Anna Sewell's Black Beauty is a coming-of-age story written as an autobiographical account of a horse's life. The story's purpose is to comment on the dually good and evil nature of humanity while educating readers about how the evil nature of humanity manifests itself in the cruel treatment of innocent animals.
Sewell's story begins with an account of Black Beauty's days as a colt being raised by Farmer Grey and of the gentle training he received from Farmer Grey. Though his training, or breaking in, was far more gentle than other horses receive, Black Beauty still voices complaints concerning what mankind subjects horses to such as forcing disgusting "cold hard steel" bits into their mouths, driving iron shoes into their hooves, and making them wear cruppers (Ch. 3, Pt. 1).
As the story progresses, Black Beauty gives accounts of the various masters he is sold to. Aside from Farmer Grey's, his dearest home was the first home he was sold to, Squire Gordon's Birtwick Park. It is here that he is given the best care. When Mistress Gordon falls ill and must move to warmer climates, Squire Gordon must sell his home and horses; therefore, Black Beauty is sold to his first unhappy home, where is he forced for the first time to wear the fashionable check-rein, which forces horses' heads into a high, fixed position, preventing them from moving their heads and even making it difficult to breath. This is also the first home in which he is mistreated by grooms, leading to the injury of his foot and knees. As the story progresses, his homes get worse and worse, creating the conflict of the plot. He has a moment of reprieve when he is bought by a kind cab driver, but the work Black Beauty must do for the driver is very difficult. When the cab driver falls ill, Black Beauty is sold to his worst home yet--a "corn dealer and baker" (Ch. 46, Pt. 4). The man is a good man himself, but those who work for him are cruel. The story comes full circle and reaches its climax when, after being severely injured in an accident, he is sold once again at a horse fair and purchased by a kindly farmer and his grandson, ready to give him plenty and care and rest to build up his strength. Upon arriving at his new home, he discovers his new groom is Joe, a kindly groom from Squire Gordon's. In the resolution, Sewell paints Black Beauty as happy at the new farm and as knowing he'll never be sold again.