Last Updated September 5, 2023.
When Doug first begins school in Marysville, his teachers treat him poorly. They believe that either he or his older brother Christopher is guilty of robbing Spicer's Deli, and they display their belief that Doug is a "hoodlum in training" by either speaking rudely to him or ignoring him completely. One day, though, when Doug has nearly given up for the day, his science teacher offers him a glimmer of hope. At first, Mr. Ferris appears to be the same as the other teachers, singling out Doug with a "trick" question. Doug does his best to answer, and Mr. Ferris explains the importance of the question and Doug's answer.
"It means, Doug Swieteck, that in this class, you are not your brother."
Mr. Ferris started Clarence rocking again, and I felt the horizon settle.
With this, Mr. Ferris shows Doug that he is willing to treat Doug like an individual and judge him on his actions rather than on rumors. The reference to the "horizon" echoes what Mr. Powell has been teaching Doug about drawing during their sessions at the library. As he tells Doug,
The artist gives them a stable horizon that you can't help but see.
The horizon is a critical component of a drawing because it serves as a reference point. A skewed or blurry horizon contributes to an unbalanced drawing; the horizon must be clear and defined. Doug's feeling of his horizon settling shows that—in Mr. Ferris's class, at least—his frame of reference has stabilized.
Doug's home life is fraught with struggle; his father is an alcoholic who is physically and verbally abusive to Doug and Doug's mother. Doug knows his father is to blame for the family's misery, but he is afraid to express this to either of his parents. Consequently, Doug harbors a great deal of anger and frustration that, apart from the occasional negative comment, he doesn't express out loud. Because the novel is written from Doug's perspective, readers are privy to his anger at the world, particularly through his comments about how "stupid" he believes everything to be. Remarking on the stupidity of his surroundings is the coping mechanism Doug uses to convince himself that everything around him is just as bad as his difficult home life.
So what if everyone in stupid Marysville comes into the stupid library every stupid day? So what?