As with many issues today, there is conflict over the meaning of a story. Pro-Life activists are using the words of the late Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, to promote their social and political agenda. It is entirely likely that the author was furthuring his own social and political views when he wrote the book, but, after all, he was the author. The problem that we return to in figuring out how this story begins and how the story plays out is in context. Ah, yes, context again. Must we continue to beat this drum?
“Horton Hears a Who” was published in 1954. The book is about an elephant, for those of you who haven’t read it, who discovers a small community of folks, the Who’s. residing on a speck of dust. The story has recently been adapted into a movie and was directed my Mrs. Geisel, the widow of Dr. Suess. With the release of the movie, a new wave of publicity is surrounding the story. There is a line in the book that Horton says, “After all, a person is a person, no matter how small.” A large group of Pro-Life activists has latched on to this phrase and is applauding the story for supporting their position.
If we look at some of the dynamics of the story and try to understand the context in which it was written, however, we can see that abortion was not at all what the great Doctor had in mind when he wrote the story and not what his wife had in mind when producing the movie
1954 was a time of growing tension and momentum for the civil rights movement. In fact, the The National Negro Network was founded in January of that year, the first African American radio network. Communism was on the hearts and minds of Americans and the Goverment officials announced that hydrogen bombs had been tested in the Pacific Ocean. The first Elvis Presley record was aired on a radio station in Memphis, Tennessee. The Vietnam Conflict was heating up and it was becoming clear that Americans would very likely be involved. The world into which Horton the Elephant was born was a troubled world of hatred and bigotry.
The story of Horton is a story about a great big animal befriending the little guys and promising to be faithful to them. Theodore Geisel was a brilliant man and was a master of his craft. He didn’t miss the implications of world events and he knew how to capture the elements of our society in the beautiful world of the child’s imagination. Audrey Geisel has made it clear via her lawyer, Karl Zobell, that “She doesn’t like [for others] to hijack Dr. Seuss characters or material to front their own points of view.”
This is not a family of political activism, it is a family of worldliness and concern. “A person is a person no matter how small,” is not a statement about a political position, it is a statement about humanity and our connectedness. It is a call to rise above our differences and see one another as equals.
In an article on Governor Elliot Spitzer, Ruben Obrego, a pro-life acivist, says,
“In light of this problem, I’m not so surprised that Gov. Spitzer is such a hard hearted abortion supporter. After all, ripping babies apart is just the price to be paid for sex without responsibility or commitment.”
This language is not what Horton is all about. Protecting the less fortunate, including children, infants, fetus’, troubled teens, unwed mothers, broken and humiliated ex-Governers, and all of the less fortunate among us, is what Horton the Elephant stands for.
We could all learn a thing or two
from from the story,
“Horton Hears a Who.”