All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small Quotes and Analysis

"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. I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside a straining cow."

James Herriot narrating, Chapter 1, p.1

As the initial line in the novel, this quote effectively illustrates Herriot's struggles and challenges as a newly practicing country vet. He has been called in the middle of a harsh winter night to attend to a cow giving birth. The unpredictable nature of his career is emphasized, as the reality of the experience is not something accurately conveyed in his textbooks and lessons. Vivid descriptions of the snow and muck confront the reader with the difficulty of the experience and emphasize the stark contrast between the tasks of a city vet and country vet. While the tone of this quote is predominantly that of stress and discomfort, Herriot soon adjusts to and loves his choice of career.

"If you decide to become a veterinary surgeon you will never grow rich but you will have a life of endless interest and variety."

An old gentleman speak to James Herriot's veterinary class, Chapter 19, p.117

Herriot has had an interesting night: he first went to an elegant party hosted by the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey, and then he is awoken in the middle of the night to assist in the birthing of piglets. As he heads home from the late night farm call, he thinks back to something an old gentleman once taught to him in veterinary school. The contrast Herriot has experienced just in that one night—being at an elegant party, followed by having his arm inside a pig on a dirty floor—is exactly the kind of variety the man was referring to, although Herriot did not realize it as a student.

This quote also captures Herriot's attitudes throughout the novel. It shows that Herriot is not driven by greed; rather, he works as a vet because of his genuine love for animals. It is true that Herriot's life is interesting and full of variety, as shown through the numerous humorous anecdotes he tells. In this way, such a simple quote powerfully summarizes Herriot's mindsets, past achievements, and expectations for the future.

“In the summer dusk, a wild panorama of tumbling fells and peaks rolled away and lost itself in the crimson and gold ribbons of the western sky. To the east, a black mountain overhung us, menacing in its naked bulk. Huge, square-cut boulders littered the lower slopes.”

James Herriot narrating, Chapter 4, p. 25

Herriot has recently arrived in the Yorkshire Dales, and Siegfried Farnon, his new employer, has taken Herriot on a drive through some of the more beautiful parts of the scenery. The quote highlights the beauty of the natural world, with imagery of color, and the metaphorical movement of the landscape, in its tumbling and rolling. This gentleness and beauty are then contrasted with the severity and harshness of the black mountain, which is personified in its “menacing” bulk. The quote exemplifies the contrast within the natural world, which is what makes nature so powerful. It also foreshadows the adversity that Herriot will face at the hands of nature when winter comes and he has to drive and trek through the snowy, harsh landscape.

“At times it seemed unfair that I should be paid for my work; for driving out in the early morning with the fields glittering under the first pale sunshine and the wisps of mist still hanging on the high tops.”

James Herriot narrating, Chapter 25, p. 148

In Chapter 25, Herriot describes his love of spring in the Yorkshire Dales. In addition to the period of lambing, when sheep are born, the Dales themselves are a beautiful landscape. Herriot's imagery of the beauty of spring is a sharp contrast to the harsh winter that Herriot experiences in the Dales, exemplifying the power of the natural world. Through the optimistic tone and evocative natural imagery, Herriot also illustrates why he loves his career, despite its challenges. Herriot is appreciative and grateful, taking great delight in the natural world around him. He describes the land in great detail, creating a beautiful narrative. In this way, by juxtaposing the beauty of the country with the sterility of a city practice, Herriot emphasizes how grateful he is to be an accomplished country vet. He presents this lifestyle as extremely rewarding.

“There’s a young feller in Darrowby not long out of college and it doesn’t matter what you call ’im out for he uses nowt but epsom salts and cold water.”

Phin Calvert, Chapter 26, p. 160

Phin Calvert is characterized in this chapter as a prosperous farmer with a grating personality, he is friendly but not sophisticated, and he often rubs people the wrong way. Herriot, however, finds him charming. Calvert has a great respect for the veterinary profession, so when he invites Herriot to examine his animals, he hopes to be wowed by “summat real smart and scientific like” (157). However, Calvert is surprised but a little disappointed that Herriot’s solutions to Calvert’s animal problems end up being quite simple. The theme of modernity is exemplified here through Herriot’s resolution of problems using the tools he has at hand: for Herriot, the advanced veterinary medicine he learned in college still did not have all of the tools he needs to solve every issue; for that, he needs to use critical thinking.

“If only vetting just consisted of treating sick animals. But it didn’t. There were so many other things.”

James Herriot narrating, Chapter 28, p. 173

In this quote, Herriot has spent the past few days dealing with a disgruntled customer, who wants Herriot to declare that his cow died by lightning. Herriot does not believe this is true, and does a post-mortem exam to determine the cause of death. However, even after Herriot is successfully able to determine the cause of death, the client tries to convince Herriot to lie to the insurance company so the farmer can get paid for his loss. Herriot sticks to his principles and does not do this. Throughout the novel, Herriot experiences a lot of growth and development as a professional. In his practice, he learns he needs to deal with more than just animals: he also needs to deal with the business and ethical side of being a vet, when it comes to dealing with the clients.

“Everybody was asleep. Everybody except me, James Herriot, creeping sore and exhausted towards another spell of hard labour. Why the hell had I ever decided to become a country vet?"

James Herriot narrating, Chapter 31, p. 185

Herriot has just been awoken in the middle of the night to go to a foaling (a horse giving birth). He has had a long day and has already been awoken once that night to go to another late night call. This quote clearly illustrates the struggles Herriot faces due to his demanding career. At times, this has caused him to question his profession, clearly indicated here by the blunt rhetorical question. The exhausted tone and juxtaposition between Herriot and his sleeping coworkers further illustrate the demanding nature of his job.

I looked at Terry and my eyes moved from the pallid face over the thin, slightly swaying body to the nearly empty bowl of goose grease at his feet. ‘Good Lord, man,’ I said. 'You’ve done the impossible but you must be about all in. Anyway, your cow is as good as new—you don’t need to do another thing to her, so you can go in and have a bit of rest.’

‘Nay, I can’t do that.’ He shook his head and straightened his shoulders. ‘I’ve got me work to go to and I’m late as it is.’”

James Herriot speaking with Terry Watson, Chapter 36, p. 220

In this quote, Herriot had given Terry Watson instructions the night before to massage his cow’s udder (with goose grease) in order to ease her pain and get rid of an infection. Little did Herriot know that Terry would stay by his cow’s side massaging her all night; he does not stop until Herriot returns the next day. This situation exemplifies the resilience of the Dalesmen (i.e. the farmers of the Dales), especially those who live in severe poverty. Terry, despite the fact that he has to work a full day, has spent the entire night worrying and working on curing his cow of her ailments. Now, without complaining, he simply reports that, instead of resting, he is going to go to work. Terry’s toughness conveys what Herriot appreciates most about the Dalesmen: their ability to traverse hardship and continue on.

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”

James Herriot to Miss Stubbs, Chapter 43, p. 87

Herriot says this to Miss Stubbs, an ill and impoverished elderly woman who cares deeply for her pets, one of whom has just died. She has been discussing with Herriot that one of her main concerns about her own death is whether she will be united with her pets who have already passed away. In her religion, she has been told that animals do not have souls, and she is concerned they will not be in her heaven. However, Herriot disagrees, and does feel that animals have souls. This quote emphasizes Herriot's love and awe of animals, as he praises them for their loyalty and gratitude, presenting animals as kinder beings than many humans. The religious allusion to the soul is also strengthened by the strong biblical undercurrent of the novel, and the allusion in the title. Furthermore, this quote is indicative of Herriot's generous and considerate nature, as he uses this reasoning to console a grieving elderly lady.

“I looked with wonder at the shapes the wind had sculpted in the night; flowing folds of the most perfect smoothness tapering to the finest of points, deep hollows with knife-edge rims, soaring cliffs with overhanging margins almost transparent in their delicacy.”

James Herriot narrating, Chapter 51, p. 325

In this quote, Herriot is experiencing his second winter in the Dales. The season is very harsh, and often he has to park his car and walk through a mile of snow just to get to the farms. For Herriot, the natural world still holds the sharp contrast of severity and beauty; here, Herriot knows the weather is cold and the snow is freezing, but at the same time he sees the beauty in the way the snow has fallen and blown. The harshness, described in the imagery of “knife-edge rims," “finest of points," and “deep hollows,” is contrasted with the beauty of the “flowing folds," “perfect smoothness,” and “delicacy.” Humorously, and appropriately within the theme, Herriot gets lost moments later in a blizzard.