Goodbye, Mr Chips

This short novel by James Hilton packs quite the sentimental and nostalgic punch within its few pages.  Mr. Chipping is a teacher at Brookfield Academy.  He is not an especially skilled or motivating teacher but he eventually becomes a beloved institution at the school.  The book follows his life in a series of reminiscences from his early years as an unsure teacher, his brief marriage, through the war years where he carried on for the school until he is an old man still living for and through the school.

Mr. Chips, as he was called by his students, was an appealing character.  He was self-effacing and kind.  I liked the image of him feeding the boys cake by his fireside and sending them on their way when the visit was done.  In a world where success is frequently judged by position, Mr. Chips was a success because he cared about people, did his job to the best of his abilities, and didn't only think of himself.  I did wonder what kind of man and teacher he would have become if his wife, Kathie, hadn't died.  He was blossoming in her company and her death put him back into his little world but she did change him for the better.

I think a lot of people read this book as a story of a teacher making a difference but I don't feel that it is really the fact that he was a teacher that mattered.  It is the story of one man living his life but doing it quietly and well. Sometimes it isn't the big personalities and the amazing teachers that matter so much, sometimes it is the person who is there, the person who is dependable, the person who cares.  Mr. Chips was that person.

Because the novel is so short, only about one hundred pages, a lot of emotions are crammed into a brief account.  Each event in Mr. Chip's life is only given a few pages and yet James Hilton manages to make you feel as if you understand and are familiar with the story.  Even the characters that appear only briefly, such as Kathie, are presented in such a way that their personalities come alive. However, since the book is fast moving, it does give you the feeling of being on a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips makes me nostalgic for a world I will never live in or see.  I want to walk through the grounds of Brookfield Academy, knock on Mr. Chips door, and be invited in for tea and cake by the fireside.  I want to live in a world where old men are respected and appreciated and where you give your all for a job and are not thrown out on your ear when you reach retirement age.  This was a sentimental book, overly sentimental at times, but it was charming.

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