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Literature Study GuidesBlack BeautyPart 2 Chapters 30 31 Summary

Black Beauty | Study Guide

Anna Sewell

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Black Beauty | Part 2, Chapters 30–31 | Summary



Chapter 30: A Thief

Black Beauty's new owner, Mr. Barry, is generous but ignorant about horses. Not having his own stable, he hires a place for Beauty and engages Filcher as Beauty's groom. Mr. Barry orders the best food, but Filcher steals much of it. Beauty grows weak from the poor food he is given, but Mr. Barry does not notice. Finally, a friend comments on Beauty's appearance and energy level and tells Mr. Barry to watch Filcher. It seems to Mr. Barry's friend that Beauty isn't getting enough nourishment. Soon after, the groom's scheme is revealed, and he is arrested.

Chapter 31: A Humbug

Mr. Barry hires a new groom, a vain and lazy man named Alfred Smirk, whom Beauty calls a "humbug." A skillful liar, Smirk comes up with plausible excuses whenever Mr. Barry questions Beauty's care. Smirk can make Beauty look quite presentable, but he does not clean Beauty's stall well and leaves the floor damp. Beauty develops thrush, a foot disease, which Mr. Barry discovers with the help of a farrier. Smirk is fired, and the farrier cures Beauty. However, Mr. Barry is so disgusted by his two bad experiences that he decides to sell Beauty.


Anna Sewell uses these chapters to warn her readers that even if they themselves are kind to animals, they must be sure to hire honest caretakers. In keeping with Sewell's Dickensian naming conventions, the first groom, who steals food, is named Filcher. To filch means to "steal secretly." The second groom makes sure he and Beauty both make a good appearance, but he fails to give Beauty any actual care or maintain his health. His name is equally obvious: Smirk. He may have smirked as he got away with doing little work for his pay, and Beauty is the one who suffers because of it.

Mr. Barry is made aware of his grooms' misdeeds only by more knowledgeable people. When Filcher is stealing Beauty's food, a farmer friend points out that Beauty looks unhealthy, as if he were being fed only on grass. Although horses should graze, they need a variety of nutrients. Imagine a human who ate nothing but lettuce. Lettuce can play a large role in a healthy diet, but eating nothing but lettuce could rob one's body of vital nutrition. Mr. Barry discovers Smirk's misdeeds only when Beauty has become ill from a poorly cleaned stall with a perpetually damp floor and generally neglectful care. Thrush is a hoof infection that needs serious attention, even with modern veterinary treatment. Mr. Barry may have meant well, but he never troubles himself to learn how to care for his horse. Sewell implies a responsible horse owner certainly would take the time to ensure his horse was receiving proper attention and the groom doing his job.

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