Charlotte's Web Summary and Analysis
by E.B. White
Day after day Charlotte hangs head down waiting for an idea to pop into her head. Now that she has promised Wilbur that she will save his life, she is determined to find a way to help him. One day something comes to her. That same day Fern and Avery come to the Zuckerman’s', eat pie and swing on the swing. As the children approach the barn, Avery notices Charlotte for the first time and tries to knock her out of her web into his box. As he topples on the stool he loses his balance, tipping Wilbur's trough and breaking the goose's rotten egg. The smell is so awful that Fern runs off and Avery follows. It is a close call for Charlotte. When Lurvy comes to deliver the slops, he is disgusted by the smell and buries the egg, along with Templeton's other possessions. As the other animals doze after dinner, Charlotte begins work. When Templeton returns from the dump at about midnight, she is still busy.
The next day is very foggy and as Lurvy walks up to the pen to feed Wilbur, Charlotte's web glistens beautifully. Lurvy looks up at the web and stands stock still. Woven into the web are the words 'SOME PIG'. After muttering a short prayer he runs to the house to fetch Mr Zuckerman. Staring at the web, Mr Zuckerman is speechless and the two men tremble together. Mrs Zuckerman is informed and then the minister and before long the whole county knows about the Zuckerman’s' special pig. Hoards gather at the barn every day to catch a glimpse of the miracle pig. Mr Zuckerman and Lurvy neglect their farm work to entertain their guests - Lurvy's main farm duty is now feeding Wilbur as people look on. Fern is very happy and hopes that Charlotte's plan will save Wilbur's life but she misses the peace and quiet of being in the barn by herself with her friends the animals.
As we remember, Avery is introduced to us with a gun and a wooden sword, one in each hand and once again in this chapter, his destructive personality is revealed as he tries to knock Charlotte out of her web. Charlotte is saved however by the dud eggs that breaks when Avery loses his balance because the smell is strong enough to send the children back home. The dud egg – the egg that represents unfulfilled life – saves Charlotte’s life. It is significant that Charlotte had just started hatching a plan to save Wilbur’s life when the occurrence takes place. So all in all, the dud egg potentially saves Charlotte’s and Wilbur’s lives. It is as though the egg is sacrificed for Charlotte and Wilbur and, although it is a realistic and normal accident that Avery breaks the egg, it is symbolically more significant than that because nature manages to work so harmoniously here. It is as though nature is in perfect balance at all times. It is interesting therefore that Avery loses his balance as he tries trying to destroy one of nature’s creatures. It is also significant that Fern and Avery play on the swing in the same chapter. When Fern goes on the swing, the description reads: ‘She shut her eyes tight and jumped. She felt the dizzy drop, then the supporting lift of the swing. When she opened her eyes she was looking up into the blue sky and was about to fly back through the door.’ The swing represents perfect balance and therefore complete harmony. When it goes up, it must come down and this also reinforces the natural dichotomy of life and death.
As soon as Lurvy sees the words in the web, he clasps his hands together and prays. We see here how closely White is associating the miracle of Charlotte’s web with religious miracle, only here it is at the expense of the adults. Whereas before, when White placed information about Sunday School adjacent to the information Fern gave her parents about the animals, he highlighted the unreasonableness of the man that believes in organized religion but not the every day miracles that surround him. Here, Charlotte takes advantage of what she describes as the gullibility of man so that they believe that Wilbur is actually a chosen pig. The point being made here is that man has to be told when a miracle is in front of him because he seems incapable of seeing what is there already without direction. He needs Charlotte’s words in the web to see a miracle just as he needs the bible to tell him how amazing creation is. Without these pointers, man walks past a spider’s web without a moment's thought, although that in itself is a miracle creation. As the narrative says: ‘Even Lurvy, who wasn’t particularly interested in beauty, noticed the web when he came with the pig’s breakfast.’ The words ‘SOME PIG’ are comically colloquial just to point out how gullible man really is.
The humans are so gullible and short-sighted that they immediately believe the words in the web. Only Mrs Zuckerman suggests that, rather than the pig, it is the spider that is extraordinary but Mr Zuckerman replies: ‘Oh no…It’s the pig that’s unusual. It says so, right there in the middle of the web.’ Charlotte is completely right about the gullibility of the humans and it is a frightening discovery. They are happy to believe whatever they see in print because they can read it and they can be brainwashed by it -- but if it comes to interpreting for themselves, they are lost.
It is a sad detail that because of Wilbur’s fame, the rest of the farm is neglected. The blackberries are left to rot and the corn is left uncut because Mr Zuckerman believes so firmly in what he has read. White here signals of the dangers of not thinking for yourself and although it will prove positive for Wilbur in the end, it is not reassuring to know that Mr Zuckerman can so easily let everything else on his farm go.
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