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Literature Study GuidesBlack BeautyPart 1 Chapters 1 3 Summary

Black Beauty | Study Guide

Anna Sewell

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Black Beauty | Part 1, Chapters 1–3 | Summary

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Chunking intro: Black Beauty has four parts and 49 chapters. This guide groups chapters together in sections of two, three, or four chapters for summary and analysis.

Summary

Chapter 1: My Early Home

The narrator, later to be named Black Beauty, describes his earliest memories. He lives in an idyllic, pastoral environment with his mother, Duchess. The horses are well cared for, and Beauty runs and plays in a pasture with other colts. Sometimes play gets a bit rough, but his mother encourages him to be well behaved. His lineage of horse ancestors was well respected, she tells him. She hopes he "will ... never learn bad ways" and do his "work with a good will." The only negative Beauty describes is Dick, the ploughboy who throws stones at the colts. But the master catches and fires him, so the horses are safe and remain well treated.

Chapter 2: The Hunt

When he is less than two years old, Beauty observes the hunt pass by. He sees the hare's violent death and the serious injuries of two horses and one man. Some of the horses say it serves the men right, but Duchess disagrees. She claims she never understood why men hunt, for "they often hurt themselves, often spoil good horses, and tear up the fields, and all for a hare or a fox, or a stag, that they could get more easily some other way." But, she continues, "we are only horses, and don't know." They learn the injured man is Squire Gordon's only son, George Gordon, and he is very seriously hurt. The black horse that was injured has broken his leg and is shot to put him out of his misery. Beauty's mother is saddened by this death, saying the horse was one she knew, a good one named Rob Roy. Later Beauty observes the funeral for Squire Gordon's son, who also has died of his injuries.

Chapter 3: My Breaking In

Black Beauty stays with his master until he is four years old. The master believes colts should not have to work like adult horses any more than young boys should work like men. After Squire Gordon visits and examines Beauty, he likes what he sees. The next day, Beauty's master himself begins the process of breaking in the young horse to ensure Beauty is not frightened or hurt. Breaking in is the training process for a young horse to learn to be ridden, to pull a carriage, and to acquire other skills. The master is thoughtful and gentle, and Beauty learns quickly. The master even sends Beauty to stay at another farm where trains often go by, allowing Beauty to learn not to fear locomotives. When she can, Duchess helps Beauty learn and encourages him to strive to please his master even though not all humans are good to horses.

Analysis

Anna Sewell's decision to narrate a story as a horse was revolutionary at the time. The opening paragraph sounds like any human's remembrance of an idyllic childhood. Sewell intentionally makes Beauty's voice sound distinctly human. The only clue in the first paragraph is the reference to "our master's house," which could just as easily be a statement by a servant. However, paragraphs 2–4 begin to make it clearer that Beauty is a horse. There is a reference to eating grass in paragraph 2, and in paragraph 4 Beauty notes "there were six young colts ... besides me."

Sewell wants readers to admire Beauty. In Victorian England, because people of higher social classes were generally viewed as more admirable or worthier than those of lower standing, Sewell's protagonist becomes an aristocrat among animals. Beauty's diction and syntax are distinctly well educated. His mother, in Chapter 2, refers to his illustrious ancestors, saying he is "well bred and well born." Her name is Duchess, a noble title. A human duchess would be a member of a noble family. Sewell seems to want readers to sympathize with Beauty, as if he were a young nobleman who lives as a servant.

Sewell introduces one of the book's main themes: the idea that humans may or may not be good to horses, while horses always try to be good to their human masters. Duchess states this goal for horses, which is reinforced by events in these chapters. Beauty's first master is remarkably thoughtful toward his animals. He fires a ploughboy who mistreats the horses, and he takes great pains with Beauty's training, doing it himself.

In literary terms, however, Sewell might have realized that beginning with a negative experience for Beauty could drive away readers. Therefore, at the beginning, Beauty's life is generally idyllic. But even he, as a very young horse, sees warning signs, such as the hunt in which Rob Roy and the squire's son are killed.

Duchess, presented as a source of wisdom, freely admits she cannot explain why humans love hunting. She reacts to humans as if they were gods, accepting that she and the others are mere horses who cannot understand. However, readers may see these lines as verbally ironic, for after Duchess cites the dangers of hunting and the destruction it can cause, readers may find the horse's view more plausible than the hunters'. Readers might see, also, the moral issues underscored in these chapters, in addition to the stance against hunting, such as Duchess's advice to Beauty in Chapter 3: to do his best and keep up his good name. Lessons in morality will appear throughout the book, as readers keep in mind that Sewell's mother, a strong influence on her daughter, was a popular author of moralistic children's stories, many of which Sewell herself edited.

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