Black Beauty

Black Beauty Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Is there a conscious connection between the plight of the horses and the plight of Victorian Women?

    Anna Sewell lived in the Victorian period and so was in the same context and following the same rules that society at that time demanded; it is therefore not surprising that she may incorporate ideas of that into her work. The servile obedience which the masters demand of their horses has similarities with the domineering attitude of the husband over the wife in that period. The fact that the horses were the property of their owners in a limited sense connects to the Victorian situation, where woman had poor property rights. In the name of fashion, horses had to bear all sorts of pain and annoyance, much like Victorian woman had to dress in a certain way.

  2. 2

    The book contains elements of moral ambiguity and elements of clear cut morals. Which one dominates in the story?

    For the most part the stories of the book are morally clear. The good characters do good uncompromisingly—like when Jerry refuses work on Sundays—and are well repaid. Those abusing their animals end up harming themselves—like the boy who was thrown into the bushes by his pony after beating it. While there are morally ambiguous points in the text, it seems the number of clear cut situations overwhelms those and thus renders the overall tone of the book to be morally clear-cut.

  3. 3

    What role do the women of the story play? Do they all fit in the same role or are they varied?

    For the most part, the women of the story do fit into a specific category: they tend to be gentle with the horses, caring and always empathetic. Squire Gordon’s wife, the anonymous lady, Lady Anne and Polly all fall into this category. There are, however, one or two outliers; the biggest discrepancy is the behavior of the Earl’s wife. However, while she does demand that the checkrein come tighter and tighter, she never beats her horse or starves it or neglects to find the proper care for it—all mistakes made by different men of the story.

  4. 4

    Do you think Black Beauty is a children’s novel? Use evidence from the book to defend your answer.

    The book contains features which suggest the designation of “children’s novel.” Talking animals are perhaps the most clear, but it is not the only fantastical element of the story. The happily-ever-after ending for both Jerry and Black Beauty reads much like any other simple children’s story. Who is a villain and who is a good guy is quite clear with a few lines—either through names or later actions. On the other hand, when Sewell herself explains why she wrote this book, she mentions nothing about children’s literature and instead points out that her goal is to encourage kindness.

  5. 5

    What is the rhetorical effect of Sewell’s naming characters by their characteristics?

    By giving names like Skinner, Filcher and Thoroughgood, Sewell suggests that she is not interested in talking about a random individual but instead she wishes to provide the reader with principles which he or she can apply to the wider reality. These characters, then, are like the archetypes of those with the same characteristic. Their personal stories are not that important; what is important is that the reader understands these characters are symbols and representatives of larger realities. In this way, Sewell preps the reader to take lessons learned from here and apply it reality.

  6. 6

    What is the role of children in the novel?

    In this book, the presence of children serves as an opportunity for one of the older characters to give advice or help. Thus they serve as instructional triggers for the reader. Furthermore, they often prove more insightful and empathetic than their elders. Willie is the one who predicts Beauty will recover splendidly. Grace recognizes that this horse driving them was likely going to collapse under the weight and thus asked her father to lighten the load.

  7. 7

    How does Sewell link themes of oppression of horses and oppression of working men?

    In the book these two themes are intimately linked. Often, the only reason a man is oppressing his working animal is because he himself is forced by his own oppressor to do so. The men working under Nicolas Skinner are the clearest examples; they overwork the horses they rent because they need to make enough money to pay off that rent and then earn a living. In that situation the two victims are conflicting, but in other cases they are in solidarity; for example, in the matter of work on Sundays, both horse and man suffers from never having a break.

  8. 8

    Analyze Black Beauty through the lens of a slavery narrative and argue which character, if any, bears resemblance to the Uncle Tom archetype.

    Black Beauty is a book about horses serving humans all their lives. The horses too often endure abusive masters and exhausting work. Some of the horses fight back—like Ginger—while others surrender to the abuse. Thus parallels can be drawn this book and slave narratives.

  9. 9

    How does Ginger’s relationship with Black Beauty shape the latter’s life? What does their friendship demonstrate?

    It is from Ginger that Black Beauty first hears about cruel and neglectful masters. She in many ways prepares him for the hardships to come. When they both are in trying times, they find comfort in each other. They remain lifelong friends, despite their long separation.

  10. 10

    What are some of the most effective pedagogical techniques Sewell uses to convey her message against animal cruelty?

    Perhaps the most important technique Sewell employs is to have a horse narrate the story to force the reader to see things from a horse’s perspective. This horse tells all about the pains of his living conditions and work. He also hears the stories of other horses, who too have suffered much from animal cruelty. Despite all of this abuse, he still always tries to serve his master well and never fights back.