Doctor-- John Dolittle, M.D., lives in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England, and it appears that
he is somewhere between his prime and middle-aged years during the period covered by the stories
(late 1830s- mid/late 1840s). At first presented as hapless and humble, he evolves into a capable
scientist and respected author of the "absent-minded professor" variety (who has to be
reminded to eat, earn money, etc.). Compared to simple folk like the Stubbins family, whom he meets
in Voyages, the flute-playing, globe-traveling Doctor comes across as quite worldly and
We know of only one family member, his sister Sarah, but Dolittle
becomes a father- figure to a young boy and a household of sentient animals. And, though part
of the reason he switches from human to animal practice is that he claims to be less good with
people, in fact he always gets along just fine with the other sympathetic human characters in the
tales, and he is a real friend to Tom Stubbins and Matthew Mugg, both of whom admire him for his
gifts and are devoted to him personally. No, the people for whom John Dolittle has little time
are generally hypochondriacs or cheats or slavers, and one feels that they deserve his rejection!
Moreover, the Doctor has a deep concern for humanity as a race (in the later books this is
manifested in his quest for the secret of lunar longevity, which he sees as the root of that
society's peaceful ways and which he therefore covets for humanity). In his personal dealings,
especially with those weaker or less capable than he (which is just about everyone, human or
animal, as he's such a learned naturalist), he is unfailingly kind. But he is capable of righteous
anger at those who hurt animals.
And he's perfect, right? Well,
it depends. Doctor Dolittle is certainly not drawn as a 100% philosophically consistent fellow by
modern standards: he knows that animals are sentient and protests against those who exploit them,
but nevertheless he eats meat; also, though a pacifist, he isn't above firing a gun on slavers.
Nor is he a relentlessly sunny hero, indulging in depression in some of the later books. Still,
he is the moral center of the books, and a man ahead of his time.
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