'Black Beauty' Questions for Study and Discussion

The 'autobiography' of a horse is much more than just a children's book.

Black Beauty
Image provided by Dover Children's Thrift Classics

Black Beauty is the only novel written by Anna Sewall, but it remains one of the best-loved and most-read books in modern literature. Sewall sought to draw attention to the cruel treatment of horses in Victorian London, and wrote the book from the point of view of a horse named Black Beauty. The horse begins his life on a farm in England, moves to London for a job pulling taxi cabs, and later retires, returning to the countryside.

Sewall had a particular empathy for horses, as she relied on them for most of her adult life. A mistreated ankle injury left her disabled, and she needed horse-drawn carriages to get around. She was especially appalled by the use of such devices as a bearing rein, which was painful for a horse's neck. Black Beauty also drew attention to the poor working conditions of the drivers of London's taxis at the time.

Here are a few questions about the novel Black Beauty for study and discussion.

The author did not intend Black Beauty as a "children's book" but it's often classified as one. Do you agree or disagree with that designation? Why? If not, what genre would you say this book belongs to?

Is the choice to write the story from the horse's point of view, and in its "voice" an effective one? Do you think it enhances the reader's empathy for Black Beauty? How realistic do you think it is to have insights from him and from other horses?

What do you think of the way the novel is told in a series of separate mini-lessons, each with its own moral? Was it an effective way to highlight specific issues the author was concerned about or did you find it overly simplistic?

Is there one human character in Black Beauty you consider the "hero" of the story?

Which of the horse characters, aside from Black Beauty himself, would you say is the most well-developed? How different would the novel have been if it had been written from the point of view of another horse, such as Ginger or Captain?

Aside from its setting in Victorian London, is there anything else about the story you find dated?

Given the impact the novel had on the working conditions of taxi drivers and the treatment of horses in Victorian London, do you consider this book a work of activism? Why or why not?

What are some other stories about animals and animal cruelty you think may have been inspired by Black Beauty?

Does the novel end the way you expected? Do you think Black Beauty got a happy ending?