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…”


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