Originally written in 1966, Clifford Takes a Trip by Norman Bridwell (ISBN: 0590442600) is the third in a long-running series of wonderfully illustrated books about Clifford the Big Red Dog. In this volume, Emily Elizabeth Howard (Clifford's eight year old human friend) and her family go on vacation and Clifford becomes lonely, so he decides to follow the Howard family on their vacation. Along the way, Clifford gets stuck in wet cement, causes a massive traffic jam on the interstate, and avoids a toll bridge by swimming across the river before rejoining his beloved Emily Elizabeth and the rest of the Howard family in the mountains.
Between the lines and amply-colored drawings of this literary masterpiece, one can find layers upon layers of commentary on society and the internal struggles of those trapped within its fierce grip.
Clifford: The Classic Literary Outsider
Clifford is manifested in this story as an oversized red dog, but his interactions with humans throughout the book implies that he is indeed a human character at his core. In other words, he is clearly an outsider; his enormous size causes him to be a social outcast and his bright coloring denies him acceptance in canine or human social circles. In Clifford's desperate need for acceptance, he has sought out a non-canine companion in young Emily Elizabeth, who is willing to look beyond Clifford's unorthodox size and appearance.
Clifford's lack of social graces, repeatedly demonstrated throughout the book, is likely a result of his unorthodox childhood; he clearly has no canine companions that are similar to him and thus has no natural role model for behavior. Emily Elizabeth is merely a child and doesn't provide Clifford with the required social skills that a canine needs to interact well with human society (i.e., stay out of traffic, avoid busy humans, etc.); this, combined with Clifford's gigantism, leads him further down the road of the social outcast. To put it simply, Clifford is a social misfit in the vein of Huckleberry Finn or Holden Caulfield; he has a great intelligence, but his lack of socialization and awkward traits force him into being a social outcast.
Emily Elizabeth: Friend or Foe?
On the outer surface, Emily seems to care deeply for Clifford. She speaks to him directly and lovingly, in a way that no other humans seem to. Yet she is quite willing to abandon Clifford in his time of need (p. 5), when he is truly feeling alone. Clifford's nature causes him not to accept this rejection, of course, setting up the plot for the book, but the start of the book directly implies a long-standing relationship between Emily Elizabeth and Clifford. She clearly understands that he might follow, and orders him to stay behind by himself. What causes this rejection?
Clearly, the blame must fall on her parents, who, like the Thenardiers in Les Miserables, seek only to dominate the innocent young girl. Our Valjean, Clifford, yearns not only for her companionship, but also seeks to rescue her from this domination.
Clifford in Society
Clifford's interactions with the larger world demonstrates a clear rejection of modern values by Clifford. Clifford's simple and carefree lifestyle, demonstrated enjoyment of digging, and disruptive behavior in modern society clearly analogizes Clifford to the agrarian ancestry that we all share; Clifford symbolizes our simpler agricultural heritage.
Yet this heritage is at odds with the modern world. No longer do we work with our hands in the dirt; many of us now use our minds and progress through a world much different than the one that Clifford arrives from. This book is much the inverse of Deliverance; rather than trying to bring the modern world into the backwards ways of Georgia, Clifford brings a simplistic life structure into the modern world.
The Howards: Economic Aristocracy
While Emily Elizabeth clearly sympathises with the plight of Clifford, her parents do not. They wish to spend their free time at their summer estate in the mountains, where they can spend their free time skiing on the slopes of Aspen with other families that can afford such luxury.
Their icy detachment from the middle class and the poor is clearly troubling to Emily Elizabeth, as symbolized by her desire to not leave Clifford behind for the trip. She tells him to stay solely due to the orders from her parents, who clearly do not want any such lower class doggerel to follow them as they try to impress the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Throughout the book, Clifford is clearly making a political stand in favor of libertarianism. Clifford wants merely to be free to live his life, yet the rules of a society that rejects him prevents him from doing this. Clifford's interaction with the traffic jam makes this clear; much like D-Fens from Falling Down, he simply rejects the entire concept of a traffic jam and finds his own way, much to the displeasure of the police, who enforce these arbitrary rules on our hero.
Clifford's giant paw print in a patch of fresh cement is another clear demonstration of libertarian philosophy. Here, Clifford is clearly stating his feelings about publicly-funded works projects, particularly those that seem to be merely serving a business. Doesn't it make more sense for the business to fund the sidewalk themselves, rather than putting the burden on the public? One pawprint tells us what Clifford thinks.
From a politico-economic standpoint, Clifford is clearly a Communist. This book was written in 1966 at the peak of the Cold War, in which the enormous "red menace" was often feared; Clifford is large and red. Clifford also behaves in a collectivist fashion, not understanding the concept of individual property.
Taking A Trip To Your Local Bookstore
Clifford Takes a Trip is widely available in both the United States and the United Kingdom; it is typically available in softcover and can be found in the children's literature section. It can also be found on most internet booksellers, including amazon.com.
This writeup was written for The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest.