At a Glance

Young Fern Arable stops her father from killing a pig named Wilbur, the runt of his litter. When Wilbur grows up, he's sent to live on the Zuckerman farm, where he spends his days eating and sleeping to fight off loneliness. Eventually, he meets Charlotte, a gray spider.

  • Charlotte and Wilbur become fast friends. Charlotte finds Wilbur's innocence and enthusiasm charming, and she's amused when he ties a string around his tail and pretends that he can weave his own web.
  • One day, the farm animals learn that Wilbur is being fattened for slaughter. Charlotte comes up with a plan to save Wilbur: she writes the words "some pig" in her web. People are astonished, and Mr. Zuckerman enters Wilbur in a competition at the County Fair.
  • At the County Fair, Charlotte writes the word "humble" in her web. Soon after, she lays a sac of over five hundred eggs—her final act before dying. When the eggs hatch, Wilbur is surprised to see Charlotte's children drifting away on the breeze. Three of them stay behind to be Wilbur's friends.


Extended Summary

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 the identity of his potential friend. It is not the goose, who is busy keeping her eggs warm before they hatch. It is also not any of the sheep, who are irritated by Wilbur’s interruption. It turns out that Wilbur’s mysterious friend is a spider named Charlotte A. Cavatica. At first, Wilbur struggles to find Charlotte because she lives in a web at the entrance of the barn. Charlotte has an impressive vocabulary, impeccable manners, and is very pretty.

However, Charlotte is very different from Wilbur. She is near-sighted, so she cannot see Wilbur as clearly as he can see her. She is a predator and drinks the blood of her prey, which Wilbur finds alarming. However, Charlotte explains that when a fly is caught in her web, she bites it to put it to sleep so it will not feel any pain. She wraps the fly in silk thread from her spinnerets. Wilbur is satisfied that Charlotte is kind and that she is actually doing everyone a big favor by feeding on flies. He is impressed that Charlotte and her ancestors have been trapping flies for thousands of years. Although Charlotte at first appears cruel, she has a loyal heart.

Fern is visiting Wilbur when a sheep reveals that Wilbur is being fattened up for slaughter at the end of summer. Both Fern and Wilbur are shocked to discover this news, and the latter panics. However, before Wilbur can make any more noise, Charlotte interrupts and informs Wilbur that she will save him. Although she does not know how, she will figure something out. In the meantime, she sternly tells Wilbur to calm down.

Back home, Fern tells her parents the news from...

(The entire section is 1654 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charlotte's Web is an animal fable that deals with several important aspects of a happy life: friendship, heroism, constancy, and...

(The entire section is 148 words.)