Black Beauty

Black Beauty Summary and Analysis of Parts III-IV, Chapters 39-49

Summary and Analysis:

This section contains two of the biggest moral questions of the story. While, as mentioned in the previous section’s analysis, most of the incidents in the story are quite black and white, towards the end Sewell introduces a few morally ambiguous situations. In this section she narrates the stories of Seedy Sam and the butcher’s boy. As for Seedy Sam, he at first seems to stand with the regular villains of the story; he clearly overworks and whips his horses. But Sewell affords him an opportunity to defend himself, and for one of the only times in the book, a character provides some sort of moral justification for treating these animals cruelly. Sam must choose between treating his family well and treating his horse well; he does not have the luxury to be lenient with his animals. Thus he forces the reader into a morally ambiguous position; is this animal cruelty justifiable to some extent? The butcher’s boy makes a similar point. When the butcher berates him for overworking his horse, he argues back that the job and customers demand that he do this and it is not that he enjoys whipping horses. That Sewell has Sam and the boy provide this defense marks a conscious escalation in her pedagogical strategy. For most of the story she has been emphasizing the idea—through various examples—that animal cruelty is generally terrible. Having established that point, she now moves—much like any teacher would—to a more advanced topic. She thus does not leave her reader with the overly simplistic understanding that all people who beat animals are completely evil. Instead she prepares them for reality, which is more nuanced and morally ambiguous, by including these two stories.    

At the same time she is building off of her previous mentioning of labor rights and working conditions for humans. Sewell here is taking two themes of the story: animal cruelty and human oppression in the workforce and tying them together. Sam and the boy are both victims of an exploitative working system. They are also perpetrators of animal cruelty. By having them defend their actions, Sewell is pointing the finger of blame for both problems to a third, exploiting party: the conditions, laws and norms which force humans to act thus and those humans who exploit these conditions for evil purposes. In the case of Sam, that guilty party is Nicolas Skinner but he—like most of these other characters—is an archetype of a group of people in society. Furthermore, when she immediately follows Sam’s tale with the story of Ginger meeting Beauty again, where Beauty sees her in a wretched condition and then sees her dead, Sewell is making sure to keep both topics: exploited workers and beaten horses, in balance. She does not favor one over the other but reminds the reader of both. By connecting the two topics thus, Sewell forces the reader to identify a third, sinister party causing all this trouble.      

In this final section, Sewell broaches the subject of politics. When elections come around and a few rascals throw dirt at little Dolly, Sewell provides Jerry with an opportunity to educate his children about politics. This is a pedagogical trait of the book, since at the same time as he is teaching his children, Sewell is teaching the reader. Jerry tells his son to look beyond the superficial and the outward and to instead vote according to conscience. For the children, this is the beginning of their coming-of-age stories. Much like James and Joe in the beginning of the book, Dolly and Harry face trials that cause them to grow. Dolly learns of the cruel potential in humans and Harry learns of the importance of conscience and the superficiality in political debate.      

Sewell continues this moral education by reiterating once again the central theme of doing good and then receiving goodness. Many incidents throughout the book have emphasized this point, but this concluding section provides its culminating scene. When Jerry encounters that young woman with her sick child and offers to take them to the hospital free of charge, he accomplishes the first step of this system: doing goodness. So when right after he drops her off and picks up the other customer who happens to be Dolly’s old mistress and who gives a gift of ten shillings, Sewell demonstrates that good will immediately occur to the doer of good. She settles her point once and for all here because it is the meeting with this lady that eventually results in Jerry getting a new job as her coachman and his family thus receiving a pleasant house in a charming country place. Thus ultimately, his little act of kindness brought about his happily-ever-after ending.      

The end of Black Beauty’s story is an ending of peace and contentment. He spends his last days with his dear old friend Joe and a new young friend Willie, under the care of loving masters. After all his toil, all the cruel masters, all the exhaustion and whipping and the heavy loads and the tragic stories, after watching his own best friend wish for death and then die, Black Beauty comes to such a place as this. With this pleasant ending, Sewell seals her novel. No other ending would have worked in harmony with the central theme of the book: doing good and receiving goodness. This being an educational book, the one last lesson that Black Beauty’s story teaches is the lesson of death. When the mistresses agree they will never sell Black Beauty, there is a solemn idea beneath the pleasing surface of this proposal. He is getting quite old—as his caretaker mentions—and when they say will never sell him they mean that he will die soon and they will allow him to live peacefully until his time comes. His own daydreaming of long gone companions emphasizes that universal, inevitable death. For after seeing Ginger’s dead body, what else will Beauty remember but death when he dreams about Ginger and his other friends? Sewell has narrated to the reader the story of Black Beauty since his earliest days and here she is completing the cycle and reminding the reader of their own future death.