Black Beauty: Joe Green and the Trials of Transcending Youth


Sewell’s Black Beauty attempts to create subtle accusations of how the Victorian society is malfunctioning.  Amidst the treatment of animals, the divisions of social hierarchy, and the philosophies of duty, Sewell also touches on something that most do not discuss: coming of age.  Joe Green is the prime example of this metamorphic change that every human goes through.  The loss of innocence, the attempt to see justice done, and also the conflicting emotions one has when they are forced into moral dilemmas at such a young age.

When we see Joe Green come into the scene we are introduced to him as a young stable boy.  Something that is brought into question due to his naivety and “ignorance” of not properly putting Beauty’s cloth on, leaving him to become sick.  John, Joe’s father, is upset and livid at his son’s actions as stated in “Going for the Doctor.”  When we eventually get to the next few chapter’s we see how Joe’s character is merely an innocent boy who does not mean harm, but does know he caused Beauty to be in the state he is in.  This is an example of Sewell showing how the youth can interpret their misdeeds just as well as adults.  John sees Joe’s dedication to make up for his mistake and is eventually trusted with the stable duties he once had before, as well as new duties that have been given to him due to his growth.  Joe learned from his mistake that he once made, saw how upset his father was, and starts to change his persona to become a growing human.

Sewell is very aware of showing Joe in these situations because she introduces to us a way of living that most, at this time, are not used to.  Compassion.  John’s father is compassionate towards his children, even though he is upset with Joe, he still understands that Joe is very aware of this.  This is something that most are not used to, when I was reading it, I was expecting John to whip Joe for his “ignorance” as would be done to most other children during this time. When Joe is able to ride Beauty, after Beauty becomes better, Joe idly rides him to take a note to a gentleman for his Master.  They come across a man with two horses pulling a heavy brick cart stuck in the mud.  At this point, we see Joe take from his lesson from before and attempts to persuade the man to stop using the horses so harshly for they cannot move the cart.  The man quickly scuffles Joe away and continues the harsh work on the horses.

Sewell is now introducing to us the concept of coming to age and rebellion.  Joe has transcended from the once naive boy, to the now ever careful man who sees how he needs to treat these animals that help him.  Before he would not even care enough to put the cloth on Beauty, but now seeing how these horses are treated he becomes angry and livid on his way to the brick-maker’s house, now riding Beauty with intensity instead of idly strolling.  When Joe and John’s Master, the Magistrate, receives the case about a man who lashed his horses beyond compare.  Joe delivers his testimony against the man and returns to Beauty stating, “We won’t see such things done, will we, old fellow?” Sewell has created this character to show how a youth can change into an adult.  He has transcended from a naive stable boy, to a man who understands and respects the animals he has to care for.

On a higher level of interpretation, this could be an allegory for the transcendence of certain group dynamics during this time, due to the integration of the novel.  The novel is producing all of these radical changes in Victorian society, such as the fast growing of youth.  It also could be read that Sewell is showing how those who are brought up as workers may have a greater inkling towards growing up faster due to having responsibilities way too early.  This could also be translated into a modern interpretation as the plight of those who are poor workers.  Those who work for people or things that either have more power, respect, or money (maybe all three), are given to struggle in a society that deems that wealth is the ultimate voice, where work is merely what you have to do regardless of how your circumstances may be.  Joe Green is the example of the nobility one gains from having responsibilities at a young age and realizing that your duty may change who you are more quickly than we may think.  He stands for the growth of those poor youth who realize, at far too young an age, that their life is purely dictated by their work.


“And if I ever met another man,

Who could ever dream,

Of working in the clouds,

His name was Joe Green.

Through the life he had to live,

He saw atrocities, some by him,

But grew to see, what could be,

When one accepts,

Their unwanted responsibilities…”





When does the sidewalk end?
Growing up I feel a lot of judgement is placed on those who dare to think outside of normal means of reality.  Although I feel it has veered towards more acceptance, I still feel as though a stigmata is upheld over us as adults; this notion of “being serious.”  Around my third semester into college I developed old habits from before (anxiety, depression, over bearing thoughts that wouldn’t stop), and slowly realized that I could not come to terms with all the seriousness I was seemingly surrounded by.  I withdrew.  Withdrew into my adolescence, withdrew from my friends, my family…I cut off everyone but myself and left myself alone in my dorm with all of my old belongings from before.  This culmination of things I used for clinging to my past were: books, movies, action figures, video games; whatever I could remember as part of that time where I had no fears of making goals for my own life.  The time where everything seemed to be a grand new experience every day. 

One such book was Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  It immediately brought me back.  Back to what I was longing for.  That time of pure innocence where nothing mattered. In WtSE, rules were bent and broken in the style of Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, but also had sketches to enhance the visual capacity to the Seuss-ian language Silverstein uses.  Mixing an eclectic style and rhythmic flow, Silverstein made not only poems that developed children’s musical interests, but also their visual artistic ability and their sense of creativity.  If you have never read, or had the chance to read it to a child, I suggest doing yourself a favor. 

Silverstein develops this wonderful system of flourishing imaginations that could gear any young child towards wonderful creative ways of thinking towards the future.  That is what makes it important for literary critique.  This book is wound into the fabric of the Millenial generation and it had a clear cultural impact on us in the long run.  Today I am who I am thanks to a majority of the words and images I found in this book.  These words were my building blocks, the desire, the lust for wanting more and more words to come to me. Silverstein does something incredible by making obscure laughable phrases that we can’t help but remember and laugh to.  This is beauty in times where things seem so grim.

For the best reads check out: Where the Sidewalk Ends, Spaghetti, and The Worst

“And so the lone wolf solemnly

Hums a tune of harmony.

Mixed with the night,

He see’s the flight,

But does not recall

Having heard,

Of the mysterious