Alls Well That Ends In A Meadow??
“My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple trees” (Black Beauty 213). I won’t lie. I cried when Joe recognized Black Beauty, and I knew that he was finally home, to peace and rest after a life full of such noble sacrifice and valor. And then I recall the reading from earlier in this semester, “Am I Blue?” by Alice Walker, and the stark difference between the polite bow that “Black Beauty” puts on the end of the story, and the sobering “realism” of Walker’s tale. The last mention of the horse in that story reads, “Blue was like a crazed person. Blue was, to me, a crazed person” (Walker 245e). In Black Beauty, the ending we want, the ending that makes our hearts soar, is given to us, no matter how unlikely it may be. Beauty is recognized as valuable and loved, and given an easy and loving end to his life, in a quiet meadow. In Walker, that same meadow is a prison, isolated and crazed for companionship. Is that a more “realistic” end? Can Horses, or animals at all, find peace in the world human’s create for them? Or will they always be crazed by our treatment, no matter how compassionate it may be? And again, we come to the extreme humanization, in both tales, of the animal. We project our emotions and our thoughts and our experiences onto the animals in these stories, and look at them as though they were a sort of mirror to us. But do we ever see the animal itself? What is the identity of a horse, or a dog, or a cat? In most stories they are loyal companions, or sly tricksters, or noble heroes. Never are they “horse”. Do we even know what horse is?
However, I can say that I know animals respond to stimulus in ways that suggest understanding. Like William, the young boy at the end of the book, whose insistence saves beauty, notices, “Poor old fellow! see, grandpapa, how well he understands kindness” (Black Beauty 207). Perhaps it is noticing this that is most important. It is not our enslavement of them, but our cruelty. There is an order to things, perhaps, and as the point was made in class, many animals would not even exist save for our insistence on them. Yet, as the woman who convinces Beauty’s driver to take off his bearing rein points out, “we have no right to distress and of God’s creatures without a very good reason; we call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel but they do not suffer less beacuse they have no words” (Black Beauty 199). I find that, though I think I will always believe it is natural to kill and eat other living things, and to shape the natural world around us as humans, I also think I am coming to believe that perhaps with our power comes a certain obligation, to empathize and to do what we can to ease the suffering of the creatures around us. It is not a black and white choice. It can be a process of degrees. And certainly political action is a necessary step. Hmm…perhaps I have a heart? Who knew.