All Creatures Great and Small

by James Herriot

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Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction All Creatures Great and Small Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 761

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 such a manner that he enables young readers to experience with him what his varied practice was actually like.

Herriot emphasizes individuality in All Creatures Great and Small—not only that of the animals, each of which stands out as distinctive, but also that of the people he meets. He portrays people in such a way that many memorable characters emerge. Very ordinary people gain extraordinary status, such as John Skipton, the stock farmer who visits his oldest horses every day. As in the accounts of his work, Herriot is honest in his depictions of people, describing both good and bad qualities. Nevertheless, the good tends to outweigh the bad in Herriot’s portrayal, which emphasizes the overall goodness of humankind. For example, Herriot includes numerous touching accounts of the relationships that people have with their animals, such as the farmer who saves a sick cow’s life by tending it all night, taking no time to eat or sleep.

Herriot’s emphasis on the humor inherent in everyday life makes All Creatures Great and Small a very amusing book. His accounts of people’s idiosyncrasies include several sketches about Mrs. Pumphrey, who makes him the uncle of her dog Tricki Woo. These accounts, and many others of a similar nature, are comic but never mean-spirited. Herriot also does not hesitate to include humor about himself. For example, he relates an episode in which he was encased in a heavy rubber outfit from head to toe merely to assist another veterinarian by handing him the necessary medicine.

Variety is a major theme in All Creatures Great and Small, in which Herriot stresses the diversity of the life of a country veterinarian. He tells of his work on both large and small animals, and he recounts cases that mystify him. Herriot emphasizes the fine line between appearing intelligent and appearing ridiculous, a distinction that is evident in the case of the cow who refused to get up. The great variety of humankind receives emphasis equal to that placed on the varied nature of veterinary practice in All Creatures Great and Small.

Herriot portrays his life with straightforwardness and honesty in this book, which is very realistic. The life of a veterinarian in rural England in the 1930’s was not an easy life, and Herriot does not downplay its difficulty. He neither romanticizes his life nor digresses into nostalgia. He is honest in telling about moments when he dislikes his work, but he also indicates quite clearly his love of his profession, of the region, of animals, and of people. He does not present himself or his employer, Siegfried Farnon, as superior to the farmers as a result of their scientific knowledge, and he readily mocks his early pretensions and overconfidence.

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