Black Beauty
Anna Sewell
Contributed by Machelle Schuler
Chapter 2

Amidst all the comfort and pleasure of Birtwick, there is one thing Black Beauty misses: his liberty. He explains that having to wait and serve a human—even a kind master like his—at all times of the day, week after week, year after year, really could upset a horse. This was in contrast to his earliest years, when he could do as he pleased in the meadow of his master. Now, a few hours every week he would get a taste of that liberty again; their master would let the horses loose and they would gallop and roll around and nibble the grass and stand around the chestnut tree talking to each other.

On one such occasion, Black Beauty hears from Ginger her story. She was, from the very start, treated harshly. Her masters took her from her mother and threw her amidst a bunch of unfriendly colts. Thus she grew up, and when time came for her breaking in, the men laid their hands harshly upon her. Ginger—having a natural pride—responded with physical resistance, kicking out and fighting. This only made matters worse, and her breaking in was in this way quite hard on her. She describes one rider—Samson—who was cold and hard, always driving her too exhaustion, often coming home drunk. One time, he drove her to exhaustion during the night then the next morning and then again that afternoon. By that time, Ginger was so tired that she just refused to cooperate, eventually throwing him off. He responded by whipping her and leaving her out in the sun. Samson’s father eventually came out to take care of Ginger, at the same time blaming Samson for his anger and telling him that anger from the master will never result in good from the horse. He soon is dismissed and another man—Job—takes over her training. He is, in contrast to Samson, thoughtful and steady.

Soon after that meeting, Ginger and Black Beauty stood again together and she told him more of her story. She was sold from master to master and soon she was in the hands of an uncaring gentleman. The coachman forced her to wear a checkrein, which she explains holds the horse’s head constantly up, unnaturally higher than normal, and forces the head to stay that way. The immobility of her head made it much harder to get work done, since it both caused huge pain and also prevented her from looking around. When Black Beauty asked if her master did not have sympathy for her, she replied that all her master cared about was style and fashion. With all this, Ginger explains, she would be ready to serve her master if instead of being so angry at her he gave her kind encouragement.

Her story continues and she explains how she went from master to master in this way. Finally she ended up at Squire Gordon’s, and while she does appreciate the kindness of John and James, she still can get worked up sometimes. Soon however, as Black Beauty observes her kind treatment continuing, he notes that Ginger became more loving and calm. After that point, he would ask for her advice and spend time in conversation with her. Those around Ginger marveled at her change; what had turned such a mean, tough beast into this pleasant, obedient horse?

As for Merrylegs, though usually good-tempered, one day after a visit from the vicar and his children, James brings Merrylegs in scolding him. When Black Beauty asked what he has done, he explained he just threw off his back some of the vicar’s children. Not the daughters—he explains hastily—but instead he threw off the two boys who had been pushing him to the limit of his energy and whacking him with a stick. As the boys kept trying to remount him he kept sliding them off so that they would understand he is not their plaything. Merrylegs points out that these were not bad boys, they just did not know any better so he taught them by throwing them off.

Soon enough, Black Beauty feels at home with Ginger and Merrylegs and their kind masters. He mentions how he would love the days the whole family went out for a riding party; he would usually carry the mistress, who had a wonderfully light hand and a gentle riding style. Black Beauty explains the excellence of a light hand, mentioning that a horse’s mouth is very sensitive, and people with hard hands—always pulling and choking this way and that—can really pain and upset a horse, which in turn makes the horse disobedient. This would be better for both master and horse, he explains. On one of these riding occasions, Black Beauty asks Sir Oliver why his tail is so short. The old horse replies that when he was younger his owners cut off his tail—all flesh and bone—for the sake of style and fashion. As Sir Oliver explains, the process was not only extremely painful, but he also lost the ability to swat away flies and must now endure the continuous annoyance of these insects. It is not just to horses that this modification takes place. They cut up their dogs’ ears as well, to make them look sleeker. Fashion—they start to say amongst themselves—is the cause of so much pain to man’s animals. Man thinks he can better God’s creation, Sir Oliver mentions, but they do not realize their extreme error. Why don’t they cut of the ears of their own children, the horses ask, to make them look better as well?

The next topic in this heated conversation is blinkers, which cover a horses eyes and which coachman use on their horses when riding in the city. These blinkers, as the horses narrate, are meant to prevent the horse from shying or starting in fright; however, in reality the blinkers handicap the horse—nearly blinding it—and prevent the horse from its natural method of riding. If horses were allowed as they naturally do, they would be able to escape many dangerous situations which otherwise result in crashes and injuries. The horses thus continue their conversation, angry at those distant criminals who perpetuate such abuses yet happy and content with their current, kind master.


Sewell develops the characterization of Black Beauty as not only physically excellent but also outstanding in work ethic and character. His black coat—with the exception of a few white spots—is a rare, sought-after trait in horses. This beauty coupled with his athletic racehorse build make him an exceptional steed indeed. His outstanding appearance mirrors his both his outstanding character and his unique gentle upbringing. As for his character, Sewell demonstrates that Black Beauty is a horse ready and willing to bear pain for his master, to submit, to be obedient and at the same time to give the job in front of him his very best effort. As for his unique upbringing, that has been a recurring theme in the first sections. So Sewell uses these three exceptional traits in a way where they build on each other, multiplying the rarity of their possessor; in other words, Black Beauty—with his character, physique and upbringing—is not an ordinary horse but an extraordinary one. Beneath this seemingly uplifting narrative lies a somewhat disheartening suggestion: that Black Beauty is the exception to the general rule, and the general rule is that horses do not have such natural talent or beauty or obedience as he does, nor do they benefit from a gentle upbringing similar to his. This in turn makes life more difficult for them, as their masters have fewer incentives to treat them well or maintain them properly.

This section also provides an important example of one more recurring motif: the referencing of Biblical names and stories. Sewell introduces the characters of Samson and Job, both who feature in Biblical stories. Many other characters of the book bear loaded names like these. These references demonstrate Sewell’s effort to connect this work to Christian religious literature. Samson is known for his strength and heavy-handedness while Job is known for his lasting, beautiful patience. These character traits reflect in Sewell’s two characters. Samson has a hard hand and prides himself on being able to stay on any horse. Job is more patient and thoughtful with the creatures. Religious education is a recurring element of this book, and though she does not develop the subject of religion in these earlier sections, she does slowly introduce the idea through references like these.

This chapter also develops the motif of man’s imperfect attempts to modify God’s perfect creation. The main point is that man tries to change these animals they own—by cutting of their tails and ears and so on—in the name of fashion and appearance. When he does that he is not only harming the creature but also upsetting its natural balance. To convey this point, Sewell provides two graphic examples: humans cutting off the tail of Sir Oliver and slicing up the ears of little puppies. In an almost nonchalant way, Sir Oliver mentions that losing his flesh and blood in the operation was not as bad as his subsequent losing of the ability to swat flies with his tail. This is a rhetorical strategy to highlight the severe cruelty of the act: to us having an appendage amputated for no reason at all is nearly unimaginable, yet for Sir Oliver that is only the beginning of his pain.

Yet there is an even more subtle suggestion here. By pointing out that now the horse cannot swat flies—something that most people would not realize is a reality--Anna Sewell is showing her readers that there are reasons why horses are naturally how they are, and that when humans attempt to change that natural way they end up harming the horses and themselves. To further emphasize this point, she has the horses discuss the problems of blinkers. In this case she is highlighting the absurdity of man’s modifications: they are so absurd as to blind their horses in the name of safety. If the horses were allowed the full usage of their eyes, Sir Oliver argues, how many accidents, injuries and deaths would have been prevented? With this imagery and diction, Sewell conveys a key theme of her book: that man is interfering with God’s creation and creating more harm than good.

In that same conversation, Sir Oliver suggests that humans cut off the ears of their own children or similarly mutilate them. The gruesome imagery of such a statement immediately triggers disgust and anger in the reader. However, the longer-term result of his statement is to get the reader to understand what he is going through. Sewell turns the tables on those supporting such practices against animals by using the principle of the Golden Rule. One would not mutilate one’s own children so why should it be all right to mutilate others, she suggests. The absurdity of Sir Oliver’s suggestion also serves a purpose; it emphasizes the fact that humans naturally understand that cutting the ears of a baby will hurt it not help and will permanently handicap the child. Sir Oliver’s point is that they should realize in just the same way that cutting the ears of puppies or cutting the tails of horses or forcing some other man-made modification on the animals will not benefit but will always harm.

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