Black Beauty

Black Beauty Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 32-38


The next phase of Black Beauty’s life begins in the horse fair. This is a gathering place for horse merchants looking to buy or sell all different kinds of horses. There Beauty sees both splendid horses just about to begin their adventures and poor wretched ones who have drawn too many loads and suffered too many whips. This latter sight had a strong effect on Black Beauty, who wondered whether he too would end up like them—thin to the ribs with sores all over. He too is up for sale, and as potential buyers come and go he meets one fellow which—if he bought Beauty—would make the horse very happy. This man was a small, stout fellow, with grey eyes and a clean fresh air about him. He offered twenty-three pounds for Beauty but the merchant demands higher and so he walks away. Then a mean looking man comes and offers the same amount for Beauty, who shrinks away from this loud-voiced man. Just when Beauty feared his dealer would lower his price and sell him to this man, the kind fellow came back and offered twenty-four pounds. To Black Beauty’s joy, he ends up becoming this man’s horse. As it turns out, this joy is well founded. Upon their arrival home, a little girl and boy and a young woman rush out to meet the man. The children express great excitement over the new horse and Beauty returns the sentiment. As he settles down to sleep, he feels he has finally, after a long period of hardship, found happiness again.

The man’s name was Jeremiah Baker and his wife, Polly. Harry and Dolly were the two children. This family was the happiest Beauty had ever seen. Jeremiah—commonly referred to as Jerry—was a cab driver, and he had two horses to drive his carriage: Black Beauty—whom the family decides to call “Jack”--and Captain, a noble, old white horse who served in the Crimean War. Soon enough Jerry is ready to take Jack out for work. He places the harness and bridle on the horse carefully, checking to make sure Beauty is comfortable just like John Manly used to. He does not use a curb or check rein and how happy this made Beauty! Jerry brings him to the cabstand, where the horse undergoes the friendly inspections of Jerry’s fellow cab drivers. After a few voiced some doubts, a large grey-cloaked man came, looked the horse up and down and then declared that he was the right horse for Jerry. This was Grant—referred to as Governor Grant—who had precedence over all the other cab drivers seeing as he was the longest serving. Soon enough, Beauty becomes quite familiar with that cabstand and its drivers. It is difficult at first for him to traverse the busy, crowded, loud streets of London but with such a confident and capable driver as Jerry, Beauty soon becomes quite adept at navigating the city. Jerry also has extensive experience in feeding and caring for horses, as he demonstrates by satisfying Black Beauty in the food, drink, shelter and care which Jerry provided.

Every Sunday the horses and Jerry would have a break, and on one such occasion Beauty took the opportunity to ask Captain about his story. He was an army horse, a strong, handsome disciplined warhorse paired with a gentleman who took a great fondness for the horse. Captain very much enjoyed this life, until it came time to go overseas. The horses had a terrible time as they were moved from their homelands to Crimea; they could not even board the ship themselves and had to be hauled into it. The hardships did not stop once they reached land again. However, despite all the difficulties, many of their owners would still attempt to comfort the horses. Black Beauty then asks about battle. Captain explains that the horses were for the most part excited before and during battle, so long as they felt their rider seated firmly in the saddle and they received some direction. Fear would come, however, if they lost their rider. Captain says that he himself saw many horses speared, impaled, cut open and killed yet did not feel fear any of these times. He would charge right up to the enemy cannons if he felt his master’s reassuring grip. Thus he did not feel terror until one terrible day when—as the cavalry was charging an enemy position—a bullet flashed past Captain and hit his brave rider, killing him. Captain gave way to fear and nearly panicked, but in the end made it back alive. Only one in every four horses of his stables returned after that day. Because of experiences like this, when Beauty asks him about war being a very fine thing, Captain replies that it is fine enough before the actual fighting starts; the horses march around and the men parade. But the result of the actual war is that thousands upon thousands of horses and men lose their lives. The horses did not even know what they were fighting for. The enemy must have been really wicked though, he comments, for them to go through all this pain and struggle to kill them.

Soon enough Beauty regards Jerry as one of the best men he ever knew; strong, kind and as just as John Manly, this man is also singing little tunes with a cheerful face. His son too was quite clever in taking care of horses, and his daughter and wife would help out whenever they could. They would come out early to work, as Jerry hated to waste time. What he hated even more was to drive customers who were late and demanded that he drive fast in order to make up for their lateness. One day two men came out of a tavern and told Jerry to take them quick to this or that location. They offered a shilling extra but he refused and instead another driver offered to take them. That is not to say that he was completely against driving quickly; if he knew what the reason was, and saw it as a good reason, he would be more than willing to drive quickly. On another day, a young man tripped and took a painful fall in front of Jerry. When he gathers himself again he explains to the driver that the fall has made him late but he must make it to such and such a place on time. Jerry cheerily enough starts off for the destination and him and Beauty show off their skill in dodging through the London traffic. The two worked excellently together, both were confident in themselves and their partner, and Beauty’s eagerness complemented Jerry’s patience. Predictably enough then, the two were able to bring this young man to his destination on time. When Jerry returns to the cab stand his fellow drivers tease him, saying he broke his principles and asking him how much money he got out of it. Larry, the same driver who took the two men earlier when Jerry refused, asserts that Jerry will never be a rich man with the principles he holds. When Governor Grant argues back that if Jerry becomes rich it will be a pure kind of richness while Larry will die poor, as he treats his horses with terrible cruelty and has to buy a new horse far too often. Larry replies that this is just because he is missing good luck but Grant says “good luck” usually only goes to those with a decent heart and common sense.

However, on another occasion Jerry sticks to his principles so strictly that he very nearly ruins his employment. A man approached Jerry with a business proposal: Mrs. Briggs needs someone to drive her to the New Church every Sunday and she would be happy to pay a high price to have Jerry be that driver. Jerry excuses himself by saying he only has a six-day license, but the man insists, saying the license can be altered to a seven-day license and pointing out that they are already such good customers for Jerry. The driver’s response is that though he does want to help old Mrs. Briggs and he recognizes their value as customers, he cannot go back to a seven-day work schedule; it is too tiring for his horses and he never gets to spend time with his wife and children or go to a church himself. Besides, he was religiously obliged to take a day of rest on Sunday, he pointed out. So the man goes off disappointed. Three weeks pass and no requests come from Mrs. Briggs, who usually is Jerry’s best customer. Most of his fellow drivers blame Jerry for this, but a few take his side, arguing that drivers must stand up for their rights. Immediately after one driver suggests this, an argument breaks out between Larry and Jerry. The former points out that he is not religious so he will work on Sunday and take the extra shilling without a second thought. He then provokes Jerry by saying that he does not believe in religion anyway because he does not see that religious people are any better than anyone else. Jerry fires back that if people called religious do not actually follow the rules that they are not being religious anyway. The hypocrisy of practitioners of a religion does not make the religion itself false, he points out. Jones—another driver—then joins in and points out that if religion were any good the religious people would not be forcing these drivers to work on Sundays. Jerry replies that if the Sunday drivers would just strike they would achieve justice. Ultimately, he argues, if someone is good you can find a way to achieve it and if it is bad it can be done away with and those principles are what he will base his actions on.

Relief arrives soon after to Jerry’s household. Two or three weeks after that argument, Polly brings Jerry the good news that Mrs. Briggs has submitted an order again and soon enough Jerry is serving as her drive as often as before. Despite all this though, Jerry does have to work one Sunday and Black Beauty narrates that occasion thus: one Sunday morning Polly comes to Jerry and breathlessly explains to him that young Dinah Brown just contacted her and said she needs to go directly to her ill mother, who she fears may die if she does not receive help. Polly argues that such a kind act would not be breaking the Sabbath, and that they should do unto others as they would have done unto them. So Jerry agrees to help. He chooses Black Beauty as their horse and off they go. The drive is quite pleasant for Beauty, as the mother’s house is off in the fields far from the city. Once they arrive there, Jerry lets Beauty run free in a beautiful meadow for a few hours and the horse takes this wonderful opportunity to gallop around and roll about in the grass while Jerry walks along here and there enjoying the beauty of the land. So after all it was not really a loss of a Sunday for the two.

Winter came soon enough and the wet and cold and snow and rain did much to dampen the spirits of the cab drivers and their horses. The streets become so slippery in these conditions that the horses exert many times the effort they normally do. In these wretched conditions, Dolly would often come out to check if her father were all right and had food to eat. The little girl would cross the street with such bravery to bring her father food that all the cab drivers came to look on her with respect and concern and love. One rainy day Dolly was by her father, having brought him something to eat when a gentleman came up and request the cab for service. Jerry began to put away his food but the man insisted that Jerry finish and be comfortable. Jerry pointed out this kind act to his daughter, saying that this is how gentlemen ought to behave. After that, the man became a regular customer of Jerry’s. He came to know Beauty as well, and would often brush him and tell him he had a fine master now. Beauty found this fellow to be very pleasant, despite his being also a strong and determined man. His respect increases manifold when he witnesses the man stand up for some horses as their driver was whipping them viciously. When the man’s friend says he already has enough trouble of his own and he does not need to go looking after other people’s horses, the gentleman replies that the reason why there is so much bad in the world is because people too often mind their own business and do not care about the oppressed.


There is a position in the critical reading of this text suggests that the book is hackneyed and heavy-handed in its moral instruction. It is clear to these critics that Sewell wrote this book with a view to educating the reader. This bluntly educational nature of the book, paired with fantastical premises (like talking animals), often leads readers to categorize it as children’s literature. This section in particular contains abundant evidence of both of these traits. Using this understanding as a framework, one can interpret most of the book as either ethical or religious instruction. What follow are a few examples from this section, derived using this framework.

The story of Jeremiah Baker buying Beauty, as well as the story of his trouble with Mrs. Briggs both have a fairy-tale, “happily ever after” ending which is meant to encourage readers to believe in the principle that if one does good, good things will come back to him or her. So when Beauty see Jerry approach to buy him, and then the mean looking man as well comes to buy him and it’s a very close run thing but in the end Jerry ends up coming home with the horse, Sewell is writing what seems like a hackneyed, children’s story. In a similar way, Jerry’s problem with Mrs. Briggs disappears within a few paragraphs and without Jerry having to experience any sort of morally ambiguous struggles. This moral simplicity in the stories gives strength to the idea that this book is meant to provide a simple instruction in moral values. Polly’s explicit recitation of the Golden Rule as she encourages her husband to help Dinah Brown continues this instruction. That story too ends quite splendidly, as Beauty and Jerry get to relax in a beautiful meadow—a symbol which itself references paradise: the ultimate end point for those who do good. With stories like these Sewell attempts to firmly root in the character of her readers the hope that good will always result in good, so everyone should act accordingly.

The instruction is not just moral; Sewell also incorporates a Christian-religious education through the voice of Jerry and Polly. In the matter of working on Sunday, she has Jerry refuse to do so on the grounds that it is the Sabbath. He does not simply say it is the Sabbath but instead goes and recounts the Christian account of how God created the world and thus gives a sort of mini lesson in the Biblical account. The topic comes up again when Polly encourages her husband to drive for Dinah Brown in spite of it being the Sabbath; she argues that it would not be considered breaking he Sabbath because he would be helping someone in need. There she too makes reference to the Biblical principle of helping a donkey or horse out of a ditch. Another prominent incident of this heavy-handed religious education occurs when Jerry and Larry argue about religion. To set the context: the one is the antithesis of the other. Jerry is the good one, Larry the bad one. Jerry is honest and Larry is cunning. Jerry is easily satisfied and Larry is greedy. Jerry is principled and Larry does not care about morals. Even their rhyming names bear witness to their antithetical bond. If one looks at the story using as morally simplistic tale, then the interaction between the two appears like a small-scale battle between good and evil. In this specific incident, Sewell has Larry throw the perfect pitch for Jerry, arguing that religion is false because religious people are not good people. Jerry then begins his instruction, responding to this assertion and probably even acting as a mouthpiece for Sewell’s own views on the matter. Sewell then has Jones too join the argument against Jerry, who again receives this opportunity to express his thoughts in his almost lecturing tone. By having these arguments occur, Sewell creates a controlled environment where she can express her views on these religious and moral issues through the voice of the story’s heroes.

Captain’s story of war also serves an educational purpose. As he recounts his story, his direct audience is Black Beauty, a younger, less experienced horse. Black Beauty is like a student and Captain a teacher and at the same time the reader the student Sewell, the teacher. So when Beauty asks if war is really a fine thing like everyone says, Captain’s anti-war response—stating that despite how pretty the parades look, real battle results in hundreds upon hundreds of dead men and horses—is Captain in the role of teacher. But this veteran horse also serves as an object of study, which the reader is meant to ponder and understand. When Beauty asks him if he knows what they were fighting about, he responds that that is beyond a horse’s understanding, but the enemy must have been quite terrible for them to go all this way. This seemingly innocent statement carries a lot of weight as it is about life and death. Through that contrast between the innocence of the tone and the weightiness of the subject, Sewell baits her reader into pondering over this statement and over this horse, wondering: is he speaking seriously or sarcastically? Is he right or wrong in justifying it so? This here is one of the few instances in the story where there is some sort of moral ambiguity. Perhaps Sewell’s rationale in allowing this ambiguity to take place is that she sees society—particularly younger society—as overwhelmingly viewing the enemy as completely evil and other. In order not to explicitly contradict that position right away—and thus turn away or prejudice readers against her—she allows Captain to expound this view but then she plants the seed of doubt, subtly pointing out the naivety of that view. Thus both through Captain’s own instruction to Beauty, and by this moral ambiguity Sewell attempts to continue the pedagogical purposes of the book.

Soon after this discussion of war, Sewell introduces the similarly heavy topic of justice in labor laws. While she had previously devoted many pages to discussing the injustices that can occur when horses work under humans, she had not dealt much with the topic of injustice occurring when humans work under humans. In this section, though, the subject comes to the forefront as Jerry and his fellow workers debate working on Sundays. When one man rises and says they need to defend their rights for the sake of their children, Sewell elicits sympathy from the reader for those in real life who face a similar difficulty. By having Jerry—who is the clear good guy of this section—both advise others to strike against working on Sunday and also succeed in his own determination to not work on Sundays, Sewell attempts to show the reader that not only is striking the right thing to do but it will also result in success.