A horse is a horse, of course!
As I read this story I am reminded of a friend who once told me that, after reading “Black Beauty”, all little girls fall in love with horses. I find myself moved by the narrative voice of Beauty, however as I have read more and more of this tale, I find myself wondering whether I am learning to identify with the real and obviously significant plight of the working horse, or with aspects of my own humanity I am projecting onto the horse, or enjoying the authors projection of at any rate.
“I gave a loud shrill neigh for help; again and again I neighed, pawing the ground impatiently…” (Black Beauty 96). “I needed no whip or spur for I was as eager as my rider” (Black Beauty 96). Both of these quotes come from a passage of the book in which Beauty has seen a young rider, Lady Anne, stolen away by a frightened horse at full gallop. Beauty, recognizing this, desperately wants to save the young girl. His noble character and wise action save the girls life, though she is briefly injured, and his reputation, the author tells us, is established in the household. Again, Black Beauty is shown to be of exceeding nobility in the very next chapter, when a man with an alcohol problem rides him, without one shoe, down a rocky road and ends up severely injuring Beauty, and causing a fall that results in his death. Beauty however reacts strangely. “I could have groaned too, for I was suffering intense pain both from my foot and knees; but horses are used to bear their pain in silence. I uttered no sound but stood there and listened…I could do nothing for him nor myself, but, oh! how I listened for the sound of a horse, or wheels, or footsteps” (Black Beauty, 104). These are wonderful events, and perhaps even could be true (I have never seen a live horse that was not in a parade, so I don’t know), however as I read the passages, cheering for Beauty, and wondering at his nobility, I found myself sitting back and wondering to myself what the value of such fictionalized humanization of animals is. What good does it do an animal to tell a story like this? I know that there are many an unwanted dog purchased becaue of movies like “Old Yeller”, and many an unwanted pig that owe their unhappy lives to “Babe” or “Charlotte’s Web”. I wonder if the same is true of Black Beauty? How many young girls, starstruck by the quiet dignity of the fictionalized animal, blind themselves to the work and real nature of horses, and obstinately demand “I want a pony” for Christmas or Birthdays? On one level I understand that the humanization of animals allows us to think about ourselves beyond our own egos, and that often a moral tale can be imparted to us through the medium of an animal, that we would not recognize for the sake of our pride, if it were about humans. However, when considering things from the point of view of an animal, what good does it do to humanize them unrealistically? Or is it realistic? Do horses have consciousness of the order of Beauty? Do they feel and understand as Beauty does? Or is it cruel to treat them as though they can, and be frustrated when they don’t? I’m not certain.
I am including below a photograph I took of a horse and buggy that was one of about 2 dozen waiting in a square at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy over spring break. I can remember thinking to myself, why is this servitude even necessary anymore? Is it because of stories like Black Beauty, which have romanticized the animal, that those two dozen horses, forced to pull loud heavy tourists around busy Roman streets all day when two dozen taxi cabs could do just as well? Interesting thoughts.
And finally, a little music for thought.