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Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Scheduled broadcast: Sunday, October 19, 2003
(Confirm with your local station)

"Warming to the heart and nourishing to the spirit ... The most profoundly moving story that has passed this way..." So said usually cynical critic Alexander Woolcott when Goodbye, Mr. Chips was first published in 1934. Love and heartbreak, setbacks and successes all come the way of a career that extends from Queen Victoria's reign to the aftermath of World War I. James Hilton's novella is the memorable story of an eccentric schoolmaster who lives a full, rich life in the cloistered world of an English boys' school.

Discussion Questions

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
by James Hilton (1934)

  1. James Hilton wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips partly in tribute to his own schoolteacher father. What would you say Hilton values in a teacher? What qualities do you think make a good teacher? Is Mr. Chipping, or "Chips" as his students come to call him, a good teacher or not? Why?

  2. Chips seems to be an ineffectual teacher at first. By the end, however, he is revered by the students and faculty that lived and worked with him. How has he changed by the end? Is there anything that remains consistent about him during his tenure at Brookfield? What?

  3. Are hierarchies of authority and power natural, whether in a school, a work place, or anywhere else? Are rituals like the hazing, bullying, and "fagging" at Brookfield (or any school or institution) an unavoidable part of establishing a hierarchy and bonding a group together? Can they ever be healthy or do they inevitably lead to a culture of violence?

  4. Meeting his wife Kathie may have been the single event that changed Chips the most. Do you agree with this statement? How do the two of them compare when they first meet? What does she teach him? How does she influence the students and the school as a whole? What might Kathie symbolize to us as readers and viewers?

  5. By staying at Brookfield for over 60 years, Chips becomes deeply associated with the institution. To what degree does Brookfield shape the life of Chips? To what extent is Chips able to influence or change Brookfield? How do you think James Hilton felt about the place and importance of institutional knowledge? What does Chips stand for? What might he symbolize to us as readers and viewers?

  6. Brookfield is a very exclusive school, mainly for boys of wealthy and upper-class families. How much does that seem to matter on a daily basis? How does class matter in our society? Has our awareness of it changed? How? Which do you think is most important today in terms of achieving power and success -- class background, education, talent, or money? Why?

  7. Brainstorm a list of all the films, television shows, novels and stories you can think of that are set in a school. Why do you think stories about school are so perennially popular? What about the setting of schools might make them particularly rich for serious drama? What about schools also makes them perfect settings for comedy and/or satire?

© WGBH Educational Foundation 2003

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