Good-bye, Mr. Chips

by James Hilton

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1046

Mr. Chips is eighty-five years old, but he thinks himself far from ill. Dr. Merivale tells him he should not venture out on this cold November day, but he also adds that Mr. Chips is fitter than the doctor himself. What Mr. Chips does not know is that the doctor has told the landlady, Mrs. Wickett, to look after him; Mr. Chips’s chest clouds in bad weather.

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Mr. Chips sinks into his armchair by the fire, happy in the peace and warmth. The first thing about his remembered career sets him laughing. He came to teach at Brookfield in 1870, and in a kindly talk, old Wetherby, the acting headmaster, advised him to watch his disciplinary measures. Mr. Wetherby heard that discipline was not one of Mr. Chips’s strong points. When one of the boys dropped his desktop too loudly on the first day of class, Mr. Chips assigned him a hundred lines and had no trouble after that. The boy’s name was Colley—Mr. Chips seldom forgot a name or a face—and he remembered that years later he had taught Colley’s son, and then his grandson, who, he used to say pleasantly, was the biggest young nitwit of them all. Mr. Chips was fond of making little jokes about the boys, who took his jibes well and grew to love him for his honesty and friendliness. Indeed, Mr. Chips’s jokes were regarded as the funniest anywhere, and the boys had great sport telling of his latest.

Remembering these things, Mr. Chips thinks growing old is a great joke, although a little sad; when Mrs. Wickett comes in with his tea, she cannot tell whether Mr. Chips is laughing or crying. Tears are spilling down his withered cheeks.

Brookfield knew periods of grandeur as well as of decay. When Mr. Chips arrived there, the school was already a century old and regarded as a place for boys whose lineage was respectable but seldom distinguished. Mr. Chips’s own background was not distinguished, either, but it had been hard for him to realize that his mind was not the type to assume leadership. He had longed to work his way into the position of headmaster. After many failures, however, he knew that his role was that of a teacher, and he gave up his administrative ambitions. He loved his students, and they often came to chat with him over tea and crumpets. Sometimes they remarked, as they left, what a typical bachelor old Mr. Chips was.

It is painful to Mr. Chips that no one at Brookfield remembers his wife. When he was forty-eight years old, he married Kathy Bridges, and even now he wonders how that miracle came about. He saw a girl waving from the top of a rocky ledge one day when he was out walking, and thinking her in trouble, he set out to rescue her. On the way, he sprained his ankle, and Kathy ended up assisting him. It was a remarkable love, for she was years younger than he. Kathy, however, left an enduring mark upon Mr. Chips. He grew more lenient with the boys, more understanding of their problems, and more courageous in his teaching. Ironically, Kathy died on the first day of April in childbirth; that day, not realizing the tragedy that had befallen Mr. Chips, the boys played April Fool jokes on the stricken teacher.

Mr. Chips begins to remember the war years. Names of boys whose faces he could still visualize were read out in chapel from the casualty lists. When the headmaster died and no one could be found to fill his place, Mr. Chips was asked to head Brookfield. Standing in his tattered gown, which newcomers often considered disgraceful, tears filled his eyes as he read out the names. Even now, sitting in front of the fire, he can recall that roll, and he reads it over to himself, remembering the faces that looked so hopefully at him in the classroom.

One day, he met a Latin class while German bombs were crashing nearby. The boys squirmed in their seats as the explosions came nearer and nearer, but Mr. Chips quietly told them that they should never judge the importance of anything by the noise it made. Then, asking one of the more courageous lads to translate, Mr. Chips chose a passage from Caesar that was particularly apt because it dealt with German methods of fighting. Later, the boys told how Mr. Chips stood steady and calm, and they remarked that while Latin might be a dead language, it was nevertheless valuable at times.

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After the war, Mr. Chips gave up the headmastership and returned to his room at Mrs. Wickett’s. Now, fifteen years later, he is always asked to greet visiting dignitaries who come to Brookfield. He is amused to find that many of the barons, members of Parliament, and war heroes have been his former pupils, and he remembers their faces, although, to his chagrin, he now often forgets their names. He will make amusing, appropriate remarks, not always complimentary, and the visitors will shake with laughter. Sometimes during those postwar years, he is asked to make little speeches at school banquets, and because of his reputation for funny sayings, his audience laughs uproariously, often before Mr. Chips reaches the point of his jokes. Mr. Chips is privileged now, and his eccentricities only make him more loved at Brookfield. Indeed, Mr. Chips is Brookfield.

Mr. Chips thinks of the rich life he has led. There are so many memories. As he sits by the fire, he hears a timid knock at the door, and a youngster, much abashed, comes in. He had been told that Mr. Chips had sent for him. The old man laughs, knowing that this is a prank the old boys often played on a newcomer, and he saves the boy from embarrassment by telling him that he had sent for him. After conversation and tea, Mr. Chips dismisses the boy in his abrupt but kindly fashion. The boy waves as he goes down the walk.

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Latest answer posted August 1, 2011, 2:10 pm (UTC)

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Later, the boy tells his comrades that he had been the last to tell Mr. Chips good-bye; Mr. Chips died quietly in his sleep that cold November night.

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