Book Nook: Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

I appreciate when a book is written from a different perspective than most books. Or maybe it’s not so much that the perspective is different, but that the writing style isn’t what you might have expected when you began.

For example:

  • The Book Thief is written from death’s perspective.
  • The Screwtape Letters is made up purely of letters written from one character (Screwtape) to his nephew (Wormwood).
  • Similarly, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is also made up entirely of letters, but they aren’t all from the same character, nor are they written to the same character.

Black Beauty is a book about a horse named Black Beauty, and it’s written from the horse’s own perspective.

Be aware, the horse is still just a horse. The animals in Black Beauty haven’t been personified enough to resemble a cartoon. It’s not like the horse is sitting at a desk writing out his story.

The horses can understand humans as well as they can understand each other, but they look and act just like animals would in real life.

You’re basically reading about our world, but the horses’ thoughts and feelings have been personified.

While this is an interesting perspective – and I can appreciate the writing itself – I don’t personally like when books or movies try to make an ethical statement by personifying the thoughts and feelings of animals, while vilifying humans in the process. Sure, if you’re going to make a cartoon where animals straight up talk and act like humans, that’s all just fine.

But trying to make an ethical statement about our world by writing as if the animals we interact with everyday have the same thoughts and feelings as humans is inaccurate, and it feels like borderline propaganda.

According to the introduction written by Meg Rosoff, Sewell “had hoped [Black Beauty] might serve to alert a few of her contemporaries to the feelings and sufferings of ‘dumb animals’, and in that respect Black Beauty has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.”

I agree that animals should not be mistreated, and there are plenty of examples of abuse in the book that would make any reader upset.

While I believe that animals should be respected, pretending that animals are just human minds inside of animal bodies creates a misinformed audience advocating change for the wrong reasons.

Animals deserve respect for simply being the amazing creatures they are. There’s no need to personify them in any way, as if being “human” is the only reason any living thing should be respected.

But I’m probably taking all of this too personally. If Sewell has succeeded at decreasing the amount of animal abuse out there, congratulations to her.

As far as the content is concerned, the book is separated into 4 sections, with Black Beauty being sold and mistreated throughout the majority of the book.

Many chapters were simply stories of Black Beauty’s mistreatment, or of him witnessing other horses being abused.

Abuse, abuse, sold, abuse, sold, nice life, sold, abuse, abuse, sold, sold, etc…

Part 3 was my favorite section, because he remained with the same owner for long enough to build a solid relationship. The other sections just felt like they were made up of short stories that, strangely enough, all had to do with the same horse.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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