All Creatures Great and Small focuses on different forms of adversity, such as financial hardship, emotional hardship, and physical struggles. This can be seen through recollections of farmers in poverty, individuals who have lost a beloved pet, and battles against the elements. Hardship and adversity are also key elements of Herriot's plight, as he undertakes the numerous challenges involved with being a country vet. The recurring motif of snow throughout the novel symbolizes this key theme of adversity and struggles, as it further inconveniences Herriot and the local farmers.
Despite the numerous challenges throughout the novel, there is a strong sense of hope and resilience when individuals overcome adversity. A key message of the novel is the importance of patience and persistence. This can be seen through the plight of numerous farmers who are optimistic despite the failure of their farms and animals. In the end, these individuals gain great reward. Herriot, too, is able to overcome adversity, and to use patience and persistence to treat his patients.
Herriot emphasizes how relationships and connections to others are essential for an individual's happiness and growth. Family relationships are represented through the Farnon family unit, as Siegfried and Tristan have a close and caring relationship. Friendships are also explored in Herriot’s growing friendships with local farmers, such as the Rudds in Chapter 53, who invite Herriot to their anniversary celebration. Finally, romantic relationships are illustrated in the bond between Herriot and Helen. In this way, the author illustrates the importance of love and friendship.
The book explores a connection between humans and animals. While the primary human-animal connection is illustrated through farming, where livestock is key to providing food and financial stability to the farmers, animals can also serve a more sentimental purpose. The book presents animals as important companions for humans of all social classes; Herriot tells various stories of dogs, cats, horses, and pigs, all of whom take on special meaning for their human owners. One example of this is Mrs. Pumphrey's treatment of her dog, Tricki Woo: as her daily companion, Tricki gets the best of everything.
The Natural World
The author draws upon his own conflicting opinions of the natural world, as well contrasting the beauty and the severity of the natural world, throughout the novel. Herriot emphasizes the beauty of the land, and nature's ability to provide solace and healing. However, descriptions of the harsh winter climate also portray nature as terrifying. In this way, the author draws upon notions of Romanticism, presenting the natural world as equally beautiful and frightening.
The novel takes place in the 1930s during a period of time when veterinary practices were using more and more modern methods of treating animals, yet before many modern antibiotics and surgeries were being employed. As Herriot and his colleagues try to stay on top of the scientific advances in animal medicine, they also have to counter the old folk methods of treating disease in livestock, such as “worm in the tail,” a mythical cow disease that requires the farmer to cut off the cow’s tail—according to Herriot, there is no such thing, but he often has trouble convincing the farmers of this!
Herriot also reflects in various parts of the book on how current-day medicine (i.e. when the book was written, in the later 1960s) would treat a disease. However, Herriot and Siegfried’s resources were limited to the knowledge available to them at the time, so they use those solutions. Sometimes his solutions are simple or unscientific, such as when Herriot treats lead poisoning with Epsom salts, or when Siegfried treats a horse with bloodletting, an ancient and unscientific practice.
In addition to advances in veterinary medicine, modernity appears in technology and other cultural advances present in the novel. For example, in the novel there are still some families who have neither phones nor radios; yet, at the veterinary practice, they have installed bedside phones. Electricity at the farms is also a relatively new form of technology for some farmers, especially electricity in the barns. In addition, Herriot notes that Helen is wearing slacks, a very modern and progressive fashion for women at the time.
Culture and Leisure
Country life in the novel is not just about survival and farming: it also has leisure and the enjoyment of the finer things in life. Whether it is horse races, parties, dances, the music society, or gambling, the characters of All Creatures Great and Small each have their own connection to culture and leisure. Siegfried and Tristan embody this culture in their names: Siegfried and Tristan have their unusual names due to their father’s appreciation of the German opera composer, Siegfried Wagner.
Herriot notes that even farmers go to musical performances and movies, as he sees his clients at performances of The Messiah, as well as at the movie theater. Herriot has the fortune to be able to experience both the high society parties, such as Mrs. Pumphrey’s party for her pampered dog, Tricki Woo, as well as the more working-class culture of village dances and pubs.
All Creatures Great and Small Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for All Creatures Great and Small is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.