Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Good-bye, Mr. Chips is an episodic novel about the most beloved teacher at a British preparatory school. Although many of its vignettes appear in chronological order, the novel has no single narrative. It achieves its unity, not through a single story line but through the figure of Chips himself. Each episode provides another detail about the novel’s central character and the crucial role that he played in the lives of his students.

Mr. Chips is a composite of the “ideal teacher,” a representation of the dedication and love found in all who excel at this profession. Nevertheless, James Hilton takes great pains to make Mr. Chips seem ordinary. He is not the greatest scholar on the faculty of Brookfield School. He does not win the admiration of his pupils through skill at games or athletics. He was not even a particularly good teacher or administrator when he was young. Rather, like many other teachers, he improved year by year, eventually coming to symbolize Brookfield School.

Mr. Chips was born in 1848 and visited the Great Exhibition (also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London when he was three years old. In 1870, he was hired by Brookfield School’s old master, Wetherby, who died the following summer. In later years, he would be the only teacher left who recalled the school’s early days.

Mr. Chips is recognizable everywhere because of his tattered academic gown, a habit of interjecting the words...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Brookfield School

Brookfield School. English public school (comparable to an American “private” school, that is, one that is not government run) at which Mr. Chipping (nicknamed “Mr. Chips”) spends his entire career teaching boys. Of unspecified location, the school functions as an idealized and realistic microcosm of England. The men who lead it and the boys who develop under their tutelage are allegorical inhabitants of this symbolic design. As a benevolent archetypal mentor, casting his personality over and through everything and everyone, Chipping is the paragon of all that is held dear to the English heart.

Brookfield is “an old foundation,” its history dating to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of the sixteenth century, when England first asserted itself as a major world power brimming with self-confidence. However, Brookfield’s fortunes throughout the centuries have gone up and down. Unlike famous schools such as Harrow and Eton, Brookfield has never achieved first-rate status; it has attracted students from the middle class and masters who are solid but not brilliant scholars. Such a setting allows for a realistic representation of England as a whole and also underscores the unpleasant British emphasis on class and social standing, which Chipping, in his quiet way seeks to make more democratic, though he reveres much that is traditional.

Under different headmasters, the school, like England, changes, abandoning the classics for the moderns and altering the organizational structure that Chipping struggles to preserve when made acting headmaster. Ultimately, Brookfield School, like England, is compelled to change not only because of the Great War, in which its own great losses mirror those of the nation as a whole, but also because of social issues such as woman’s suffrage...

(The entire section is 749 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bellman, Samuel Irving. “The Apocalypse in Literature.” Costerus 7 (1973): 13-25. Describes the episode in which the boys play an April Fools’ Day joke on Mr. Chips, who, distraught over the deaths of his wife and child, does not understand the prank. Uses this incident to discuss human estrangement.

Mathews, T. S. “A Gallery of Novels.” The New Republic 19, no. 1024 (July 18, 1934): 271-272. Calls Good-bye, Mr. Chips a little tale that “gives us the soft English character in a hard nutshell.” Notes that the real world is not as tender and gentle as the one portrayed in the book.

Mott, Frank Luther. Golden Multitudes: The Story of Best Sellers in the United States. New York: Macmillan, 1947. Tells how Hilton’s bicycle ride through the English countryside inspired him to write a novel based on the recollections of his own school days.

Scott, Patrick. “James Hilton’s Good-bye, Mr. Chips and the Strange Death of Liberal England.” South Atlantic Quarterly 85, no 4 (Autumn, 1986): 319-328. Calls for a reassessment of the novel, pointing to the importance of Hilton’s commentary on the historical and cultural significance of the old schoolmaster and the school.

Weeks, Edward. Foreword to Good-bye, Mr. Chips. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962. Hails Good-bye Mr. Chips as Hilton’s most successful novel and “the most endearing portrait of a schoolteacher in our time.”