Horton Hatches the Egg
by Dr. Seuss
Horton the Elephant
He's So Heavy
Horton, our star, is one heavy-duty guy. And we're not just talking he's-a-giant-elephant-of-course-he's-heavy. Our guy is heavy all over the place: physically, emotionally, intellectually, and morally. Let's take a look.
This is obvious, but it's a big one (pun intended). The running joke of the book—a giant elephant sitting on a bird's nest—depends completely on Horton's physical heaviness.
Horton estimates his own weight at "a ton" (36). If he's right, then he's actually kind of a smallish. African elephants are reportedly as heavy as 14,000 pounds—that's seven tons. (What are they made of?) Maybe Horton is an Asian elephant, which are a little smaller (so cute!).
Either way, Horton is definitely self-aware; he totally gets that he's heavy:
"Me on your egg? Why, that doesn't make sense…
Your egg is so small, ma'am, and I'm so immense." (18)
Horton's physical heaviness lays the groundwork for his emotional, intellectual, and moral heaviness, so let's get moving on those.
Horton is heavy with emotion, and that makes him easy to relate to. Before you get all cynical on us, get this: researchers believe that elephants do experience and display emotion much like we do (source). How 'bout them watermelons?
From lines 1 to 45, Horton shows himself to have a basically happy nature. He's smiling throughout his negotiations with Mayzie, while he props up the tree, and even when he hops on board the nest. But this quickly changes, and Horton is taken on an emotional rollercoaster ride, much of it brought on by physical discomfort and a loss of freedom.
Did you notice that unlike some other Seuss characters (everyone in Green Eggs and Ham, we're looking at you), Horton doesn't pretend to be happy when he's not. When he's caught in the storm, he laments:
"This isn't much fun,"
The poor elephant grumbled.
"I wish she'd come back
'Cause I'm cold and I'm wet." (52-55)
The same thing happens when his friends laugh at him and play without him:
And Horton was lonely. He wanted to play. (85)
And when the hunters capture him:
"Horton [is] so sad that he practically cried." (130)
If Horton kept the happy grin plastered on through this whole ordeal, we might consider him an emotional lightweight. But he's not. He's a total pachyderm, the thickest of the thick-skinned. His ability to experience painful emotions and still stay strong allows him to protect the egg under some of the worst circumstances imaginable.
One emotion Horton doesn't show: anger. Good thing, too. We wouldn't want to see him when he's mad.
Don't let the loopy grin and the vacant eyes fool you. Horton is smart. Actually, researchers are learning that elephants are some of the smartest animals, right up there with dolphins and chimpanzees. They might even be smarter than us humans, maybe because of their enormous brains. Womp womp for humans.
In Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton uses his intelligence for one thing and one thing only: to ensure the safety of the egg. What intelligence, you ask? How about his use of engineering principles "to prop up this tree" (34) so it can hold his weight? Or his street smarts in handling his various adversaries? He's on top of every situation.
Horton is the moral authority in this book. Just take a look at his motto: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant… an elephant's faithful—one hundred per cent." This guy is faithful, loyal, honest, kind, generous, and willing to sacrifice personal comfort for a higher goal. Is that moral enough for you?
If you've read our "Meaning" section, you know that in 1940, when Seuss was finishing Horton, he was pretty wrapped up in convincing Americans they had a moral duty to enter World War II. We bet Horton's moral code would make him the perfect soldier in Seuss's mind, or at least the perfect American supporting the war effort. That's all to say that Horton was written during a particular moment in Seuss's own constantly changing and developing moral code. It was only after Horton and World War II that Seuss really embraced his destiny as children's author.
Reach Out and Tusk Someone
Shmoop was hanging out on Saturday night, admiring the tusks on the elephant in the Thai boxing moving Ong bak 2, when we realized: Horton is totally tusk-less. This sent us into a research frenzy, during which we learned that reliable and comprehensive info on elephant tusks is hard to come by.
But never fear. We are still better informed than we were before. Here are a few things we learned:
- Tusks are made of prized ivory. Okay, we knew that already, but we thought the list would look nice if it were longer.
- Elephants' tusks are actually their incisor teeth, which start to break the skin when they are about a year old (source).
- Lady elephants do have tusks, but they're smaller than those of the gents.
- Some Asian elephants have no tusks at all.
- Elephants use their tusks for digging for water, uprooting stuff to eat (elephants are herbivores), marking territory, and even jousting and battling.
- Elephants are usually either right or left tusked. (Um, coolest factoid ever.)
Now that we've thrown that totally irrelevant information at you, we'd like to make our diagnosis. Horton is either an Asian elephant or, more likely, he's just Seussian. He's probably tusk-less to keep him as cuddly and huggable as possible.
Oh yes, the tusklessness also allows Seuss to avoid plotting complications. You know what they say: if you see a tusk in Act I, it has to go off in Act IV.