E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is a widely read children’s story first published in 1952. It tells the story of a friendship between a farmyard pig named Wilbur and a grey spider named Charlotte. Wilbur is a spring pig, and he is distressed to learn that he is being fattened for slaughter in the fall. Charlotte resolves to save Wilbur. Through the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur, White explores themes of death, loyalty, and friendship.
Fern Arable, an eight-year-old farm girl, is an early riser. One morning, she wakes and sees her father, John, heading outside with an axe with the intention of slaughtering a runt pig. Fern objects and begs her father to let her nurse the piglet to strength and health. Fern’s father agrees, and she feeds the piglet from a milk bottle every day. Although he is just a runt, the pig grows well and Fern names him Wilbur. Before long, Fern nurses Wilbur to the point that he can eat food, though all of the other pigs in the litter have by now been sold. John would now like to sell Wilbur as well, and the Arables decide to sell Wilbur to Fern’s uncle, Homer Zuckerman. Fern will be able to visit Wilbur.
Wilbur’s life on the Zuckerman farm gets off to a rough start. He finds the days long and lonely. When he complains to himself about his loneliness, a goose informs Wilbur that there is a loose board in the barn and that he can escape. However, the second he is out of the fenced area, Mrs. Zuckerman sees that he has been let out. The Zuckermans catch Wilbur and return him to the barn. Actually, Wilbur is quite happy to return to the barn, where there is a lot of food and a place to sleep. Besides, Wilbur reflects, he is too young to go out alone into the world.
However, he still has no company in the barn. Resiliently, Wilbur works out a daily schedule, which revolves around eating and napping. Unfortunately, when it rains, his plans are ruined and Wilbur finds himself bored once again. The lamb refuses to play with Wilbur because pigs mean “less than nothing” to her, which Wilbur points out is an illogical statement because nothing can be less than nothing. Still, the lamb remains uninterested in his company. Templeton, a rat, also refuses to play because he is a “glutton, but not a merrymaker.” Wilbur is about to despair as he goes to bed that night, but an anonymous voice informs him that it will be his friend.
Wilbur tries to discover...
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Charlotte's Web is an animal fable that deals with several important aspects of a happy life: friendship, heroism, constancy, and death. And yet the story treats these topics indirectly. The primary appeal of Charlotte's Web is its charming story. White allows the characters to explore their relationships with each other in such a way that the story's themes grow naturally from these interactions. In the Zuckermans' bam, unbelievable things happen in very believable ways. Animals talk, a spider writes words in its web, and a pig wins fame that can only be described as undying, since he avoids being turned into hams and sausages. Yet all these characters act from perfectly natural motives. Any reader will recognize and, perhaps, identify with Wilbur's fear and loneliness. Charlotte's Web is a work of fantasy that draws much of its strength from White's evocation of the real world of the farmyard.
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