Goodbye, Mr. Chips follows the career of a British school teacher and headmaster at Brookfield who sees generation after generation of the school’s graduates go on to military service, a tradition of which the institution is proud. While the novel was written less than twenty years after the Great War ended, and its action takes the characters through the war years. Mr. Chips grows old and fragile as the war progresses, learning secondhand what kind of devastation the war had inflicted on Europe and the loss of Brookfield’s graduates.
When he learns of the first “Old Brookfieldian” to die in action, Chips reflects that France is now England’s ally, whereas in the previous century, the countries had been enemies. He must also weigh his personal knowledge of a teacher who joined the German side against the political position the other man adopted. His patriotism notwithstanding, Chips grieves for the soldiers who lose their lives, as he cannot help but think of them as the children they were when he knew them. Hilton shows how the young are sacrificed to uphold the traditions maintained by the old.