What did Anna Sewell want to say about work at that time through Black Beauty?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In narrative, character, concerns, and purpose, Black Beauty belongs solely to the majestic creature known as the horse.  Within the setting of this poignant novel narrated by Beauty himself, Anna Sewell earnestly portrays the horse as a sensitive and intuitive and noble creature who deserves humane treatment. 

Thoroughout her narrative, Sewell uses the voices of decent men to convey the message that with the horse as the most important element in labor, the animal deserves respect and loving care.  While the rising middle class consisted of those people whose improved economic status allowed them to afford their own horses, this improved lifestyle did not necessarily mean that they had knowledge of horses. Consequently, the abuse of horses became the serious problem addressed in Black Beauty. After the publication of this stirring tale, fortunately, reforms for the humane treatment of horses began.

Without the horse, little could be done in the 1800s; however, the hard-working animal was too often beaten and overworked. Black Beauty was for horses what The Jungle was those working in the stockyards. an expose of terrible conditions. Sewell's novel publicized the mistreatment of horses that labored for powerful men or those who were mistreated by having to wear the restrictive bearing rein.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anna Sewell`s Black Beauty is a strongly moral novel with Evangelical overtones. Although the main impact of the novel and its explicit theme concerned treatment of animals, it also presents strong arguments for a Christian approach to human labour as well.

The heroine, as it were, of the story, Black Beauty diligently works and serves his masters to the limit of his ability and beyond. The kind masters who take good care of him are portrayed as morally good characters. The horses are shown as naturally good unless corrupted by mistreatment (e.g. Ginger), just as children (e.g. Dolly) are good unless spoiled. Good masters, in their treatment of animal and human labour are morally virtuous and improve those who labour for them; bad masters corrupt society.

Labour is seen as honourable and fulfilling, if the master and labourer have a relationship of mutual respect. In a way, the novel is as much a protest against bad treatment of workers as bad treatment of horses.