Charlotte's Web

Quotes and Analysis

Buy Study Guide

People believe almost anything they see in print.

Charlotte, p. 84

When Mr Zuckerman first sees the writing in the web, he considers that the spider might have weaved it but he quickly dispels that from his mind. He decides that the writing must be correct and says to his wife: "This is a very serious thing, Edith...Our pig is completely out of the ordinary."

In the 1960s Richard Nixon's speech writer, Raymond Price wrote: "It's not what's there that counts, it's what's projected...it's not what he projects but the received impression. And this impression often depends more on the medium and its use than it does on the candidate himself."

Charlotte is bright enough to realize the ease with which she can manipulate her readers with propaganda. And sure enough, people start to really see that Wilbur is 'Terrific' and 'Radiant' and 'Humble'. A really great writer can make his reader invest in what he writes - both Charlotte and White manage that.

Wilbur's destiny and your destiny are closely linked. If Wilbur is killed and his trough stands empty day after day, you'll grow so thin we can look right through your stomach and see objects on the other side.

Sheep, p. 85

This quote deals with a central theme in the novel. Each creature, regardless of size, species or wealth will one day face the same fate - death. Although Templeton is indifferent to Wilbur's frightening predicament at this stage, he will one day have to confront death and the sheep points out that this might be sooner rather than later if he does not help.

When one of the pigs on White's farm in Maine died, he wrote "Never send to know for whom the grave is dug, I said to myself, it’s dug for thee". The animals are dependent on one another on the farm and just as Charlotte rids the world of excessive flies, Templeton lives off Wilbur's slops.

I never looked at it that way before.

Mrs Arable, p.103

This is Mrs Arable's response when Dr Dorian points out that it is a miracle that a spider knows how to build a web without being taught. In their conversation here Dr Dorian makes Mrs Arable look unenlightened and limited. It is because the adults completely misunderstand the writing in the web and therefore the nature of things that Wilbur is saved.

His life is saved because Charlotte gambles on the fact that the adults won't think originally and will stick to looking at things in the way they always have. Their limitation means that they are easily outsmarted and in a different sort of novel this could cost them dearly. After all, many of the classical tragedies are based on human beings not seeing clearly and sticking to an age old way of thinking. In this novel the adults do not suffer for their short-sightedness but we are made aware of their weakness.

Maybe our ears aren't as sharp as Fern's.

Mr. Arable, p. 52

This is Mr. Arable's response to his wife's worries about Fern thinking she can hear the animals. Mr. Arable accepts here that there may be things that he doesn't hear and doesn't understand. He is aware that his daughter has a lively imagination but he opens up the genuine possibility that Fern may talk to the animals when he says this. He is happy to accept that nature works in mysterious ways.

They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side. If they'd hang head-down at the top of the thing and wait quietly, maybe something good would come along.

Charlotte, p. 58

Charlotte here criticises man's desire for the things he hasn't got. She advocates staying still and being patient and allowing things to come to you. Even though Charlotte demonstrates an independent pioneering spirit by saving Wilbur, she retains a stillness and peacefulness that means she isn't constantly chasing after abstract fantasies. Perhaps it is because man is constantly searching for 'something better on the other side' that he misses the miracles that are right in front of him. He gets bored of what he has in front of him because he doesn't take the time to appreciate it.

Oh no...I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.

Dr Dorian, p.102

Dr Dorian is extremely calm about the miracle and when he discusses the matter with Mrs Arable, his level-headedness and reasonableness calms her down. What Dr Dorian points out so succinctly here is that miracles are taking place every day but we are too blind to notice them. Dr Dorian makes the very sensible point that no one really knows how a spider figures out how to build a web but every spider does. It is only when the adults are given a clear sign that there is something magical going on that they actually acknowledge the miracle in front of them. Since Dr Dorian is aware of how miraculous nature is anyway, the writing in the web is just another example of this trust in nature.

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 life up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.

Charlotte, p. 154

Here Charlotte captures the tone of the whole novel. She is completely unsentimental about life and death but she acknowledges that dedicating your time to a worthy cause while you are alive makes life worth living. Charlotte shows us the benefits of loving and also reveals that life without love can be empty. Although she knows that she will die, she can die proud that she changed Wilbur's life and this represents an achievement greater than anyone else’s in the novel. She accepts her place in nature and that she, like everyone else, must die and make room for new creatures that will have their own opportunities to shape the world.

On foggy mornings, Charlotte's web was truly a thing of beauty. This morning each thin strand was decorated with dozens of tiny beads of water. The web glistened in the light and made a pattern of loveliness and mystery, like a delicate veil.

Narrator, p. 73

This quote really encapsulates the magical quality and the beauty of the web. The description points out how mysterious the web is and this is of paramount importance in the novel. The web draws its meaning from the meaning that each character gives it: by itself, it is mysterious, but each character gives it meaning when they respond to it. Charlotte's gift then is the gift of meaning - she offers meaning to the characters in the novel (although, sadly, only characters like Dr Dorian are able to appreciate her gift), she gives Wilbur meaning in the eyes of others (which saves his life) and she also makes her life meaningful.

It's unfair...The pig couldn't help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?

Fern, p. 3

Fern's argument here is shockingly clear. Mr Arable was just doing what he would always do if a runt was born and probably doing what all farmers do -- yet, when his daughter actually points out the logic of his actions, it makes him stop and think. It is true that it is not the piglet's fault that it is small and by comparing the piglet with herself, she forces her father to switch his perspective. Of course, he wouldn't have killed Fern if she was small. This refreshing arguement anticipates a very important theme in the novel. Fern opens her fathers eyes here as he is forced to actually look and think about what he is doing and not to just go about his business as if on auto-pilot. Later on in the novel, Charlotte's creativity will force people to think differently about nature. How easily man can be blinded by what is right in front of him.

That's a fine specimen of a pig - it's no bigger than a white rat.

Avery, p.4

Avery doesn't value the piglet because of its size. It is ironic that the pig will become the hero of the novel and the hero of the Arable and Zuckerman household. Avery highlights a very common and very sad human weakness of only being capable of seeing what is on the surface. Later on, Charlotte will of course play to this as she knows the humans will only be able to read her writing one dimensionally and this, ironically enough, is what saves Wilbur.

Wilbur is saved from an untimely death caused by narrow-minded thinking by Fern who teaches her father to see differently (although Avery clearly doesn't). Later he is saved by Charlotte who relies on narrow-mindedness to trick the humans.