All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the landscape of Yorkshire Dales shape the character of its residents? Is James Herriot changed by the landscape at all?

    The landscape and climate of the Dales are difficult and bleak, predominantly cold and unforgiving. This is reflected in the farming community, whose families have been farmers for generations, and for whom doing something different is not even a consideration. The bleakness of their environment creates a bleakness in the way they converse with others, rarely saying anything more than is strictly necessary and having neither time nor skill for social niceties or frills. They are tough, no-nonsense people who work hard and expect the same of others. They view the land as part of their family, and the land, in return provides for them.

    James is not hardened by the surroundings, but he does become hardier because of being called to various farms in the middle of the night. He does come to appreciate the landscape, and eventually finds that his soul is both filled and calmed by the sight of the sun rising over the hills as he goes home from an early-hours farm visit. He also gains in confidence and learns more about his own inner strength because the terrain and the weather presents constant challenges that he always finds a way to rise to.

  2. 2

    Why is Siegfried frustrated by younger people? What do you think frustrates Siegfried Farnon the most about his younger brother, Tristan?

    Siegfried is extremely frustrated by what he sees as younger people's lackadaisical attitude and general overly relaxed state of mind. When Tristan fails his first year at Veterinary School, Siegfried is far angrier about his brother's seemingly carefree attitude about failing than he is about the failure itself. Subsequently, the fact that Tristan passes his exams and is accepted back into school without any effort or time spent studying further adds to his brother's frustration. Siegfried wants Tristan to be a younger version of himself, and the fact that he is actually the polar opposite increases his general ire. Tristan is relaxed, smooth, and charming, with an ability to win over anybody in five minutes flat—a talent that Siegfried would prefer to replace with seriousness, diligence, or efficiency. Their general differences are actually beneficial to their business, but Siegfried does not acknowledge this, as praising his brother could be misinterpreted as tacit approval of his character.

  3. 3

    How is the theme of the natural world illustrated in the novel?

    The natural world is a reference to literary Romanticism: Romanticism often contrasted the peace that could be found in nature with the powerful and dangerous aspects of nature. In All Creatures Great and Small, Herriot observes both the peace and beauty of the Dales landscape, as well as the harshness of the land formations and the climate. Herriot’s struggles to adapt to country life are often expressed in his attitudes about the weather and landscape. He feels overwhelmed by the cold and the snow, and yet he also appreciates the beauty. This attitude parallels how he feels about the work he does. When assisting in births, for example, he usually finds himself challenged in some way. Yet, at a successful birth, when the hard work is over, he always marvels at the beauty of the baby animals. In this way, nature and the natural world demonstrate Herriot’s growth and adaptation to his life as a country vet.

  4. 4

    What value do animals have in the novel?

    The human-animal connection is an important theme in the novel, demonstrating the importance of connection for mutual well-being of the human and the animal. The farmers care about the health of their livestock because they are their livelihood. However, animals are not only important for economic reasons: they also can hold an important role as companions for humans. Mrs. Pumphrey is one example of a human who has a strong connection to her pet dog, who she treats as if he were a human. Livestock, too, can hold these special connections with humans; in Chapter 45, we meet a man who keeps his retired horses on his property, despite them being out of work for over 12 years, and despite the fact the farmer himself never retired; it is as if the farmer allowed his horses to retire, and is living vicariously through them. This incident helps Herriot to realize that even farmers with lots of livestock can have love for their animals. Animals, therefore, serve as a reflection of what humans value.

  5. 5

    Discuss the use of humor in the novel.

    Herriot often uses humor to highlight the difficulty of human relationships, as well as his own social mistakes. Mrs. Pumphrey’s pampering of her dog Tricki Woo is comical because, as a dog, Tricki Woo only has a limited capacity to be able to appreciate what Mrs. Pumphrey does for him. This is especially clear when Herriot brings Tricki Woo to Skeldale House to recover from Mrs. Pumphrey’s over-pampering (in Chapter 30) and does not use any of the “beds, toys, cushions, coats and bowls” (183) that Mrs. Pumphrey had sent with Tricki Woo. Herriot also uses humor when discussing himself and the mistakes he makes. One especially humorous moment occurs when Herriot leaves the house in his pajamas (in Chapter 31) and then goes to a cafe before realizing he does not have any money with him. Herriot describes with detailed imagery the looks he gets and the comments he overhears about himself. He is able to put the reader in his shoes, and express his embarrassment, while also keeping a light tone, conveying to the reader the humor in the situation.