Published 1954 by Random House
New York Herald Tribune Review: “Wildly Original.”
Des Moines Register Review: “A rhymed lesson in protection of minorities and their rights.”
On the 15th of May, in the Jungle of Nool, Horton the elephant is playing “in the cool of the pool.” As he plays he hears a small noise coming from a dust speck floating by. Horton decides to help the dust speck because even though he can’t see anyone on it he can hear them and after all “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” So, he places the dust speck on a clover.
He is quickly criticized by a sour kangaroo and the young kangaroo in her pouch. The kangaroo proclaims that there is no one on the dust speck. Horton pleads with the kangaroo saying that his ears are big enough to hear them even though no one else can. He doesn’t know who is down there but it could be,
“a family, for all that we know!
A family with children just starting to grow.
So, please,’ Horton said, “as a favor to me,
Try not to disturb them. Just please let them be.”
The kangaroo insist that Horton is a fool and splashes away in the pool. Horton states, “I’ve got to protect them. I’m bigger than they.” So he picks up the clover and carries the speck through the jungle. He is harassed by all the animals that say he’s out of his head and don’t believe him, but Horton is reassured when he hears a small voice from the dust speck that tells him he has saved their town. The little voice announces that he is the Mayor of Who-ville and all the persons there are called Whos.
Horton swears to protect the Whos, but just as he does a group of monkeys called the Wickersham brothers steal the clover and pass it off to a vulture. The vulture flies over a giant field of clovers and drops the one with the Whos on it into the field. Horton searches through the clovers hour after hour. He finally finds his friends again on the three millionth flower! They’ve been banged up pretty bad and the Mayor pleads with Horton to stay with them while they make repairs. Horton, of course, agrees to protect them.
The sour Kangaroo finds Horton again and is angry with him for running wild and chatting with people that never existed, ruining the calm in their peaceable jungle! So, all the Wickersham brothes, uncles, cousins and in-laws tie up Horton and put him in a cage and plan to boil the clover in Beezle-nut oil. Horton calls to the Mayor of Who-ville,
“Dont give up! I believe in you all!
A person’s a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!“
The Mayor asks all the Whos in Who-ville to make as much noise as possible, but it’s not quite enough. All the Whos have to be making noise, so the Mayor runs around Who-ville making sure everyone is doing their part. He runs into apartment 12-J and sees the smallest Who of all, Jo-Jo, playing with a yo-yo, not making any noise at all! So he grabs “the young twerp” and climbs the Eiffelberg tower and tells him:
“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the aid of their country!” he said.
“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”
So the boy clears his throat and shouts “YOPP!” as loud as he can. That one small, extra Yopp rang out clear and clean and everyone heard it!
“Do you see what I mean?…
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the smallest of All!”
The kangaroo and the little kangaroo in her pouch realize Horton is right and decide to help him protect the dust speck too!
The dedication reads: “For My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan.”
Mitsugi Nakamura is a university professor that Seuss met during his trips to Kyoto, Japan after World War II. The concept of the importance of the individual was fairly new in Japan during this time. Seuss had been rather harsh and racist toward the Japanese in his political cartoons during the war and his time in Japan made him realize that they are people and that their country and homes had been badly damaged by the war (more specifically the atomic bombs that the US dropped.) The protection of Horton seems to echo Seuss’ sentiment that Japan needed to be protected while they rebuilt their homes and recovered from the war.
Philip Mel, the author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon, points out that prewar Horton, from Horton Hatches an Egg, dedicates himself to saving one egg, while postwar Horton in this book saves an entire group of people. This shows Seuss’ prewar vs. postwar sentiment on the responsibility of one person to make a difference on a greater scale. This is reiterated by the smallest of all Whos making all the difference by speaking up to save everyone.
Some people may take offense to the fact that Seuss is potentially representing America as an elephant, republican and large and powerful, while Japan is represented as “small” and insignificant to the rest of the jungle. I think this is reading a bit too much into it. I believe Horton is not representing America specifically. We have seen Horton before as a sweet caring creature and I think Seuss reused him because audiences would instantly associate him with being the good guy that is misunderstood. Also, the size of the Whos is more a representation of minority meaning smaller group of people, rather than the stereotype of the actual physical size of Japanese people.
Many people have used the slogan “A person’s a person, no matter how small” as an anti-abortion message. When Seuss discovered that a group was using his words in this manner he threatened to take legal action until they removed it from their campaign. They did stop using it. I don’t know that this means Seuss was pro-choice, but regardless of his feelings on abortion, I think it was extremely important to him that his words were not twisted to fit someone else’s agenda . Especially when his words already carry a very strong message about the importance of recognizing minorities rights.
The original title was Horton Hears ‘Em!
Seuss’ first wife, Helen, worked very closely with him on this book. They worked all through Christmas to get it done and she kept him on track, reminding him that the message was “Whos are small, but still important.” This is the invention of the Whos. The next time we see them will be in How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
The Wickersham Brothers were named after the Wickersham Report in 1931 which reviewed police enforcement of Prohibition. Seuss’ family owned a brewery and were strongly affected by Prohibition so it’s interesting to see this report from 24 years prior show up as bad guys in this story.
The date at the beginning of Horton Hears a Who, May 15th, is mentioned, not only in this book, but also in The Seven Lady Godivas and in If I Ran the Zoo. It was also the day that Seuss was elected as editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth school newspaper, the Jack-O’-Lantern.
I got the film for Christmas. It does a pretty good job of staying true to the original message, but of course has lots of filler to make it a full length movie. The voice acting is well done and only a few parts of it made me cringe. Overall it’s very sweet and fun.
This is the image that goes along with Horton meeting the mayor of Who-ville. It is also the lining on the inside of the front and back covers. It is one of my favorite images from all of Seuss’ books.
“Through the high jungle tree tops, the news quickly spread:
‘He talks to a dust speck! He’s out of his head!
Just look at him walk with that speck on that flower!’
And Horton walked, worrying, almost an hour.
‘Should I put this speck down?…’ Horton thought with alarm.
I can’t put it down. And I won’t! After all
A person’s a person. No matter how small.”
I appreciate that Horton does doubt for a moment, but is still resolute. It shows that he is affected by what everyone else says, but even when he is being made fun of, he knows he is right and that what he is doing is important.
Thanks for reading,