What is the conflict in James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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James Herriot's autobiographical book All Creatures Great and Small was published in the 1970s but reflects life in rural England immediately after World War II. In the book, Herriot gives an account of being fresh out of veterinary school and setting up his own practice in rural Yorkshire. The autobiography depicts his struggles as he gets acquainted with rural life and rural folks, plus, due to his naivete, his struggles in getting the folks to accept him as anything more than just a comical person. In addition, since the book is set just after World War II, Herriot is also depicted as yearning for the simpler life of days past and sees that the "radio, television, and the automobile are making people similar everywhere" (eNotes, "Summary").

Conflict in literature is the "struggle between two opposing forces usually a protagonist and an antagonist" ("Conflict"). Since a conflict is a struggle, or a fight, we can classify any conflict as a character in the book vs. some other element in the book. Common conflicts are character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. society, and character vs. nature (Handbook of Literary Terms, "Elements of Fiction"). Since all of the problems in the above paragraph describe problems the character had to deal with concerning society, we can best characterize the conflict in the autobiography as character vs. society.

One example of Herriot struggling to be accepted by the rural folks due to his niavete can be seen early on in the book when he is working on delivering a calf. Immediately after, the farmer asks, "How about a drink?" However, after feeling gratified by the vision of a hot cup of tea, he's very disappointed to next hear Mr. Dinsdale say, "Nay ... I meant for the cow" (Ch. 1). What's more, Mr. Dinsdale very earnestly expected Herriot to know the drink was being offered to the cow and never offered Herriot anything at all. This scene is clear evidence of what sort of clown the folks make him out to be early on due to his niavete of the culture.

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