Black Beauty Summary

Anna Sewell

Black Beauty

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Black Beauty Summary

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Black Beauty, novel by Anna Sewell published in 1877, only five months before her death, has become one of the best-selling novels of all time. It is a story of animal welfare, but also one that encourages kindness, respect, and empathy.

The story begins with the birth of a horse named Beauty on an idyllic farm in Victorian England. He is raised by his mother, Duchess, under the care of the kind Farmer Grey. Beauty learns that humans can be a horse’s greatest friend or a horse’s worst enemy depending on the circumstances. He begins to understand that not all horses are as lucky as he is. He spends the early part of his life well cared for and happy.

Beauty is sent to Squire Gordon at Birtwick Park, where he spends some of the happiest years of his life. John Manly, a wise groom, cares for him, and he makes friends with the other horses there, including Ginger and Merrylegs. He has many adventures, including being ridden one night for a doctor to save Squire Gordon’s wife’s life.

When Squire Gordon falls ill, he is instructed to move to a warmer climate. As a result, Squire Gordon sells all the horses on the estate. Beauty’s life takes a turn for the worst. He is sold to a series of owners who neglect him. One night, a drunk groom causes him to fall, killing the groom and permanently scarring Beauty. Beauty is no longer a fashionable horse, but simply a horse for hire.

Horse for hire is a tough life for him. He is eventually sold to Jerry Barker, a cab driver in London. Jerry is a wonderful cabbie and excellent with horses. Although his life is hard, Beauty grows to love his work under the care of Jerry.

For a time, things look good for Beauty. However, after a brutal bought of bronchitis, Jerry moves to the country, giving up his cab life. Beauty is sold to another series of owners who work him so hard he drops. He encounters Ginger again, who has been cruelly treated — so much so that she dies.

Beauty is nearly dead from work and injury, but a wise veterinarian fixes him up so that he can sell him later. A kind grandfather and his grandson buy him and rehabilitate him. At the end of the book, a family who recognizes him as Squire Gordon’s beloved Black Beauty buys him and give him the life he deserves in his last years.

The novel is a meditation on treating all life with respect. At the time, horses were a critical part of the infrastructure of England as the primary mode of transportation. Horses were subject to the whims of their owners, and Sewell uses anthropomorphism, giving human characteristics to non-humans, to elicit a feeling of empathy for Beauty.

Beauty and the horses around him think and feel things in the way that humans do. They analyze their surroundings and react to happiness and pain. Using this method, Swell makes clear her belief that all life deserves kindness and respect through the story.

Beauty’s bravery is compelling. As with many heroes, courage is an integral part of Beauty’s character, and in the face of danger, pain, and uncertainty, Beauty chooses to be brave.

One a larger scale, the book also deals with man and nature. There is suffering in the world, and humans cause much of it by not recognizing their cruelty. As a horse, Beauty has no control over his life. His wellbeing and happiness are entirely dependent on each master, and for some of them, he is little more than a tool. They see no reason to treat him as a living being.

The book makes it clear that humans and horses depend on each other for survival, but that the fickle nature of humans spells an uncertain life for horses. There is a beautifully close relationship between Beauty and several of his owners, a symbiotic partnership. However, those who maim him and work him almost to death don’t seem to realize all the ways they need Beauty.

Humans have a lot of control over animal life, and they use this power to cause needless suffering. Sewell does not sugarcoat the harsh reality of equine life in Victorian England. The tasks horses must complete can be uncomfortable or downright painful. Sewell’s depiction of Beauty in human-like terms creates a sharp contrast between what is happening to him in his duty as a horse and how humans would treat each other.

Black Beauty is a classic book that teaches big life principles. Sewell’s point that respect and kindness are some of the most valuable offerings humans can give to their world sticks with us as we see the world through Beauty’s eyes. Ultimately, all creatures deserve our kindness and respect, not just humans.