All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small Literary Elements


Memoir, Novel

Setting and Context

Set in the fictional town of Darrowby, situated in the Yorkshire Dales, during the 1930s and 40s; narrated from the 1960s. The text is placed in the context of the Great Depression.

Narrator and Point of View

James Herriot is the protagonist and first-person narrator. He reminisces on events in his own life, as well as providing an account of the affairs of others and major events he was not aware of at the time.

Tone and Mood

The novel is predominantly relaxing and tranquil, with moments of chaos and confusion. The peaceful element comes from the laid-back and slow paced descriptions of the protagonist's time as a country vet.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is James Herriot. There is no single antagonist; however, difficult clients and vets such as Mr. Grier adopt this role.

Major Conflict

Due to the episodic nature of the text, there is no singular moment of conflict; rather, there are many small conflicts. These are often stubborn clients, difficult animals, and complicated surgeries. There is also an ongoing conflict between Tristan and Siegfried Farnon, as the two constantly argue with each other.


The climax occurs when Herriot and Helen get married and Herriot becomes a full partner in the practice.


The exasperated tone at the beginning of Chapter 1 foreshadows Herriot’s difficulty adapting to the new life in Darrowby, and mirrors the difficult procedures he undertakes throughout the book: “I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck … the snow mingled with the dirt and dried blood on my body.” (1). This also foreshadows Herriot’s numerous struggles with the harsh winter climate.


Tristan’s speech is characterized by frequent understatements, as he often fails to grasp the seriousness of a situation. A key example is when Tristan crashes Siegfried's car but says nonchalantly, "But there’s just one thing—I had a bit of a bump with the car” (243).


The title of the book contains a biblical allusion to the book of Genesis, and is an allusion to the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ by Cecil Alexander. This introduces the key theme of the natural, as well as ideas such as caring and stewardship. It also reflects Herriot’s optimistic nature, love for the animals he treats, and great appreciation for the beauty of the countryside.

The novel also contains a classical literary allusion to the opera ‘Tristan and Isolde’, the protagonist of which is Tristan Farnon’s namesake. Tristan explains the origin of his name and comments that his parents were fans of drama, opera, and music. “You must have wondered about my own queer name. It was my father. Great Wagnerian. It was music all the time – mainly Wagner” (39). This engages with the theme of culture and leisure throughout the text.


The text is full of natural imagery of the Yorkshire Dales, juxtaposed with clinical images of surgical equipment. The landscape is described as overwhelmingly beautiful: “The formless heights were resolving into high, grassy hills and wide valleys. In the valley bottoms, rivers twisted among the trees and solid grey-stone farmhouses lay among islands of cultivated land”(8-9). In particular, rural images of hills, paddocks, meadows, sheds, and farmhouses are evoked throughout the whole novel.

Images of surgical equipment such as stethoscopes, bandages, and needles also appear often. An example is when Siegfried first shows Herriot around the practice, and draws his attention to “rows of gleaming Winchester bottles … Sweet Spirits of Nitre, Tincture of Camphor, Chlorodyne, Formalin, Salammoniac” (18).


The novel draws upon the paradoxical relationship between wealth and happiness. The novel does suggest that wealth and happiness are connected by exploring the difficult lives of poor farmer families, who struggle on a daily basis as they can’t afford essentials such as food. However, Chapter 61 clearly illustrates that money does not equate to happiness. In this chapter, the wealthy family is miserable and constantly fighting. The wife is especially critical of her husband: “She had been at him ceaselessly while he was holding the dog for me … she said ‘You know, this is all my husband’s fault’” (393). By contrast, the poor family has a supportive dynamic and is extremely loving. The father of the household is described as a man who “took misfortune cheerfully” (396), and the daughter’s generosity is shown by her joy in being able to present her father with a surprise at the end of his hard day.


“I could look back now on six months of hard practical experience. I had treated cows, horses, pigs, dogs and cats seven days a week; in the morning, afternoon, evening and through the hours when the world was asleep. I had calved cows and farrowed sows till my arms ached and the skin peeled off. I had been knocked down, trampled on and sprayed liberally with every kind of muck. I had seen a fair cross-section of the diseases of animals” (105). Here, the author uses parallel sentence structure to emphasize the hard work he has done, the difficult situations he has encountered, and the knowledge he has gained from it.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“Could you get a few of the neighbours to give us a hand?” (193) is an example of metonymy because it uses the hand to represent the act of helping. This style of speech is common throughout the book, as it characterizes the speech of the country townsmen and farmers.


Personification plays a large role in the novel, as animals are exaggeratedly described in human terms. The clearest example of this is Tricki Woo, a Pekingese dog who is affectionately treated like a human. This can be seen through descriptions that Herriot gives—“Tricki never showed any resentment; in fact he was an outstandingly equable little animal” (84)—and through Mrs. Pumphrey’s descriptions—“Tricki has a pen pal! Yes, he wrote a letter to the editor of Doggy World”(85).