Chapters 1 – 10
From the very beginning, the novel explores Herriot’s challenges in transitioning from city vet to country vet. The first line indicates how Herriot encountered numerous situations he was unprepared for, as his training was not able to fully provide him with the necessary skills to undertake farm calls in the Dales. “They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back.” This line also illustrates the harshness of winter in Darrowby. This difficult, unpleasant situation is further evident in vivid descriptions, such as “I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck … the snow mingled with the dirt and the dried blood on my body.” Herriot recalls a picture he had seen in his studies which couldn’t be further from the truth. The image presented country farm calls as idyllic and simple – “He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling. There was no dirt or blood or sweat anywhere.” This deliberately contrasts with the difficult situation Herriot is in to emphasise that he feels out of his depth. This situation is further complicated when difficult farm hands like ‘Uncle’ constantly criticise Herriot’s skills and abilities, believing that he is too inexperienced to know what he is doing. The farmers often make ridiculous suggestions, such as the local farmer in Chapter 4 who believes that “marshmallow ointment” can treat any infection in horses.
These chapters also focus on Herriot’s first few farm calls, which he finds extremely difficult due to his lack of experience. He faces the very difficult decision of having to put an animal down, to relieve it from its suffering. By chapter 10, however, the townspeople begin to accept Herriot, as they realise he is very good at his job. He is now well adapted to the demands of the country vet, as he slowly gets used to early morning farm calls and difficult winter conditions.
This change in attitude is paralleled by his changing views of the landscape. At first, Herriot is overwhelmed by the countryside. However, he soon appreciates its beauty. “The formless heights were resolving into high, grassy hills and wide valleys. In the valley bottoms, rivers twisted among the trees.” Hence, it does not take long for Herriot to begin to adapt to this new environment. Though the change in location is originally daunting, Herriot develops a great admiration for the Yorkshire Dales.
Chapters 11 - 20
These chapters deal with day-to-day struggles faced by veterinarians, such as having to chase up people who are behind on their bills. This can also be seen by how Siegfried has to hire a book-keeper, as he is unable to keep track of the practice’s finances. These challenges are reinforced by the harsh winter climate. “Driving for hours with frozen feet, climbing to the high barns in biting winds which seared and flattened the wiry hill grass.”
Furthermore, the connection between human and animal, a key theme of the novel, is exemplified through the characterisation of Mrs Pumphrey. She is portrayed as eccentric, wealthy, and devoted to her pet. “She lived with a large staff of servants, a gardener, a chauffeur and Tricki Woo. Tricki Woo was a Pekingese and the apple of his mistress’ eye.” She has a strong connection to her dog, treating him in many ways like a human. She considers Herriot his uncle, feeds him lavish human food and insists that he writes Herriot letters of appreciation. Though she has good intentions, she jeopardises Tricki’s health by feeding him “roughly twice the amount of food needed for a dog of his size, and the wrong kind of food.” This explores a crucial dilemma – that in pampering our pets too much, we may unintentionally make their life worse. In this way, the book functions as a useful and moralising text, distilling genuine veterinary knowledge into a humorous novel. Thus, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ is both entertaining and informative, designed to provide every reader with snippets of useful information.
Chapters 21 - 30
By now, Herriot is well adjusted to life in Darrowby. He is a confident and competent veterinarian who has earned the trust and admiration of any of his clients. However, he is challenged once more when he works with Mr Grier, a cruel vet who deliberately makes his life difficult. Grier represents the remaining few vets in Darrowby who continue to discriminate against Herriot due to his age, believing that he is inexperienced and incompetent. We are first introduced to the character of Mr Grier through Siegfried’s scathing descriptions of him as “a cantankerous Aberdonian,” who “gets quite a few students, and gives them hell.” This foreshadows Grier’s mean treatment towards Herriot, as we expect that Grier will instantly dislike him. This characterisation continues when Herriot first meets Grier. Through grotesque visual imagery, the reader is encouraged to dislike Grier. “He was about fifty something … with fleshy, mottled cheeks, swimmy eyes and the pattern of purple veins which chased each other over his prominent nose. He wore a permanently insulted expression.” In this way, the reader is not surprised when Grier is nasty towards Herriot, for example, by directly laughing at his misfortune. As the novel is largely autobiographical, this represents a real moment in the author’s life, and is indicative of the trials that new veterinarians must face. This raises ideas of discrimination, prejudice and unfair treatment. However, Herriot is not pessimistic. Rather, he uses this as an opportunity to show Grier that he is skilled and capable of dealing with even the most difficult of operations. This indicates his determined and persistent nature.
Chapters 31 - 40
These chapters provide a series of humorous anecdotes. For example, Herriot recalls the time when he was in such a rush that he operated on an animal in his pyjamas. Forgetting this, he then went to a café, where the people were highly amused and thought his behaviour very odd. Humour is evoked in the description “A fat man in a leather jacket sat transfixed, a loaded fork halfway to his mouth, while his neighbour, gripping a huge mug of tea in an oily hand stared with bulging eyes at my ensemble.” Within these moments of comic relief are very serious reflections on the hardships of Herriot’s occupation. “Everybody was asleep. Everybody except me, James Herriot, creeping sore and exhausted towards another spell of hard labour.” The author skilfully blends both comic and serious scenes to illustrate the protagonist’s good-natured personality, as even in difficult times, he is able to understand the humour of his predicaments.
The novel also explores how the Great Depression made life extremely difficult for poor farmers at the time, who would struggle just to attain the basics for survival. This can be seen through the plight of Terry. Terry is described as a “grim” man in his early twenties, who “was prepared to labour all day for somebody else and then come home and and start work on his own few stock” in order to provide for his family. The farmer fears that his cow will be unable to make milk, further worsening his economic condition. Thankfully, Herriot is able to fix the cow’s problem. This, however, does not solve all of the farmer’s problems, as he still has to go off to work.
Chapters 41 - 50
Here we are introduced to Helen. She is a major character as she is Herriot’s love interest, and eventually becomes his wife. From the very beginning, Helen is described as domestic, beautiful and polite, qualities well admired in women during the 1940s. We are introduced to her while she is engaged in the homely task of cooking – “A dark girl in a check blouse and green linen slacks was kneading dough in a bowl. She looked up and smiled.” She is also affectionate and appreciative of nature, as she tells Herriot the names of the surrounding mountains, speaking of them “like old friends”. This highlights her affection and curiosity for the wider world, and parallel’s Herriot’s love of the Dales. Clearly, they are very compatible.
Herriot’s process of wooing Helen is described as slow and needlessly complicated. Herriot explains that this is due to his shyness, and laments that he has made “no progress at all”. Herriot unambiguously presents Helen as the object of his affection, and sensory imagery is used to illustrate her importance. “A string quartet was scraping away industriously, but I hardly heard them. My eyes, as usual, were focused on Helen.” When Herriot finally gains the courage to ask Helen out, and she says yes, this optimistic moment is undercut by Herriot’s agitated mind set. The serious of rhetorical questions “Did she really want to come out? Had she been hustled into it against her will?” illustrates his fears and concerns.
Their first date, a typically positive experience, is also described as awkward and uncomfortable. Herriot is disappointed that nothing has gone according to plan, and becomes increasingly worried that Helen has lost interest in him. Their time together was characterised by a “strained silence”. Despite this Helen claimed to have had fun, and the two part politely.
Chapters 51 - 60
By now, there is a clear progression in Herriot’s attitude from the beginning of the novel. It is now a year since he has arrived in Darrowby, and he has clearly adapted to its unique lifestyle and climate. This is evident by his new attitude towards winter, as seen in the line “This was my second winter in Darrowby so I didn’t feel the same sense of shock when it started to really rough down in November.” This parallels the laidback attitude of the townspeople, who clear away the snow “without fuss, with the calm of long use and in the knowledge that they would probably have to do it again tomorrow.” Thus, Herriot becomes like one of the townspeople – just as he has accepted the Darrowby climate, the people there have truly accepted him.
Despite this, the snow still provides problems for Herriot. This can be seen in chapter 51, when Herriot goes to a distant farm. The snow is so heavy that roads are blocked, so he has to walk through freezing snow. A blizzard comes, causing him to completely lose his bearings. He wandered around, loathing the “chilling sense of isolation”, before finally finding the farm. This illustrates that, although Herriot is now more experienced, there will always be unexpected situations that cause his to struggle. This shows that the life of a country veterinarian is never simple or mundane, but is full of constant surprises and challenging situations. This is largely what Herriot loves about his occupation, as it means he is constantly on his toes.
Chapters 61 - 67
A key message in the novel is that wealth does not bring happiness. Through the contrast between the rich and poor family in chapter 61, the author suggests that support and a closely knit family is the key to true happiness. This is one of the many moral messages that the author provides for the reader. Others include the importance of moderation (seen through Mrs Pumphrey) and the virtue of patience (as Herriot waits patiently for Helen).
Herriot’s second date with Helen is far more optimistic than their first, and foreshadows their marriage. Their second date is characterised by laughter, rather than silence. When Herriot first sees Helen at the cinema, she “smiled and waved cheerfully” and “her eyes were bright.” The usher at the cinema even “simpered and giggled darted glances.” This causes Herriot to become extremely optimistic, claiming “This was going to be a good night – nothing was going to spoil it.” This prediction turned out to be correct, with Helen promising there would be a “next time”.
Finally, the events at the end of the novel, such as the marriage and Herriot becoming a full partner, provide a fitting conclusion to the text. They illustrate how, through persevering through a series of difficult and challenging situations, Herriot receives great reward.