Charlotte's Web Summary and Analysis
by E.B. White
When Wilbur returns he receives a warm welcome from the sheep and the geese who are proud of him and glad to see him. His medal hangs up over the pigpen for all to see. He is very happy and grows big and fat but he often thinks of Charlotte - every time he looks at her torn, empty web a lump rises up in his throat.
Time passes, the autumn days grow shorter and soon Fern and Avery are sledging on the ice. Christmas comes and goes and soon it is spring again. All the while Wilbur patiently waits for the birth of the baby spiders. Then one day, the old sheep hears the sound of hundreds of little frogs and they know that spring has come. Soon after, one sunny morning while Wilbur is watching the sac, a baby spider, no bigger than a grain of sand, emerges, followed by dozens and dozens of others. One warm morning after Zuckerman opens the barn door and a warm draught enters, the baby spiders stand on their heads, let loose a cloud of fine silk and fly off on the breeze dangling from their balloons. Wilbur is frantic and cries himself to sleep with the distant cries of good-bye as ringing in his ears.
When he wakes he is surprised to hear 'Salutations' and when he looks up there are three spiders in the doorway – three that have decided to stay. Wilbur pledges his friendship to Charlotte's daughters forever and they do the same. Wilbur is looked after by Zuckerman for the rest of his days and year after year, new baby spiders are born to take the place of the old and for Wilbur to be best friends with. Although Wilbur loves Charlotte's children and grandchildren, none of them can replace her in his heart. To Wilbur she will always be in a class by herself.
When Wilbur returns home he has a medal around his neck and Charlotte’s egg sac in his mouth. If we think about it, the medal is highly significant. The medal has been given by the judges at the fair to acknowledge and celebrate Wilbur because he is ‘completely out of the ordinary.’ They believe it is a miracle that the writing appeared in Charlotte’s web and simply believe that supernatural forces are at work to point out to them that Wilbur is special. The medal is given as a respectful and grateful sign to whatever force is out there that they have received the message and are rewarding Wilbur accordingly: they feel privileged to have Wilbur in their life. Little do they realize that they have been completely manipulated and outsmarted by a spider. Their gesture is meaningless because the only reason they bestow it is because they believe Wilbur is special because they have been told that he is. The medal is actually the empty gesture of a group of gullible people following the masses.
To the reader, who has been privy to Charlotte’s schemes, the medal means much more: it symbolises the loyalty, sacrifice, bravery and devotion of a true friend. Although they think they have understood what is going on and think that they are acting correctly by handing the medal to Wilbur, the judges and those humans that support the decision have no actual idea of the meaning of the medal. The medal now has two meanings – to the humans it is a symbol of achievement and a symbol that reminds them that they have acknowledged a miracle and taken note of it. Wilbur is ‘some pig’ to them. The other meaning goes much further. The reader understands so much more than the adults – we understand the full depth of love that brings about the appointment of the medal and we are not limited by definitions. In this novel, when the adults are confused they refer back to the book of life rules for an explanation because they are too frightened to acknowledge that there could be things that they don’t understand. For a child, the possibilities are limitless because they rely on their own imagination – just as Charlotte’s love for Wilbur is limitless.
Wilbur carries the medal around his neck but inside his mouth he holds Charlotte’s children. He is adorned with a symbol of Charlotte’s love but inside him is his own symbol of love for Charlotte as he carefully transports her children from the fair. He is covered inside and out in love.
It is important that most of Charlotte’s children venture off on their own because it is important to acknowledge that each individual has their own path. Each year ‘there were new little spiders hatching out to take the place of the old.’ Although Wilbur never forgets about Charlotte, he learns to accept the fact of life that all things must come to an end but that all things are renewed.
Charlotte's Web Essays and Related Content
- Charlotte's Web: Major Themes
- Charlotte's Web: Questions
- Charlotte's Web: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- E.B. White: Biography
- Charlotte's Web Summary
- About Charlotte's Web
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Section One
- Summary and Analysis of Section Two
- Summary and Analysis of Section Three
- Summary and Analysis of Section Four
- Summary and Analysis of Section Five
- Summary and Analysis of Section Six
- Summary and Analysis of Section Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Section Eight
- Summary and Analysis of Section Nine
- Summary and Analysis of Section Ten
- Summary and Analysis of Section Eleven
- Summary and Analysis of Section Twelve
- The Fable Tradition
- Related Links on Charlotte's Web
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 5
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources