What a fantastic story to start with! Charlotte's Web is one of the stories that inspired my love of reading. Charlotte's Web is written with a straightforward, linear plot line, perhaps one of the reasons this appealed to me as a budding reader. The story starts with a problem and works towards solving this problem throughout the story. From the beginning, Wilbur's life is in danger and the plot of the story follows the way in which his life was ultimately spared. From Fern's initial attempt to save Wilbur's life to the eventual success of Charlotte's plan, most of the events of the story lead to Wilbur's rescue. Even with this linearity, there is an element of circularity in that birth and death are central to both the beginning and end of the story. Wilbur's birth is the catalyst of the story, presenting us with the conflict of whether or not the pig should live. The idea of birth and death are also vital to the conclusion of the story, in Charlotte's death and in the birth of her children. This circularity, paired with the linear plot line, is likely the reason this story appeals to children of all ages. The linearity makes the story easy to understand for more inexperienced readers, while the circularity allows for a deeper connection for more advanced readers.
Geographically, Charlotte's Web takes place in three primary locations. The first is the farm owned by Fern's family. This is Wilbur's birthplace and where the story begins. This is where Fern meets and falls in love with Wilbur. The next location, Zuckerman's farm, is where most of the story takes place. This is an important location as it is where Wilbur meets Charlotte and eventually lives out his days after being saved by Charlotte's plan. Finally, the most influential location is the fair. This is where Wilbur is ensured safety by winning a special award for Mr. Zuckerman, and is also where Wilbur says his final goodbyes to his dearest friend.
Time is also important to this story. Wilbur is constantly under pressure in terms of time. From the time of his birth, it is established that by December he will be part of a meal. The passing of time is indicated through the changing of the seasons throughout the book, creating flow for the readers and reminding them that time, for Wilbur, is running out.
The three main characters in the story are Fern, Wilbur, and obviously Charlotte. Wilbur was the baby pig that is the reason for the story. He was the runt of the farrow and was set to be killed until Fern intervened. Throughout the story, we learned about the gentle, sensitive nature of the pig through his interactions with Fern and the other barnyard animals. He is also very loving and learns to accept creatures for what they are, rather than based off of initial impressions, making him a dynamic character. Rather than avoiding Charlotte based on her eating habits, he comes to have a meaningful and important relationship.
Fern is also a vital character in this story, and probably the most dynamic. In the beginning of the story, Fern is very stubborn and innocent. She fought for Wilbur's life and was content spending her time at the Zuckerman farm. As the story progressed however, Fern grew, as all children do, and lost interest in spending time with her animal friends and grew more interested in Henry Fuss.
Finally, Charlotte is the most stable and static character in the story. She is clever and caring from the beginning, knowing full well that her own time was limited. Charlotte is the character that not only solves the problem of saving Wilbur, but also teaches Wilbur and the readers important lessons in love and devotion. While static, the character of Charlotte is most definitely not flat. The character is deep and well developed.
One of the most flat, static characters is Templeton. His character remains primarily the same throughout the story and plays on the literary stereotypes typically given to rats. While not as developed as some of the other characters, Templeton is vital to the story in that he was responsible for locating words for Charlotte to spell.
Since this is a class about literature, I think one vital theme to point out in this story is the power of words. Not only does Charlotte use words to save Wilbur from being killed, but these words also inspire confidence in Wilbur. The words amaze and delight onlookers, much like the words of E.B. White delight readers of this class piece of literature.
Birth and death are also central to the story. In fact, the entire story is centered around the idea of saving Wilbur from impending death. The story starts with Wilbur's birth, and right from the beginning the threat of death is predominant in the story. Even after being saved by Fern, the threat of death drives the plot of the story as Charlotte tries to save Wilbur from slaughter. While Wilbur's life is saved, birth and death are revisited at the end of the story through Charlotte's passing and through the birth of her babies.
What is not to love about E.B. White's style? He writes with such detail that it is easy to picture all of the elements presented in the story. We are given copious amounts of details about the surroundings and goings on in the story so that we as readers are able to immerse ourselves in the Wilbur's world exactly how E.B. White intended. White is a master in terms of using sensory details, making use of all of our senses to build a real, tangible world in our minds. Including descriptions of the smell and feel of certain places helps readers put themselves into the story. This use of sensory details is perhaps one of the reasons this story is so well loved. By being exact and descriptive, struggling readers are able to visualize and immerse themselves more readily into the text than a story that would require more imagination, inferring, or speculation.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!