Good-bye, Mr. Chips

by James Hilton

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What is the basic theme of "Good-bye, Mr. Chips"?

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One of the book's themes is the nature of change. Over the course of many years at Brookfield, Chips comes to see more than his fair share of changes, both at school and in the world outside. A lot of the changes are bad; Chips is not particularly enamored with the newfangled method of Latin pronunciation he's required to teach; he doesn't much care for the influx of pupils from nouveau riche backgrounds. And in the world beyond the school gates, society is rapidly changing; workers are demanding more rights; women want the vote. Suffice to say that Chips isn't a big fan of these developments.

Nonetheless, Chips himself does manage to change, and it's as much of a shock to him as it is to us. The catalyst for this astonishing turnaround is Katherine Bridges. She represents many of the things that the old stick-in-the-mud Chips cordially loathes about the changing world outside. She's a woman with ideas, actively engaged in the political causes of her day. On the face of it, you'd think that she and Chips would be like chalk and cheese. Yet her loving kindness, as well as her obvious intelligence, bring out the best in Chips, revealing a whole new side to him. The lesson seems to be that change is good if it comes from within—if it means being true to oneself, as opposed to change for its own sake.

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This novelette is a very touching story about a rather shy and effaced schoolmaster who wins the affection and loyalty of his pupils. One theme would be that people are deeper and more complex than they first appear; therefore, it is unwise to make hasty character judgements. Another: 'Make most of the time at hand, because it will slip away from you sooner than you think.' Another could be something like 'Learn to give and receive in little ways.'

This is not a deep novel, thematically speaking, but it is a joy to read. It touches a common chord with such works as 'To Sir,with Love' and 'The Dead Poets Society.'

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