Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series All Creatures Great and Small Analysis
All Creatures Great and Small is not an autobiography in the traditional sense of the word. It is the memoirs of James Herriot from his years in practice as a veterinarian, and it is the first in a series of books in which he describes these years spent in the Yorkshire countryside of England. He uses a pseudonym and changes the names of characters to protect his privacy and that of others. The village described in the books is not actually named Darrowby, but it is really in the Yorkshire region of England.
Herriot’s realistic depiction of his work in All Creatures Great and Small makes the book interesting and educational for young adult readers. Herriot’s language is never overly scholarly, even when he describes technical aspects of his practice. He has the ability to use a balance of scientific terminology and everyday language, a fact that allows understanding without sacrificing accuracy. Herriot does not romanticize the practice of veterinary medicine. He is honest about the difficulties of the job as well as its rewarding aspects. His descriptions of cases are graphic and detailed, but not offensively so.
Herriot’s love of animals is abundantly evident. His warm and compassionate attitude comes through, making him particularly attractive to a young adult audience. His sense of humor is also quite evident. Humor frequently permeates even the situations that seem the most hopeless. Herriot regards the people he encounters with good humor that equals the sense of humor with which he presents himself, showing a love of people as genuine as his love of animals.
Herriot demonstrates great storytelling ability and is capable in his handling of dialogue. These two qualities combine with the interesting subject matter to make the work extremely appealing to young readers. He links episodes easily and in...
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Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series All Creatures Great and Small Analysis
The area of Yorkshire known as the Dales, where this small-town veterinarian began practicing in the late 1930’s, has achieved the distinction of being known as “Herriot Country.” The popularity of Herriot’s works (heightened by a British Broadcasting Company television series) prompted a flood of correspondence addressed to “Dr. Herriot, Darrowby, England.” Although the names of the writer and the village are pseudonyms, the locals well knew the identity of this transplanted Scot who had brought them so much fame. The mail was faithfully delivered, although the real village is Thirsk, where James Wight continued to practice his trade. Official anonymity was necessary, as British veterinary etiquette did not allow advertising, least of all the sort that would come by virtue of being a best-selling author.
Herriot’s reconstruction of events, almost a generation after their happening, reflects his efforts to make a record of a way of life that was being inexorably effaced by the erosions of a more modern age. Herriot’s tales are therefore a testament to a disappearing culture and its sense of independence and kindliness—as well as its mean-spiritedness.
Herriot also describes the enormous transformations that were occurring in his own profession. The 1930’s were for veterinarians an age of transition between the old home remedies, still revered by many of his clients, and antibiotics and modern surgery. With the advantage of hindsight, Herriot can comment on the differences between the cures of the 1930’s and those discovered later.
These changing times, invariably looked upon by Herriot’s clients with the utmost suspicion, often set the stage for humorous confrontations. Herriot took on the task of re-creating the old myths faithfully, as if in preserving them he was paying tribute to the way of life which gave them birth. The farmers who are his clients seem to have a generations-old cure, steeped in superstition and tradition, for every barnyard ailment. Most maddening for Herriot is the fact that often, following hours of treatment with expensive medications, the healing effect becomes apparent only after the farmer, impatient with the newfangled stuff, dispenses his great-grandfather’s cure-all. Predictably, this success is followed by caustic comments concerning the inexperience of new “vitneries” and annoyance with expensive drugs that are much less effective than the old remedies and are therefore a waste not only of the farmer’s time but also (much more important to the stingy Yorkshire Dalesman) of his money. One of the Dalesmen’s revered myths has to do with “worm i’ th’ tail”: If a cow for any reason refuses to get up, it is blamed on a worm being in that cow’s tail. The cure to the condition is to cut off the cow’s tail to kill the worm, an act which invariably causes the cow to bellow in great pain and jump to her feet to avoid touching the painful stump to the ground....
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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
All Creatures Great and Small is both educational and entertaining for young readers. The subject matter, including the descriptions of animals and of the actualities of veterinary practice, provide interesting material for a young audience, and the prevailing humor is very engaging. The veterinary profession is portrayed with realism from a positive point of view. Herriot clearly wishes to celebrate his life’s work without glorifying or romanticizing it. He also wishes to tell a humorous and poignant story. Herriot’s storytelling ability enhances the narrative style, which combined with the format of short sketches makes the work quite suitable for young adult readers.
All Creatures Great and Small is also interesting from a geographical and historical point of view. The passages in the work describing the wild beauty of the Yorkshire region are fascinating as literature, and they also introduce the young reader to a part of England that may be less familiar. All Creatures Great and Small provides a compelling account of life in rural England between World War I and World War II. The difficult living conditions under the depressed economy of the 1930’s are evident without being overly emphasized. Herriot’s tone never becomes self-pitying in his descriptions of the era. The young reader is made aware of the rapid scientific advances and progress in contrast with the prevalence of old, preindustrial practices in agriculture. The struggle for modernization and the desire for progress are presented in contrast with the value of traditional customs and ways of life.
All Creatures Great and Small is also an anthropological portrait of a culture that largely died with World War II. The young reader is introduced to large, extended families which live together on farms that have been in their possession for centuries. Herriot convincingly evokes the sense of community and of the importance of family that, in many respects, defined the life-style of rural England in that era.
Critical Context (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
The English have always been especially fond of animal stories. In fact, they can be said to have invented the animal-story genre. British authors have concocted a whole menagerie of animal adventures: a black horse down on his luck (Anna Sewell); a bear, a pig, and an owl cavorting in a hundred-acre wood (A. A. Milne); a lost collie trying to find his way home (Eric Knight). Following in this tradition, tales of a rural veterinarian doing battle with the forces of ignorance and disease seem particularly appropriate. Yet unlike other writers of animal stories, Herriot found it unnecessary to embellish his tales with fanciful elements. “I’ve played down lots of anecdotes,” he remarked, in answer to certain skeptical readers. “What happens with animals is unbelievable.”
Still, Herriot was surprised at the commercial success of All Creatures Great and Small. “I’m on a gorgeous wicket,” he chortled. “No one had thought of writing funny books about cows and pigs before. And it’s nice to make people laugh.” The book inspired other veterinarians to try their hand at similar writing. In Ms. Veterinarian (1976), Mary Price Lee encouraged young women to follow her in this field long dominated by men. Animal Doctor: The History and Practice of Veterinary Medicine (1973) by Leon F. Whitney and George Whitney provided an overview of veterinary medicine. The Wonder of It All (1979) by Jeanne Logue and...
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