by E. B. White
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both” (White, 184).
Last time, I mainly discussed Fern, the young girl who saves Wilbur the pig.
To repeat my summary from last week: The basic story is that Fern Arable saves the runt of a litter of springtime pigs. She names him Wilbur and takes care of him until he gets big enough for the family to sell to her uncle Zuckerman. While living on the farm Wilbur becomes friends with Charlotte, a common brown spider that spins her web overhead. Wilbur also discovers that he’s going to be killed when summer ends to make bacon and ham, etc. Terrified of this future, Charlotte promises to save him.
I left the conclusion out of the summary in case anyone wants to read the book themselves. A warning though, the last few chapters were probably some of the most emotional for me, so, yeah, I’ll be writing about them below.
Second, Charlotte A. Cavatica. She’s a spider, as I’ve said. She befriends Wilbur and concocts a plan to save him so it’ll be ensured that he lives. This plan is to weave words into her web. Everyone who sees them thinks it’s a miracle.
I was tickled by a few characters references to Charlotte’s skill in the matter:
“‘Well,’ said Mrs. Zuckerman, ‘it seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider'” (80).
Yes! to a female character pointing out Charlotte’s unique skills.
And later, Dr. Dorian points out that,
“‘Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don’t you regard that as a miracle?'” (110).
I think that’s a fair point. Artistry as an innate-skill is a pretty amazing feat. It also reminds me of the myth of Athene and Arachne, which would link web-spinning to tapestry weaving. (Arachne’s story also brings up the idea of point-of-view, whose telling the story, whether she deserved to lose the contest, and whether it means spiders are weaving artists but punished ones.)
Throughout the story, Charlotte would constantly reassure Wilbur and talk to him. On top of that, she promises to save him. She does all this for him and as I was reading, I felt like Wilbur only ever asked Charlotte to help him. It didn’t seem like he did anything for her. So imagine by surprise (and pleasure) when Wilbur addresses this inconsistency himself, after he’s won his medal:
“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’
‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself has been a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a little. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.’
‘Well,’ said Wilbur. ‘I’m no good at making speeches. I haven’t got your gift for words. But you have saved me Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you—I really would.’
‘I’m sure you would. And I thank you for your generous sentiments.'” (164-5).
And this whole exchange just moves me deeply.
The fact that Charlotte, despite her diet and her no-frills, direct personality, is still respected and loved so much by a sweet, naive pig like Wilbur was probably very meaningful to her. Spiders, on the whole, are not loved easily. I admit freely to finding them exceedingly creepy. But I also adore them, even though they scare me, even though seeing them move or up close pictures of them freak me out. I admire the artistry of web-weaving spiders and the helpful actions they perform by eating insects. And some of that may come from Charlotte.
Additionally, Charlotte is a writer. She writes words in her web. And her writing isn’t just random; she selects the best word each time. Furthermore, she writes for someone else. She writes for the sake of someone else. And that motivation — writing a story for someone I love — has always been a much stronger incentive than simply writing one for myself. Writing for the love of others…yeah, I can get behind that.
Also, interestingly, the front of the book has one of those “This Book Belongs To” stamps with my name in it. So, yes, it’s totally my book. But what else I noticed was the date written at the top — 1995. That was the year I decided I wanted to write. And I wonder if this book had any influence on how I thought of it.
But a few paragraphs after this lovely (and emotional) exchange, Wilbur learns that Charlotte is dying; she used up her last bit of energy to lay her eggs and make her egg sac. She will not return home to the barn with Wilbur. So she has saved Wilbur, but he will live without her.
And it’s now that Wilbur finally does something and solidifies into his own pig, rather than relying on Charlotte — he decides to take her egg sac back and ensure they live. He wants to preserve the one thing that mattered most to Charlotte, her magnum opus, the last piece of work that she did for herself. If he can’t save her life, he wants to save what is precious to her, just as she saved his life. Because they’re friends.
And oh my god, I have feelings. This book! Friendship! It’s so beautiful!
A few final minor thoughts:
- I loved how Charlotte spoke so eloquently. It really made her stand out against the other characters and made her seem more associated with words and the written language
- I noticed that a lot of lines from the old sheep had been given to the goose in the 1973 animated film adaptation. The way it worked in the book made more sense. The goose (and gander) come across as flighty and chatty. So the clever ruses the old sheep use make more sense for her character, rather than the goose.
- Apparently this story makes me cry. Like a lot. Very much.
White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1952. Print.