Charlotte's Web

by E. B. White

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Charlotte's Web Summary

Charlotte's Web is a novel by E.B. White about the friendship between Wilbur, a pig, and Charlotte, a spider.

  • Fern Arable rescues Wilbur, the runt of his litter, from being slaughtered.
  • Wilbur grows up and is sent to the Zuckerman farm, where he befriends a spider named Charlotte.
  • In order to save Wilbur from being slaughtered, Charlotte writes the words "some pig" in her web. Mr. Zuckerman takes Wilbur and Charlotte to the County Fair as an exhibit.
  • At the County Fair, Charlotte dies after laying eggs. When the eggs hatch, Charlotte's children emerge and drift away. Three of them stay behind with Wilbur.


Extended Summary

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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...

(This entire section contains 1654 words.)

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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 barn—that the goose’s eggs hatched, that nobody likes the rat Templeton, and that Wilbur loves the spider Charlotte. The Arables are concerned about their daughter’s imaginative story about animals talking, but they joke that perhaps children do a better job of listening than adults do. Perhaps animals really are talking to each other.

Back in the barn, Wilbur and Charlotte explore their friendship. In comparison to Wilbur, Charlotte is very mature, but she enjoys Wilbur’s enthusiasm and innocence. When Wilbur suggests that he could make a web, Charlotte challenges him to try. Because he lacks spinnerets, Wilbur cannot build a web. However, he borrows a piece of string from Templeton, which he humorously ties to his tail. Although Wilbur continues to worry about his fate, he and Charlotte become good friends.

Charlotte spends her days waiting for flies to trap themselves in her web. Wilbur is anxious for a plan to save him, but Charlotte patiently waits for an idea. Eventually the idea arrives, and Charlotte explains to Wilbur that people are very gullible. Because they believe things easily, she decides to show everyone how special Wilbur is by writing a message in her web. She writes “some pig” in her web. The farmers are shocked when they discover the miraculous message. Word spreads, people come to see the miracle web, and everyone agrees that Wilbur really is “some pig.”

Convinced that her plan is working, Charlotte calls a meeting to learn more words she can write in her web. They decide that Templeton, who enjoys going to the dump, should return with a magazine. Charlotte uses the words she learns and writes “terrific” and “radiant.” It seems that Wilbur rises to occasion both times. When he is described so positively, the pig cannot help but respond well. Meanwhile, word continues to spread.

Although everyone in the town is talking about Charlotte’s web, Mrs. Arable is concerned about her daughter, Fern, who has continued to come home from the Zuckerman farm with stories about the barnyard animals talking. Mrs. Arable consults a doctor, who points out that the words appearing in Charlotte’s word do seem to be miraculous. On the other hand, webs themselves are miraculous. How do spiders learn to create such intricate designs? Ultimately, the doctor calms Mrs. Arable and suggests that Fern will soon grow up to become more interested in other things than she is in animals. In the meantime, she does not seem to be ill.

Charlotte’s plans for Wilbur seem to be coming together. Wilbur is going to be entered into a competition at the County Fair. Homer washes Wilbur in buttermilk, and he prepares a crate in which Wilbur will travel to the fair. The Zuckermans do not see them, but Charlotte and Templeton stow away in the crate. Charlotte is determined to help Wilbur as best as she can, but lately she has been getting very tired.

The fair is an exciting place, especially for Templeton. The rat gorges himself on the leftovers people throw away. Wilbur, meanwhile, attracts a great deal of attention as the miracle pig. However, Wilbur has a serious rival in Uncle. Uncle is an unusually large pig, though his manners strike Charlotte as overly familiar. Wilbur and Charlotte wonder how they could to impress the judges. Charlotte once more asks Templeton to find her a magazine and, although she is very tired, she spins a new web for Wilbur that reads “humble.”

This is the last thing she can do for Wilbur. Charlotte feels exhausted because she is about to lay her eggs. She uses the last of her strength to make her egg sac, which she views as her magnum opus, in which there are five hundred and fourteen eggs. Although Wilbur finds her egg sac impressive, few others notice it. However, many people notice her web the next day and everyone agrees that Wilbur really is a humble pig. However, he does not win the first prize ribbon. Just as Fern and her family think they have lost, they hear an announcement calling them to the judges’ booth. Wilbur is given a special prize. Everyone praises the humble pig so much that he faints.

Before everyone can return to the Zuckerman farm, Charlotte informs Wilbur that she will not be able to leave the fair. She is dying. Wilbur convinces Templeton to move the egg sac into the crate. They will take it back to the Zuckerman farm, where it will stay over the winter. Charlotte whispers her goodbye and dies. Soon everyone has left the fair grounds. Although Wilbur’s time at the fair is actually Charlotte’s moment of triumph,

Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a gray spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.

The next spring on the Zuckerman farm, Charlotte’s offspring begin to hatch. Wilbur is surprised to find them all floating away on a warm breeze. He asks if none of them will stay with him. It seems not, because the spiders will go where they are taken. However, just when it seems that he will be left alone again, Wilbur discovers three spiders that have stayed behind to be friends with him. The first is named “Joy” for Wilbur’s pleasure that she has stayed. The second spider is named “Arenea,” which was Charlotte’s middle name. Wilbur names the last “Nellie.” Wilbur never forgets Charlotte, his true friend.