Goodbye, Mr. Chips: Plot Summary
Goodbye, Mr. Chips was written in just a week -- "more quickly, more easily, and with fewer subsequent alterations than anything I had ever written before, or have ever written since," James Hilton noted. Based in part on the life of Hilton's own father, the novel is just over 100 pages long and tells the simple, elegant tale of Mr. Chipping, or "Chips," and his own "coming of age" alongside the thousands of boys he teaches over the years.
The story begins on the day in 1880 when Chips arrives at Brookfield Academy and has his first, disastrous encounter with a class of rowdy students. With gentle wit and kindness, however, Chips quickly earns enough respect from his boys to teach well, if not brilliantly. As he approaches middle age he is content enough at Brookfield, although he knows something is missing. As the novel puts it, Chips "had been there long enough to have established himself as a decent fellow and a hard worker, but just too long for anyone to believe him capable of ever being much more." But when Chips meets and marries Kathie on a holiday from school, everything changes: he becomes "to all appearances a new man." Although Kathie dies in childbirth just a year later, Chips carries his new confidence into life at Brookfield and becomes not just respected but beloved.
When World War I breaks out, Chips is finally asked to take over as headmaster of the school. "For the first time in his life," Hilton writes, "he felt necessary -- and necessary to something that was nearest his heart." Mr. Chips's calm wisdom sees the school through the war. When he dies peacefully in his bed years later his last words are the names of the boys he taught over the years.
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