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“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
by E.B. White 1952
I gave this book 4 stars because I liked the characters but I prefer a happier plot.
- Wilbur is a thanatophobic, rambunctious pig, the runt of his litter. He is often strongly emotional.
- Charlotte A. Cavatica, or simply Charlotte, is a spider who befriends Wilbur. In some passages, she is the heroine of the story.
- John Arable: Wilbur's first owner.
- Fern Arable, John's daughter, who adopts Wilbur when he's a piglet, and later visits him. She is the only human in the story capable of understanding nonhuman conversation.
- Templeton is a rat who helps Charlotte and Wilbur only when offered food. He serves as a somewhat caustic, self-serving comic relief to the plot.
- Avery Arable is the elder brother of Fern and John's son. Like Templeton, he is a source of comic relief.
- Homer Zuckerman is Fern’s uncle who keeps Wilbur in his barn. He has a wife, Edith, and an assistant named Lurvy.
After a little girl named Fern Arable pleads for the life of the runt of a litter of piglets, one spring morning, her father gives her the pig to nurture, and she names him Wilbur. She treats him as a pet, but a month later, no longer small, Wilbur is sold to Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman. In Zuckerman's barnyard Wilbur yearns for companionship but is snubbed by the other animals. He is befriended by a barn spider named Charlotte, whose web sits in a doorway overlooking Wilbur's enclosure. When Wilbur discovers that he is being raised for slaughter, she promises to hatch a plan guaranteed to spare his life. Fern often sits on a stool, listening to the animals' conversation, but over the course of the story, as she starts to mature, she begins to find other interests.
As the summer passes, Charlotte ponders the question of how to save Wilbur. At last, she comes up with a plan, which she proceeds to implement. Reasoning that Zuckerman would not kill a famous pig, Charlotte weaves words or short phrases in praise of Wilbur into her web, making the barn, and pig, a tourist attraction, with the web believed to be a miracle. At the county fair, to which he is accompanied by Charlotte and the rat Templeton, Wilbur fails to win the blue ribbon, but is awarded a special prize by the judges. Charlotte, by then dying as barn spiders do in the fall, hears the presentation over the public address system and knows that the prize means Zuckerman will cherish Wilbur for as long as the pig lives, and will never slaughter him for his meat. She does not return to the farm with Wilbur and Templeton, remaining at the fairgrounds to die, but allows Wilbur to take with him her egg sac, from which her children will hatch in the spring.
Wilbur waits out the winter, a winter he would not have survived but for Charlotte. Delighted when the tiny spiders hatch, he is devastated when most leave the barn. Three remain to take up residence in Charlotte's old doorway. Pleased at finding new friends, Wilbur names one of them Nellie, while the remaining two name themselves Joy and Aranea. Further generations of spiders keep him company in subsequent years.
“Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
“Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print.”
“Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.”
“Never hurry and never worry!”
Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985) was an American writer. For more than fifty years, he was a contributor to The New Yorker magazine. He was also a co-author of the English language style guide The Elements of Style. In addition, he wrote books for children, including Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte's Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970). In a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, Charlotte's Web came in first in their poll of the top one hundred children's novels.
Charlotte's Web was published three years after White began writing it. White's editor Ursula Nordstrom said that one day in 1952, E. B. White arrived at her office and handed her a new manuscript, the only copy of Charlotte's Web then in existence, which she read soon after and enjoyed. Charlotte's Web was released on October 15, 1952.
Since White published Death of a Pig in 1948, an account of his own failure to save a sick pig (bought for butchering), Charlotte's Web can be seen as White's attempt "to save his pig in retrospect". White's overall motivation for the book has not been revealed and he has written "I haven't told why I wrote the book, but I haven't told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze".
When White met the spider who originally inspired Charlotte, he called her Charlotte Epeira (after Epeira sclopetaria, the Grey Cross spider, now known as Larinioides sclopetarius), before discovering that the more modern name for that genus was Aranea. In the novel, Charlotte gives her full name as "Charlotte A. Cavatica", revealing her as a barn spider, an orb-weaver with the scientific name Araneus cavaticus.
The arachnid anatomical terms (mentioned in the beginning of chapter nine) and other information that White used, came mostly from American Spiders by Willis J. Gertsch and The Spider Book by John Henry Comstock, both of which combine a sense of poetry with scientific fact. White incorporated details from Comstock's accounts of baby spiders, most notably the "flight" of the young spiders on silken parachutes. White sent Gertsch’s book to illustrator Garth Williams. Williams’ initial drawings depicted a spider with a woman’s face, and White suggested that he simply draw a realistic spider instead.
White originally opened the novel with an introduction of Wilbur and the barnyard (which later became the third chapter) but decided to begin the novel by introducing Fern and her family on the first page. White’s publishers were at one point concerned with the book’s ending and tried to get White to change it.
Charlotte's Web has become White's most famous book; but White treasured his privacy and that of the farmyard and barn that helped inspire the novel, which have been kept off limits to the public according to his wishes.
Death is a major theme seen throughout Charlotte's Web and is brought forth by that of the spider, Charlotte's web. According to Norton D. Kinghorn, Charlotte's web acts as a barrier that separates two worlds. These worlds are that of life and death. Scholar Amy Ratelle says that through Charlotte's continual killing and eating of flies throughout the novel, White makes the concept of death normal for Wilbur and for the readers. Neither Wilbur nor the rat Templeton see death as a part of their lives; Templeton sees it only as something that will happen at some time in the distant future, while Wilbur views it as the end of everything.
Wilbur constantly has death on his mind at night when he is worrying over whether or not he will be slaughtered. Even though Wilbur is able to escape his death, Charlotte, the spider who takes care of Wilbur, is not able to escape her own death. Charlotte passes away, but according to Trudelle H. Thomas, "Yet even in the face of death, life continues and ultimate goodness wins out". Jordan Anne Deveraux explains that E.B. White discusses a few realities of death. From the novel, readers learn that death can be delayed, but it cannot be avoided forever.
For Norton D. Kinghorn, Charlotte's web also acts as a signifier of change. The change Kinghorn refers to is that of both the human world and the farm/barn world. For both of these worlds change is something that cannot be avoided. Along with the changing of the seasons throughout the novel, the characters also go through their own changes. Jordan Anne Deveraux also explains that Wilbur and Fern each go through their changes to transition from childhood closer to adulthood throughout the novel. This is evidenced by Wilbur accepting death and Fern giving up her dolls. Wilbur grows throughout the novel, allowing him to become the caretaker of Charlotte's children just as she was a caretaker for him, as is explained by scholar Sue Misheff. But rather than accept the changes that are forced upon them, according to Sophie Mills, the characters aim to go beyond the limits of change. In a different way, Wilbur goes through a change when he switches locations. Amy Ratelle explains that when he moves from Fern's house to Homer Zuckerman's farm, Wilbur goes from being a loved pet to a farm animal.
Fern, the little girl in the novel, goes from being a child to being more of an adult. As she goes through this change, Kinghorn notes that it can also be considered a fall from innocence. Wilbur also starts out young and innocent at the beginning of the novel. A comparison is drawn between the innocence and youth of Fern and Wilbur. Sophie Mills states that the two characters can identify with one another. Both Wilbur and Fern are, at first, horrified by the realization that life must end; however, by the end of the novel, both characters learn to accept that everything must die. According to Matthew Scully, the novel presents the difference in the worldview of adults versus the world view of children. Children, such as Fern, believe killing another for food is wrong, while adults have learned to justify this action