of the Fellowship that he has tried to take the Ring from Frodo. Frodo has also kept his original selfless devotion to the Fellowship, which has led him to break away from the rest of the group in order to spare them the dangers and hardships he knows they would face if they stayed with him. Sam shows a similar sense of devotion in insisting on following his master, come what may. Boromir, by contrast, has become selfish, betraying his companions for the goal of possessing the Ring. The contrast in moral attitudes between Frodo and Boromir could hardly be greater. The Fellowship of the Ring ends with the struggle between Frodo and Boromir not only for reasons of plot, but also for symbolic meaning. Two examples of opposite moral paths bracket the closing of the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, hinting at the enormous moral opposition to come.