The Existential Message From “Horton Hears A Who”

Audrey J. Powers

Dark Night of the Soul

“Dark Night of the Soul” is the title of a poem written by 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. Like Saint John, every soul has its dark night. Some, like those suffering with depression, experience more dark nights than others. Author and world renowned psychic Sylvia Browne said about Earth in her book, Souls Perfection, that if we simply survive an earthly incarnation, we have done something heroic! She believes we choose to come to Earth in order to experience certain trials, and to learn lessons from them. To Sylvia, Earth is a sort of school – a “boot camp” if you will. The message from both these authors, a saint and a psychic, is that life is hard. If you don’t prefer to listen to them, then remember that Buddha said it too, and Christ also demonstrated it. Christ’s life showed that they’ll crucify you every time (metaphorically speaking). This is not an “easy” planet to be on. We arrive with a cold slap on the butt, and exit as they throw dirt in our face! By now, you must be thinking, “Wow, Nina really had a bad night!” The point is: we all experience them. Moments when life seems cruel, meaningless and hopeless, nothing more than a sadistic joke. There are moments when life seems both random and harsh, moments when you say to yourself, “What’s the use? What’s all the suffering for?” These dark nights of despair leave us questioning the meaning of our existence. Strangely, it’s not until we experience Dark Nights of the Soul that we can appreciate the light.

The Light At The End of the Tunnel

You’ve heard the saying, “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel”? Light looks brighter because of the darkness around it. The polarity of life is the breadth, depth and meaning of it. Not until we have seen our shadow (Jung) can we appreciate our light. “In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts” ( Simply, the contrast between darkness (unknowing) and light (knowing) defines living, giving it more significance. The cool drink is cooler on a hot Summer’s day. The explosion into laughter, orgasm or grief is relieving, and wouldn’t be cathartic without the precipitous state of withholding. We humans experience life as meaningful because of it’s polarities. The Dark Night of the Soul, though painful, enables us to savor and appreciate the morning’s bright dawn. The meaning of “Horton Hears A Who” broke upon my mind two years after having seeing it; suddenly, in the foreground on my mind, the characters seemed less Dr. Seuss-ish, and surprisingly spiritual. It seemed to me, what was originally a touching child’s book, was offering a profoundly adult lesson that I had missed.

We Are Here!

During my “Dark Night of the Soul,” as I pondered why there has to be such suffering in the world, I sent out a question, or maybe it was a prayer, but it sounded like this: “Do you know we are here?” As I did, I remembered the storyline of Horton Hears A Who, and how the Whos in Who-ville had, in desperate distress, trumpeted a similar message to the Universe: “We are here, we are here, we are here!” Suddenly, I felt small, like the Whos; a single voice in a minuscule colony of souls who lived on the pin-point sized dot on the head of a dandelion. I wondered if God was like Horton the elephant, goofy but kindly-hearted, living a carefree and blissful existence, caught unawares by the tiny sound of the Whos trumpeted message: “We are here!” I thought, if there is a God, I hope He is a big fellow with a soft heart, like Horton. I don’t even care if He is goofy like Horton (played by Jim Carey). I also thought about how, even in Horton’s world, there was an antagonist; a disparaging, vengeful voice (played by Carol Burnett). I smiled all over again when I thought about the yellow puffball named Katy, my favorite character in the film, whose one-liner delighted my daughter and I: “In my world, everybody eats rainbows, and poops butterflies.” In Horton’s world, as in our world, there are agonists, antagonists, and the clueless, quirky souls, too. I thought: if in the movie Horton represented God, and we are the Whos-small, seemingly insignificant and randomly falling through space, what’s the message of the film?

A Person Is A Person, No Matter How Small

Throughout the movie, Horton repeated a mantra which kept him “saving” Who-ville from destruction, and it was: “A person is a person, no matter how small.” What Horton meant was: regardless of the immense size difference between himself and the Whos, the Whos were as important to Horton. He couldn’t let them perish when he had the power to save them. What we found endearing about Horton was that he valued life, he held it sacred. Even life that was so small, by comparison, that he couldn’t see it, and had to strain to hear it. If there is a God, I hope in this regard, He is like Horton. In the Dark Night of the Soul, we are sending out a message, whether it is whispered in prayer, in thought, or shouted from the rooftops: “We are here!” The existential Message I finally saw in “Horton Hears A Who” was: Everyone matters, no matter how small; in sum, every one has value. If you believe there is a God, or a Higher Power, or whatever you want to call it, then allow this simple child’s movie to remind you, as it did me, that the Creator, like Horton, hears us, and is moved by our requests. And if you are an atheist, and do not believe, then consider the movie’s theme anyhow: we are all equals, and therefore, everyone is worthy of compassion. Whatever your spiritual belief, there was a hidden message for you in “Horton Hears A Who,” and I wanted to share it with you.

Oh, and one more thing… It wasn’t until I allowed myself to grieve that this insight came to me. Insight often sneaks up on us when we have opened our hearts. Light follows darkness every time.


Dark night of the soul. (2011). Retrieved from the World Wide Web on July 22, 2011.

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