Charlotte's Web

by E. B. White

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Charlotte's Web Characters

The main characters in Charlotte's Web are Wilbur, Charlotte, Fern Able, Homer Zuckerman, and Templeton.

  • Wilbur is the runt pig that Fern Arable saves from slaughter. He is later moved to the Zuckerman farm and befriends Charlotte, a spider.
  • Charlotte is a gray spider who writes words in her web to save Wilbur's life. She dies soon after laying her eggs.
  • Fern Arable is the girl who saves Wilbur from being slaughtered.
  • Homer Zuckerman is the farmer who takes Wilbur in after he's fully grown. He later takes Wilbur to the County Fair.
  • Templeton is the rat who helps Charlotte by bringing her magazines.

Themes and Characters

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The suspense of Charlotte's Web is evident from the opening line, when Fern asks, "Where's Papa going with that ax?" As the reader soon discovers, he is going after Wilbur, and the main question becomes when—or whether— Wilbur will get the ax. Will the young girl Fern, spider Charlotte, or any of the other animals be able to save him? Justice, according to Fern, demands that a living creature be allowed a full life, even if it is just a runt pig. The practical farmer, however, sees the runt of the litter as a troublemaker and a source of food. Necessity dictates that the pig be slaughtered in the fall. Throughout the book, Wilbur's life hangs in a delicate balance.

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
Fern acts as a liaison between the human world and the animal world. She sits patiently in the barn, watching the antics of the animals, but when she tries to report to her parents that pigs and spiders can talk, the gulf between the two worlds becomes readily apparent. None of the other human characters— Fern's parents or the Zuckermans— believe her, and Fern's anxious mother asks the family doctor about her "delusions." The main adult characters are so practical that without some kind of extraordinary intervention, Wilbur's fate is sealed. Fern saves him once but cannot save him again.

The necessary intervention comes, not from outside, but from inside the barnyard, and from two unlikely sources: a small gray spider who acts out of friendship, and a barnyard rat, named Templeton, who acts from purely selfish motives. White uses these curious heroes and their divergent motives to make an important point about heroism. First, Charlotte does not fit any of the conventionally held concepts of the hero. She is small, apparently powerless, and weak. Yet she is Wilbur's friend, and her unselfish actions demonstrate that nobility has little to do with looks or power. Second, Templeton violates every tenet of what a hero should be; indeed, he is repulsive, greedy, and selfish in the extreme, and is only coaxed into helping Wilbur when the other animals appeal to his baser appetites. Yet his assistance is vital: he is the word finder who supplies Charlotte with copy for her web messages, and, at one point, he rescues Charlotte's egg sac. He is living proof that good can come from the most unlikely actions and even from the most unlikely sources.

Finally, the two characters do not act in concert to produce a good end; they act independently. Thus, this tale of heroism is different from more traditional narratives because the end is less certain than it might be. The fact that good prevails in this case does not leave the impression that good will always prevail.

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