All Creatures Great and Small Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Connie Skibinski
Typically, night symbolizes rest, relaxation and tranquility. However, these positive connotations are usurped and undermined throughout the novel. Ironically, it is often at night that Herriot undertakes extremely difficult farm calls. This can be seen in chapter 19, when the positive tone of "I got into bed, switched off the light and lay on my back looking up into the darkness" is juxtaposed with the quote "Sleepily, I groped my way down the long garden to the garage." By subverting this optimistic symbol, the author clearly conveys the challenges of being a vet.
Images of nature and the land are central to the novel. These descriptions are often overwhelmingly positive. The setting of the Dales is described in great detail, as is the farm lands of the various places Herriot travels to. A strong sense of beauty and optimism is evoked, as the author shares his deep appreciation of nature. Furthermore, the idea of the natural world parallels key themes relating to animals and humanity. The motif of nature also indicates the autobiographical nature of the text, as Herriot reflects on the lush countryside and distinct places he has seen during his time as a country vet.
Animal and child birth is a recurring event throughout the novel. This can be seen right from the start, as Herriot helps a cow give birth in the first chapter. This motif is extremely optimistic, as it illustrates the cycle of life. This emphasises the important role that vets play, as they ensure future generations of healthy animals. As well as this, the idea of birth metaphorically represents Herriot's transition throughout the novel, as he is almost 'reborn' as he adapts to the distinctly different lifestyle in Darrowby.
Throughout the novel, snow is a clear symbol of the struggles, hardships and challenges that Herriot faces. Snow and winter time often makes everyday tasks increasingly difficult. Descriptions of rugged winter days parallel moments where major characters are struggling with a difficult task. This can be seen in the first chapter, where Herriot's first day at his new job is made even harder by the snow. The quote “Driving for hours with frozen feet, climbing to the high barns in biting winds which seared and flattened the wiry hill grass.” further shows how snow and the winter climate plays a large role in establishing the narrative.
In the novel, dogs are a positive symbol of warmth, companionship and domesticity. The novel explores numerous characters whose lives are enriched by the company of their pet. In this way, 'All Creatures Great and Small' affirms the adage that dogs are 'man's best friend'. This can be clearly seen through the character Mrs Pumphrey, who has a very close connection to her dog Tricki Woo. There are many other instances of pet-owner relationships which illustrate how domestic animals offer comfort and support to individuals.
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