Clifford is a friendly dog, one who supplies love and knowledge to the puny proletariat inhabitants of a small rural town. The more love he receives in payment, the larger he grows, until his owner, Emily Elizabeth, tells him simply to “stop.”
But it is never that simple. One can’t just halt growth for the sake of the motivation-lacking peasants because they feel like they’re not getting their fair shake. It is market growth, symbolically depicted by a large dog, ironically colored red, which helps society flourish. The working class depends upon Clifford’s growth and tutelage, and it is ultimately their incompetence which perpetuates this dynamic. They are to blame for his growth and they will bend to his will, because they need him. That’s the message Norman Bridwell sends us in the timeless masterpiece, Clifford the Firehouse Dog.
Clifford begins his life in a previous installment. He is puny, but upon being fed by the city peasants he begins to grow to titanic proportions. He grows so large that he must be relocated to a small rural setting where he will no longer damage those around him. In Clifford the Firehouse Dog, Clifford returns to the city to engage the peasant class once more. He mingles with them, attempts to emulate them. But when he stops (working), drops (onto a couch and collects welfare) and rolls (with the pace of government assistance) like the apathetic peasantry, he destroys the paltry vendors upon the street and then pays them off so they’ll keep their mouths shut. No, Clifford is too large to simply drop out of the rat race. He is a mechanism which cannot be stopped. Even when Emily demands he stop growing, just as the weak and downtrodden demand an end to monopoly, he simply spreads out, wreaking havoc on the small businesses surrounding.
In this respect Clifford is the Wal*Mart of loveable children’s story characters. But he is so much more. When danger calls, Clifford outruns the peasantry to the scene of atrocity. He begins rescuing people before the others arrive. And when they do finally arrive, he kindly gives them their fair shake, allowing them to fail at each attempt to save their peers before he jumps in to save the day.
This is where a potential problem with Bridwell’s metaphorical depiction of an idealized capitalist society begins. Bridwell’s society is built upon the presupposition that the endeavors of the working class are fruitless. Every attempt they make to save others are met with failure. “The heavy hose was hard to unravel. Clifford gave the firefighters a hand.” (Bridwell). This depiction of the working class as incompetent allows Clifford to jump in and save the day, as if these working class veterans have never successfully stopped a fire or successfully completed the tasks allotted to them. The emphasis on worker incompetence allows the glorification of Clifford as a necessary component of the social mechanism.
But is Bridwell’s depiction really flawed, or is it a carefully veiled blueprint for capitalist control over the working class drones in society, one which transcends the shallow capitalist fantasies of shortsighted writers like Ayn Rand? I vouch for the latter. To control the masses, the upper class must make themselves a necessity. They must disempower and emphasize the futility of struggle against their authority. They must breed fear and danger that outweighs their own inherent fear the working class has for them . . . and then squelch the greater dangers they fabricate. Only then can they be lauded as heroes just as Clifford is at the end of the book. Essentially, the Mega Corporation becomes a part of the people by being a necessary superior force. Marx be damned.