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Literature Study GuidesBlack BeautyPart 1 Chapters 16 18 Summary

Black Beauty | Study Guide

Anna Sewell

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Black Beauty | Part 1, Chapters 16–18 | Summary



Chapter 16: The Fire

The inn's barn catches on fire because of a lit pipe left there, against the old ostler's warnings. Black Beauty and Ginger are terrified, and Beauty, like the other horses, refuses to be led outside by the ostler because of the chaos all around. However, when James Howard arrives at the burning stable, he risks his own life to lead Ginger and Beauty outside. They survive only because of James's kind words and quick action, but other horses in that stable die.

Chapter 17: John Manly's Talk

James is justifiably praised for his efforts to rescue Beauty and Ginger, and many people comment on what that action says about his feeling for the horses and the horses' trust of him. James is almost ready to leave for his new job, but he will miss John Manly. John then tells about his own childhood and his gratitude to the Gordons. John and his sister Nelly Manly were left penniless after their parents' deaths and survived only because of the kindness of the squire and his wife, who provided for both of them. John rejects the "Everybody look after himself, and take care of number one" philosophy, asking what would have happened to him as a boy if others had taken that approach.

John hires Joe Green to replace James. Joe is very young and inexperienced, and his father, Thomas Green, has to help in the stable sometimes. Nonetheless, John believes Joe will learn and become a useful stable boy.

Chapter 18: Going for the Doctor

Squire Gordon's wife is seriously ill. John takes Black Beauty to fetch the doctor. Beauty races along, eager to help Mrs. Gordon. The doctor's own horses are unavailable, so John lets the doctor ride Beauty back to the Gordons'. Beauty runs at full speed again and is exhausted by the time they get home. But John is walking home, so the new boy, Joe, is the only one available at the stable. Not knowing how to care for a horse in Beauty's condition, Joe does his best, but his ministrations are wrong, and Beauty gets very sick as a result. When he does return, John is angry with Joe and takes over Beauty's care. The squire visits to thank Beauty for saving his wife's life.


In Chapter 15 Anna Sewell compares horses to children and in Chapter 16 shows horses at one of their most childlike moments: when they are afraid. Horses instinctively flee from danger, and their finely tuned senses pick up danger signals, such as smoke, faster than humans do. In a dangerous situation, however, horses may retreat from fire or smoke without realizing they can be trapped. They panic and may fear strangers or commotion. Even today, horses are often victims of fire because they hide in their stalls. Beauty and Ginger survive only because of the bravery shown by James, who could have died saving them.

Although he did not save the horses from a fire, John remains one of Sewell's models for good behavior. In Chapter 17 John talks about his own childhood, recounting his difficulties only to illustrate his argument that people should look out for each other. There are definite parallels between horse and man here. John had a rough start and could have been abandoned to his fate, but the squire stepped in. Then there is Ginger, a horse with a rough start who could have been left to her fate, but John stepped in. John helps Ginger, and he also helps little Joe Green, who he believes is in need of guidance—and willing to accept it.

At first, a modern reader may wonder why the author focuses on James's new job. Sewell has a dual purpose in shifting readers' attention from John to James. First, James demonstrates John's influence and thus provides another example of how good deeds are rewarded. Perhaps more important, though, is that James's exit brings in Joe Green, whose lack of experience nearly kills Beauty. Horses are surprisingly delicate creatures that need care by someone who understands their needs. If horses run hard, they need specialized attention, without which they can become seriously ill. In Chapter 18 Sewell provides details of that care, reminding her intended readers—people who handle horses—what to do in such situations. Horses can die from mishandling, even unintentional and even with modern veterinary medicine. Beauty suffers, but he does not seem to regret it since his mistress survived.

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