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Literature Study GuidesBlack BeautyPart 1 Chapters 13 15 Summary

Black Beauty | Study Guide

Anna Sewell

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Black Beauty | Part 1, Chapters 13–15 | Summary



Chapter 13: The Devil's Trademark

One day John Manly sees young Bill Bushby being cruel to his pony. As a consequence, the pony throws him. After determining Bill is uninjured, John refuses to help him, saying he deserves what he got. John and Black Beauty then head to the Bushby farm to tell the boy's father what happened. Mr. Bushby agrees with John's assessment of the event. Back at the squire's, John tells James Howard what happened. James knows Bill, who was a classmate of his at school. James relates how he once caught the boy, an arrogant bully, pulling wings off flies. Their teacher found out and told the class that "cruelty was the Devil's own trade mark" and anyone who took pleasure in cruelty belonged to the devil.

Chapter 14: James Howard

After asking John's opinion of James, Squire Gordon recommends the young man for a new job as head groom for the squire's brother-in-law, Sir Clifford. It is a big promotion, and James needs driving practice, so he begins to drive Beauty more often.

Chapter 15: The Old Ostler

James drives Beauty and Ginger, taking the squire and his wife on a trip. After 32 miles, they stop overnight at an inn. James watches the old ostler, or horse handler, tend to Beauty and Ginger. The man is excellent at his job, and he and James begin discussing horses. When he handles a horse, the ostler claims, he can tell how well it is cared for at home, and he compliments James on Beauty's and Ginger's care. Comparing horses to children, the old ostler advises "train 'em up in the way they should go, as the good book says, and when they are old they will not depart from it." The ostler then comments about the deaths of the squire Gordon's son and Rob Roy, saying that "a man's life and a horse's life are worth more than a fox's tail."


Earlier Anna Sewell discusses how Squire and Mrs. Gordon encourage kindness toward horses. The Gordons are wealthy, influential, and socially prominent. Sewell later points out the squire is a magistrate. Wealthier people could afford to care for their horses. However, Sewell rejects the idea of kindness toward animals as limited to class and economic status. John, James, and the old ostler at the inn are all poor and powerless, yet they strive to protect and care for the horses in their charge.

Heavily influenced by her mother, a writer of religious tales for young readers, Sewell incorporates more Christian theology as the novel progresses. In Chapter 13 she makes a connection between cruelty to living things—Bill Bushby, who torments flies—and the devil: "for the Devil was a murderer from the beginning, and a tormentor to the end." It is not killing flies that seems to trouble Sewell, but the cruelty of it. The boy is pulling their wings off for amusement. To a modern reader the leap to hellfire can feel a bit abrupt, and Sewell's religious views would seem severe today. She is known to have attributed some of her ideas to Horace Bushnell (1802–76), an American clergyman who tried to bridge the gap between early Puritan preachers and later thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82). John, Sewell's example of good and "manly" behavior, says religion is a sham if it does not encourage kindness to beasts as well as humans.

The old ostler is even more direct in his religiosity, quoting the Old Testament book of Proverbs. The biblical quotation refers to the raising of children, and the ostler in effect views horses as children. Here again, Sewell argues for gentler treatment of horses. Horses were like servants, according to Merrylegs earlier on, and in Sewell's time, it would have been considered inappropriate to treat a good servant badly. Mistreating a child, however, would be even worse. This "horse as child" comparison also emphasizes the importance of good training for young horses.

One of Sewell's main themes is that doing good will be rewarded, another strong Christian belief. The ostler, who treats horses well, is old yet lively and cheerful, thus rewarded with contentment in life. James has been good to Beauty and the horses, and he is rewarded with an important promotion. More examples of rewards for the righteous will appear in future chapters.

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