Good-bye, Mr. Chips

by James Hilton

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What is the significance of the novel Good-bye, Mr. Chips?

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Good-bye, Mr. Chips is a heartwarming tale of a man who dedicates his life to teaching at an English boarding school for boys between 1870 and the end of World War I. The book has endured since its publication in 1934 as a minor classic. It been made into two feature-length films. It is a cultural icon many people recognize. Say "Mr. Chips," and people will know you are talking about a kindly British school teacher.

Much of the book's appeal lies in its nostalgic glimpse back at a British boarding school and in the character of the gentle, kindhearted, unassuming Mr. Chips. The book offers a simple, sincere, heartfelt view of another era. It idealizes a teacher, which taps into many people's own memories of a favorite teacher from their own school days.

Good-bye, Mr. Chips is part of a line of Romantic literature that goes back to the eighteenth century and is often said to have started with the writer Thomas Gray. Good-bye, Mr. Chips is not romantic in the sense of being about romantic love or passion—Mr. Chips's brief marriage is only a short episode in the novella. It is, instead, Romantic in its celebration of an unsung man who lived a quiet life in an obscure place, year in and year out doing the kind of work that will never win a person fame, money, or awards, but which can have an outsize influence on young people's lives.

Romantic, idealized literature like Good-bye, Mr. Chips is often referred to as presenting the world as we would like it to be, rather than as it is. There is a strong and lasting appeal in losing ourselves for a few hours in a novella that shows the world of education as it could be in a perfect world.

The book appeals to the emotions by presenting the humans in a positive light, and we take away some of that glow—which is bittersweet because it describes times past, but perhaps more pleasurable for that reason.

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