I believe I was a junior high student when I first read Charlotte’s Web and, though I remembered the basic gist of the story, I couldn’t recall if I liked it or not. When I recently came upon a battered paperback copy of E. B. White’s famous novel I was at first reluctant to reread it, for I knew there were sad parts. But I reminded myself that I’ve survived reading many sad stories, so I decided to see if my grown up self liked the book.
One morning eight-year-old Fern learns that her father, Mr. Arable, planned to kill the runt of a litter of pigs. She pleaded with him to spare the pig’s life, so he agreed to allow her to care for the animal. When Fern’s older brother learns his sister was given a pig he asked if he could have one as well, but his father tells him that only early risers get presents. “Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig.”
Fern loved her pig, and named him Wilbur. She’d warm milk for Wilbur, tie on his bib, and hold the bottle for him. When he grew a little older Wilbur would follow Fern all around the farm. But when the pig was five weeks old Mr. Arable said that Wilbur had to be sold, so arrangements were made to sell him to Fern’s Uncle Homer Zuckerman.
Wilbur’s new home was in the lower part of Mr. Zuckerman’s barn, and Fern came almost everyday to visit him. She sat so quietly on an old milking stool next to Wilbur’s pen that the geese and sheep learned to trust her, and in time Fern understood the conversations the animals had with each other. Sometimes Fern told her parents what the animals had to say, and that worried her mother, who informed her that animals could not talk. However her father suggested that their adult ears might not hear what their daughter could hear.
Wilbur enjoyed Fern’s visits, but she wasn’t there during most of the day and he grew lonely. He wanted a friend who could always be nearby.
One day a spider by the name of Charlotte A. Cavatica said she would be his friend, and that made Wilbur happy – until he learned Charlotte trapped, killed and ate flies, which seemed quite blood-thristy to the young pig. But Charlotte explained that while Wilbur had his food brought to him spiders had to work for their food. Plus, if it wasn’t for spiders eatings flies and bugs the insects would multiply and take over the earth. That made sense to Wilbur, and he began to focus on the good qualities of his new friend.
Summer came, and Wilbur was enjoying his life until one of the sheep informed him he was being fattened up to be killed and eaten. Wilbur began to scream and cry, but Charlotte told him that she would not let him be harmed.
One evening Charlotte tore a large section out of the middle of her web and began to weave something new. The next morning, when the farm hand came to feed Wilbur, he saw a message had been woven into the spider web: SOME PIG.
The farm hand rushed off to get Mr. Zuckerman, who drove to his minister’s house to tell him about the miracle on his farm. Even before the minister was able to preach a sermon on the meaning of the miracle folks from all parts of the county were coming to see Wilbur and the remarkable spider web.
Charlotte held meetings with the other barnyard animals (including an unpleasant rat named Templeton) to discuss new messages she could weave, and in time her web proclaimed that Wilbur was TERRIFIC, and then RADIANT.
Mr. Zuckerman decided to take Wilbur to the county fair so that more people could see his wonderful pig, and Wilbur found out he would not be killed. However, Wilbur’s troubles weren’t over, for spiders don’t live as long as pigs who aren’t turned into ham and bacon, and little girls grow up and find new interests.
Would Wilbur be left with no friends to keep him company? And if he does find new friends, could they ever mean as much to him as his beloved Charlotte?
When I first read Charlotte’s Web I may have considered it to be a book about talking farm animals, but now I see it as a story about friendship. Since my first reading of the novel I’ve lost friends through death, and through the gradual realization that we no longer share the same interests. Plus I’ve met up with folks who were as silly or annoying as many of the sheep and geese that shared Wilbur’s barn – folks that meant well and who can be classified as friends. And, alas, I’ve lived or worked around people as self-serving as Templeton the rat, and even they can be of use if you meet their terms.
I enjoyed my time reading about Wilbur and his world, especially since I’ve had the honor of meeting many fine people who share my love of creating stories. I can relate to Wilbur’s bittersweet acceptance that he will never love any of his new friends as much as he loved Charlotte. At the end of the book the reader learns: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” I can attest to the importance of those virtues!
If you would like to read Charlotte’s Web you should be able to find it at a public library, or from many booksellers.