Charlotte’s Web Summary

EB White

Charlotte’s Web

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Charlotte’s Web Summary

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Charlotte’s Web is a popular children’s novel that was published in 1952. The work focuses on themes of friendship, sacrifice and loyalty, which are addressed by way of talking animals, thus making Charlotte’s Web an animal fable. The main protagonist is a pig named Wilbur, while his friend throughout most of the narrative is a spider named Charlotte. The novel was so popular that is was even made into a film.

The narrative begins when an eight-year-old girl named Fern finds out that her father, John Arable, is going to kill a piglet simply because he is the runt of the litter. Fern is heartbroken, and implores her father to save the piglet. Though Mr. Arable knows it will be a lot of work to take care of the piglet, perhaps too much work, he eventually relents and allows Fern to raise the piglet on her own. In this way, he hopes to show Fern the value of taking care of something and the sheer amount of hard work that must go into the enterprise.

Fern is undaunted in her task, however, and nurses the piglet, which she names Wilbur, for quite some time. She feeds Wilbur with a baby bottle and takes him on hilarious walks in her doll stroller. By raising Wilbur, Fern comes to truly love him and care for his wellbeing. Her happy life with Wilbur is soon tested, however, when her father informs her that Wilbur is too old to keep and must be sold. He advises that her uncle, Homer Zuckerman, who actually has a farm nearby, purchase Wilbur. Mr. Zuckerman agrees, and pays six dollars for Wilbur. In addition, he allows Fern to visit whenever she wants to.

Now in a new home, Wilbur finds himself increasingly lonely. Fern can only visit so much, and none of the other farm animals want to be his friend or even play with him. One day, however, Wilbur hears a calm voice that says it will befriend him. The next morning, Wilbur finds that the voice belongs to Charlotte A. Cavatica, who is actually a rather large gray spider. Wilbur is at first doubtful of Charlotte’s friendship, and her nature of needing blood for survival almost turns him away from befriending her. In time, however, he learns to accept Charlotte and her nature, and the two become good friends.

Wilbur is soon faced with another crisis when it is revealed that he is meant to be killed by Mr. Zuckerman for Christmas dinner. Desperate and afraid, he turns to Charlotte for help. Charlotte calms him, telling him that she will craft a plan to save his life. After a few days go by, Charlotte comes up with an ingenious plan. She begins spinning messages in her web above Wilbur’s door, praising Wilbur as “Some Pig!” and “Terrific.” The messages are shocking to Mr. Zuckerman, and in time both the Zuckermans and the townspeople come to enjoy the messages, and the pig they describe.

Given the accolades and the fame of Wilbur, Mr. Zuckerman then decides to enter Wilbur into a contest at the County Fair. Charlotte again assists Wilbur and encourages him in this endeavor, and Wilbur ends up winning the fair’s top prize for Mr. Zuckerman, thus ensuring that Wilbur will not be killed.

Though the fair is a huge success, especially due to Charlotte’s initial plan and subsequent coaching, Charlotte dies. Wilbur learns that she is at the end of her life, and is too weak to return to the farm. While at the fair, however, Charlotte lays her eggs and weaves them into a web sac. With the help of a rat named Templeton, Wilbur manages to procure the egg sac and bring it back to the farm, where he places them in Zuckerman’s barn. In time, the eggs hatch. Almost all of the baby spiders leave, thus leaving Wilbur alone again. Three of the baby spiders, however—three sisters—remain behind. The three baby spiders stay with Wilbur and become his friend, just like their mother once did.

As a fable, Charlotte’s Web teaches important moral lessons by use of animals. Though the trials and tribulations of Wilbur, Fern and Charlotte may seem far-removed from reality, they are meant to voice realistic character traits. Fern’s sense of justice and loyalty in loving Wilbur despite him being a runt reveal how humankind in general should view those seemingly less fortunate or at a disadvantage. Charlotte’s friendship and her nature as a spider reveal how people can have different sides to them, and how one should not judge a book by its cover. Moreover, Charlotte’s character helps to show how nature and life cycles exist, and are told in a way that children can better understand themes of death and loss. These themes transcend the pages of the book, however, to show people in general that life is both precious and short, and that the moments spent with friends and loved ones are to be cherished.