This paper employs fauna-criticism, as outlined below, as a unique perspective from which to (re)examine some of the major literary features of Black Beauty. From this perspective, we speculate on how the presentation of themes helps or hinders Sewell’s intended messages. In particular, this paper addresses Sewell’s use of anthropomorphism, animal advocacy, and the role of animals in human society. Though many of the specific concerns regarding the treatment of horses that are addressed in the novel are not as relevant in today’s world, such as genuine ‘horsepower’ which has been replaced by technology, the novel is rich in deeper messages and values that are far-reaching and possess continued relevance. For instance, Sewell repeatedly “acknowledges the special moral wisdom of women, children, and animals throughout the text” (Guest x), all of which have been historically devalued and underrepresented, and continue to be today. The book has many timeless and critical themes including the responsibility of citizens to speak out and demand justice. In a time of women’s movements such as two national Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C, #MeToo, and the Larry Nassar and Hollywood sexual assault scandals, lessons can still be drawn from old works like Black Beauty, lessons of solidarity, speaking out and taking a stand against unequal and exploitative power relations. Therefore, it is important to continually revisit classic works of literature through different lenses, such as fauna criticism, in order to provide different interpretations and perspectives on the continued cultural relevance of a work.
Literature has been stimulating minds for centuries, as has science. This essay explores the need for both in the emerging field of anthrozoology. Anthrozoology is unique in its interdisciplinary approach to the sciences. By integrating zoology, anthropology, psychology, biology and others, this emerging field of study is examining interconnectivity in new and exciting ways. Literature and literary fiction play a large part in mental development. Literature is often a child’s first introduction to the other animals that share the planet and can act as a bridge to future animal interactions. People who read literary fiction show improved theory-of-mind and empathy scores. Reading and writing literary fiction improves mental processing. Literature can serve as a catharsis, an escape, and a mind-builder. Because of this, literature is a critically important tool in the anthrozoology toolbox.