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Black Beauty | Study Guide

Anna Sewell

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Black Beauty | Symbols


Because Anna Sewell's purposes in writing Black Beauty were both moralistic and didactic, symbols do not play a role in the novel. However, readers can attribute some symbolic meaning to both tack and horses' scars.

Tack, or Horse Equipment

Tack, or the equipment used in riding or driving horses, symbolizes different types of horse owners and grooms. Those humans who are kind and thoughtful, like Squire Gordon and Jerry Barker, choose equipment according to its impact on the horse. They consider the horses' comfort and how the tack makes the horses' tasks easier, symbolizing their own innate goodness, and their understanding of their horses' needs. Others, including the earl and his wife and Black Beauty's driver at the bakery, choose tack according to fashion. They force the horses to use checkreins, which are uncomfortable and unsafe, because of the way they force horses to hold their heads. Other drivers use blinkers because they mistakenly assume that horses will shy at things in their peripheral vision. However, the horses claim they would be less frightened if they could actually see what was happening around them rather than hear or sense things they can't identify.

Scars and Other Physical Damage

Few horses in the book escape without some type of physical damage or scarring. These marks symbolize human thoughtlessness, carelessness, and selfishness. Because of Reuben Smith's carelessness, Black Beauty gets scarred knees, which repeatedly change the course of his life. He is sold from the earl's stables because his scarred knees are unattractive. Later on, people notice Beauty's scars and fear they signal another fall, even though they were not his fault. Ginger, too, bears physical damage as a result of poor handling. Other horses, such as Captain, are marked by serious injuries, all caused by humans' thoughtlessness.

Anna Sewell also makes a point of including Sir Oliver's story. One of Squire Gordon's other horses, Sir Oliver had his tail cropped by a previous owner and now suffers as a result. Sir Oliver tells the other horses about how he has seen dogs' ears and tails cropped, too. These examples of physical damage represent human thoughtlessness. They permanently change the animals' bodies because the humans like the way they make the animals look, without considering how these changes might pain the animals.

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