Because Justin Morgan Had a Horse is based in fact, the novel contains a healthy dollop of fictionalized biography. Singing master Justin Morgan, apprentice Joel Goss (and his harsh, penny-pinching father), sawyer and innkeeper Thomas Chase, President James Monroe, and the mongrel stallion Little Bub (later known as “the Morgan horse”) are rooted in history. Yankee stubbornness, Vermont pride, American pluck, frontier self-reliance, big-city foppishness, and British high-handedness add spice to Henry’s approach to American history. Against the background of post-revolutionary war America, Joel Goss comes of age and finds his own set of values.
Although life in the United States has changed markedly in the centuries since Joel and Little Bub lived, the novel’s treatment of the challenges faced by young people remains timeless. One such challenge involves the need for respect and approval. In search of unconditional love and acceptance, both young people and adults often seek the companionship of animals; gentling and mastering a horse gives Joel a much-needed dose of self-esteem, especially in the face of his father’s continuing harshness and disapproval. Because Little Bub sets the standard for a new breed, and because Joel sensed the colt’s potential when others scoffed at the runt, Joel experiences further affirmation from adults when his judgment proves superior to that of many experienced farmers and horse breeders.
(The entire section is 648 words.)
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