Good-bye, Mr. Chips Essay - Critical Context

James Hilton

Critical Context

Good-bye, Mr. Chips was influenced by two distinct literary traditions. On one level, it may be described as a “most memorable person” novel along the lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), Nikos Kazantzakis’ Vios kai politela tou Alexe Zormpa (1946; Zorba the Greek, 1952), or Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958). Novels in this tradition usually contain elements of both comedy and sentimentality, describing an individual whose unique personality had an impact upon numerous people. Good-bye, Mr. Chips differs slightly from the other novels in this tradition, however, by not being told in the first person by someone who “knew” the central character and was inspired by them. Instead, Hilton adopts a third-person omniscient voice in the novel.

At the same time, Good-bye, Mr. Chips may also be described as a “life at school” novel bearing some similarities to Colette’s Claudine à l’école (1900; Claudine at School, 1956), E. R. Braithwaite’s To Sir, with Love (1959), John Knowles’s A Separate Peace (1959), Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase (1963), Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (1974), and central sections of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1849-1850). “Life at school” novels range widely in tone—from starkly tragic to broadly comic—and often contain a strong element of nostalgia.

By combining these two literary traditions, Good-bye, Mr. Chips exhibits a style and tone that is utterly unique. Young people relate to it because, despite the passage of time, its central figure is similar to individuals whom they encounter in their own education. Older readers enjoy it because of the nostalgic look that in provides of a bygone day. Originally written as an extended short story for the British Weekly and Atlantic Monthly, Good-bye, Mr. Chips is light, sentimental reading with a gentle moral that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.