Horton Hatches the Egg
by Dr. Seuss
What’s Up With the Ending?
You've had a few moments to recover from the shock of seeing the elephant-bird. Now you can relax and enjoy the happy ending and Horton's reversal of fortune. Finally, our favorite elephant gets relief from his suffering and is rewarded for his extreme faithfulness with a return ticket home and full custody of the elephant-bird:
…And they send him home
One hundred per cent! (214-216)
To crank up the smile factor, the illustrations show Horton's friends warmly welcoming him back to the jungle. How's that for a happy ending?
Where's the Rub?
Dr. Seuss is famous for open, complicated endings. Is Horton Hatches the Egg a big exception, with all the loose ends neatly and happily tied up?
Not so much. What happened to Mayzie? Will she ever have a relationship with her child? What will the elephant-bird be like when it grows up? Will it get teased in school? And is there—as is so often the claim—a moral or philosophical argument being made here? If so, what the heck is it?
The Moral of the Story
The ending gives Horton the flavor of a fable. Fable flavor. Flavored fable. Okay, we've got that out of our system. The story feels like it has a clear moral; something like "faithfulness will ultimately be rewarded with love." Ta-da.
[Quick Seussoid break! Any Seusspert worth his or her green eggs and ham will tell you that Seuss already played around with this concept in 1938 with a short story called "Matilda, the Elephant With A Mother Complex: A Dr. Seuss Fable" (reprinted in Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss).
Matilda is the story of an elephant who finds an abandoned bird-egg and pulls a Horton. Her act wins her no love from her herd, and they abandon her. The baby bird who hatches from the egg freaks out when it sees Matilda, and it flies away. Matilda is left all alone. "Matilda" actually comes with a built-in moral: "Moral: Don't go around hatching other folks' eggs." Translation: mind your own beeswax and don't meddle in the affairs of others.]
Back to Horton. When Seuss was deciding how to end Horton, his mind was on what we now know as World War II. Specifically, he believed the U.S. had a duty to intervene in Europe and the Pacific to protect the homeland and other innocent victims. And in fact, Seuss wouldn't publish another book for seven years after Horton. In the interim, he devoted himself to the war and post-war efforts. Read much, much more about that in our section on "Meaning." Then decide for yourself what it means for the ending.