Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web Summary and Analysis of Section Four

Wilbur likes Charlotte more and more each day and actually begins to admire her campaign against flies. He finds it particularly thoughtful that she anaesthatises her victims before she eats them - the flies really have no idea what is happening. And anyway, he thinks to himself, all the animals detest flies. As Wilbur and Charlotte's relationship grows, so too does Wilbur's stomach. One day, when Fern comes to visit, the oldest sheep walks into the barn and tells Wilbur that they are fattening him up to kill at Christmastime. Wilbur screams and cries and just as Fern is about to jump up, Charlotte perks up: 'Be quiet, Wilbur!' Although she confirms the dismal report, she also promises that she will save Wilbur's life. She doesn't know how yet but she says she will.

One Sunday morning at the breakfast table, Fern tells her parents stories from the farm. She tells them about the goslings and about how Templeton took the dud egg when the goose said she didn’t want it. Her mother looks at her quizzically. As Fern continues telling them stories about Charlotte and Charlotte’s relationship with Wilbur, Mrs Arable begins to look concerned. When Fern leaves, Mrs Arable talks seriously to her husband - she is worried that her daughter actually believes the animals can talk. Mr Arable just laughs and says 'Maybe they do talk.'


It is no surprise that, after the last chapter which hinted of foreboding with its abundance and plenty, this is the chapter where Wilbur is given the bad news. It is very interesting that, as Wilbur cries out against his fate, Fern is ‘just about to jump up’ when a voice is heard. At this stage it has never been made clear whether or not Fern can actually hear the animals or whether she speaks to them and is understood by them. This sudden stop when Charlotte speaks indicates that Fern does indeed hear the animals but White does not make it explicit at this stage. This moment when Charlotte speaks before Fern has a chance to act is also the turning point where Charlotte takes over from Fern as Wilbur’s official support.

‘A Talk at Home’ is the chapter in which White first confronts the major problem of the novel: how can we as people living in the real world possibly believe that Fern hears the animals talking? Not only does this reinforce the point that this novel is aimed at children who have imaginations strong enough to believe that the animals talk, but, more significantly, it challenges our 'sensible' ideas and makes us ask whether or not Fern's story could be real, thus opening up our imaginations.

White’s story is made plausible by figures like Mr and Mrs Arable trying to ascertain how Fern can think the animals talk. Mrs Arable is worried enough to suggest going to talk to Dr Dorian about her daughter and Mr Arable accepts that Fern’s ears may be sharper than his. This is clever because White addresses the fundamental problem of the book which is ‘how can Fern communicate with the animals?’ and endows certain characters with our skepticism, all the while making her story more plausible.

It is with some irony that Fern apparently communicates so well with the animals and yet she cannot make her mother understand for a moment what she shares with them and it highlights the difference between adult and child. As at the start of the book perhaps, when Fern pleaded to save the little piglet's life, we may have something to learn from her. White creates a sense, even in the adult, that Fern's story might be possible because his setting is so usual and he incorporates well known figures into his story – the fond father and housewife mother. This is a world we know and yet a world in which we have so much yet to discover. Surely this is simply our world.

Fern tells her parents these stories on a Sunday and the children are told, at the end of the chapter, to get ready for Sunday School. It is commonplace that Sunday School teaches you the stories of the bible and of Adam and Eve and the seven days of creation. This is surely significant. If Mrs Arable is encouraging her children to hear and learn about the miracles of Jesus and God, she should be more open minded to the everyday miracles that Fern can see. White is here pointing out that as adults we can become set in out ways and lose the ability to think originally. Why is it that Mrs Arable encourages Sunday School and all it has to teach but cannot fathom Fern’s stories? It is because religion is accepted by society and even though we cannot prove there is a God, it is usual (especially at the time White was writing the novel) to believe in God. Mrs Arable unfortunately cannot look outside the norms of society even though, logically, it is not a huge leap from believing in the miracles of God to believing in the miracles of the animals he created.