Study Guide

Black Beauty Language and Communication

By Anna Sewell

Language and Communication

Still, he had his own way of making me understand by the tone of his voice or the touch of the rein. If he was very serious and quite determined, I always knew it by his voice, and that had more power with me than anything else, for I was very fond of him. (6.2)

Beauty often explains how he can tell what humans are feeling, and he's especially tuned in to the sound and tone of someone's voice. Anyone who's owned a pet can probably relate to this. It sounds just like how a dog behaves, doesn't it?

He always spoke in a rough, impatient voice, and if I did not move in the stall the moment he wanted me, he would hit me above the hocks with his stable broom and fork, whichever he might have in his hand. (8.6)

Here Ginger explains how the harsh tone of an early master's voice frightened her, making her distrustful of humans. This is just one of the ways that Sewell illustrates how to relate to horses, stressing that the way you talk to a horse is far more important than what you actually say.

Our mouths are so tender, that where they have not been spoiled or hardened with bad or ignorant treatment, they feel the slightest movement of the driver's hand, and we know in an instant what is required of us. (10.2)

At Birtwick, Beauty loves riding with his mistress because she has such a light touch on the reins. This book helps us understand how reins work: They're the line of communication between horse and rider, but it's a one-way street. Some people don't seem to understand that horses have very sensitive mouths and can feel very subtle directions with reins. Beauty explains how much he appreciates the gentle, skillful way his mistress uses the reins.

Of course I could not tell him, but I knew very well that the bridge was not safe. (12.10)

When Beauty rides out at night in a storm and realizes the bridge is damaged, he has no way of telling John Manly and Squire Gordon. Instead he's forced to communicate the only way he can, by disobeying their orders for the first time. Because of the trust they have in him, they actually pay attention to his distress, which saves their lives. This is a great example of the strong bond a horse can have with his owner, and how communication happens between them even without words.

John told my master he never saw a horse go so fast in his life, it seemed as if the horse knew what was the matter. Of course I did, though John thought not; at least I knew as much as this, that John and I must go at the top of our speed, and that it was for the sake of the mistress. (18.18)

Sewell wants us to believe that horses can understand almost anything, even if they don't understand precise language. Here Beauty explains that he totally understood that his mistress was in trouble, and even though he couldn't talk, he ran at full gallop to save her. There was no better way to show that he completely understood what his humans needed.

He seemed very low-spirited; I knew that by his voice. I believe we horses can tell more by the voice than many men can. (21.5)

When Beauty must leave Birtwick, he can tell his master is heartbroken. He even goes so far as to say that horses are better at understanding emotions than people. What do you think, are animals more tuned in to a person's tone of voice than fellow humans?

He patted me and praised me very much; he told Lord George that he was sure the horse knew of Annie's danger as well as he did. "I could not have held him in if I would," said he. "She ought never to ride any other horse." (24.31)

Here's another example of Beauty understanding a human situation and even making it clear to the human riding him. When Lady Anne's horse runs away with her, Beauty chases after, hoping to save her. His rider explains that it seems like Beauty totally understood—and of course he did. You know that old saying, "actions speak louder than words"? Here it is in action.

"Dumb beasts!" Yes, we are, but if I could have spoken, I could have told my master where his oats went to. (30.10)

Even though Beauty manages to communicate very well with people most of the time, here we see a horse's limitations in communication. When Beauty witnesses a groom stealing oats, there's no good way for him to express that he knows who the thief is. He can't just run for help this time, unfortunately.

"We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words." (46.21)

As Beauty is suffering during the worst time of his life, a kind woman stops his driver and points out this crucial theme of the novel: Animals still feel things and suffer, even though they can't speak. Anna Sewell wants us to remember, no matter what, that we should pay attention to animals because they might be trying to tell us something.

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