Seuss was and is seriously hard to pin down. He managed to be totally popular and scrutinized while maintaining his privacy and an aura of mystery. Seusspert Philip Nel warns us:
Biographical interpretations of Dr. Seuss books can suggest the ways […] Ted Geisel's views on sex, gender, or parenthood may enter into his books, but they can do little more than suggest—indeed I doubt if Geisel himself was conscious of how such beliefs manifested themselves in his work. (Source, p. 113)
That doesn't prevent us from speculating, though. And speculate we will.
In 1931, Seuss found out that he and his first wife, Helen, wouldn't be able to have kiddos of their own. Conveniently, this was the same year Seuss wrote his first kids' book (source). Our buddy Nel thinks "Matilda" and Horton might be related to this issue:
We might take both elephants together as Seuss's mixed feelings towards parenthood and his own lack of children. (Source, p. 113)
"Matilda" aside, Horton itself offers up a plethora of mixed feelings. With our buddy Horton and our not-so-buddy Mayzie, we see everything but the popular image of the typical American family in 1940, which would look something like this: working dad and stay-at-home mom, both from the same species. It looks like Horton will be raising his little hybrid single-dad style.
Speaking of dads, where's the biological father? That's right, he's nowhere to be found. In fact, the elephant bird confounds the whole idea of biology. Horton is considered an adoptive father by most critics, but his right to parent the elephant-bird seems to come from the fact that it looks like him; the public only approves Horton's actions when they see a physical resemblance. Curious.
In some ways, Horton is a riddle that can't really be solved—just pondered and enjoyed. And there's nothing wrong with defying interpretation. The better to help kids think critically and develop their own opinions, right?
But don't go yet, there's more. More? Yes, more—there's war!