A New Look on Charlotte’s Web

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer


Charlotte’s Web was a very inspirational piece in it’s time, it was a classic in schools, taught kids many important lessons, and influenced a whole genre of novels. Written in White’s dry, low-key manner, Charlotte’s Web is considered a classic of children’s literature, while simultaneously being enjoyable to adults. The description of the experience of swinging on a rope swing at the farm is an often cited example of rhythm in writing, as the pace of the sentences reflects the motion of the swing (Amidon, Stephen). In 2000, Publishers Weekly listed the book as the best-selling children’s paperback of all time.

Here is an excerpt on tor.com from Mari Ness’ criticism of Charlotte’s Web: “I first encountered EB White’s Charlotte’s Web in circumstances that were less than promising. I was 11 at the time, my imagination nourished by a steady diet of adventure stories featuring such outsized heroes as John Carter, Man of Mars and Doc Savage, Man of Bronze. Consequently, when my teacher handed out a rather girly-looking paperback detailing the friendship between a talking pig and a wise spider, my heart sank. It was a compulsory assignment, however, and so I soldiered on. By the first few pages, I was hooked, drawn into a barnyard world that felt more real than anything I had ever encountered on the page. By the time I reached its heart-rending climax, I was in tears, the first time a book ever elicited that reaction from me. From that day on, the flashy stories of intergalactic travel and battlefield heroics that lined my bookshelves would never feel the same.” According to Mari, after more than 3 decades, the books power remains unchanged.


It is one of those stories you can read more than once and still enjoy it, even after many years have passed. Even after 50 years from its publication, the book is still among the best sellers today. The story is so simple yet it works so well. A young girl saves the runt of the litter from being killed, names him wilber and he ends up meeting a spider that helps him win a prize at the county fair. The spider ends up dying of old age after she lays her eggs at the fair. The eggs are brought back to the farm were they hatched and spread across the land, with 3 tiny spiders staying at the barnyard.


Analysing the appeal of children’s books can be as risky a business as explaining jokes, but there are certain things about Charlotte’s Web that do reward scrutiny. It is, first of all, one of the most honest books ever written for young people. ‘It’s true, and I have to say what is true,’ wise Charlotte explains when Wilbur expresses shock and disgust at her admission that she finds the flies she kills delicious. The author works under a similar imperative. Indeed, White, a lifelong gentleman farmer, portrays his barnyard world with a frankness that appeals even to inveterate suburbanites like me. Talking animals may prove the downfall of many a children’s book, but here they are rendered with a forthrightness that precludes cloying sentimentality. Take, for instance, Templeton the rat, who has ‘no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness… no friendliness, no anything’ – and yet is still somehow likeable. Nothing is sugar-coated or defanged in White’s world. Even death is a fact of life in Zuckerman’s barn. White renders this world in prose that mirrors its simplicity and its candour.

Power of the Written Word

The author, who died in 1985, was a celebrated essayist for the New Yorker and Harper’s magazine. He wrote another children’s classic, Stuart Little, recently ruined by Hollywood. Imagine Hemingway if he had never left the United States and you begin to get an idea of how White wrote. ‘The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell – as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease… But mostly it smelled of hay.’White’s preoccupation with the perfect sentence spills over into the story itself, where Charlotte agonises over the right word to use in her pig-saving project. (After ‘Some Pig!’ and ‘Terrific’ she achieves her masterpiece – ‘Radiant’.) One of the book’s more subtle charms is that it serves as a parable of the power of the written word, which prevails over the sword or, more accurately, the axe. As Wilbur realises in the book’s final paragraph: ‘It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.’

The Wonders of Everyday Life

Having laid a durable foundation of realism, White then gets to his deeper mission in Charlotte’s Web – evoking the wonders that spring from the everyday world. It is the small things that are pictured as the true miracles on the busy farm. After Charlotte’s messages begin to appear in her webs, the bemused Zuckermans go to the local doctor seeking an explanation. ‘I don’t understand it,’ he admits. ‘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.’ White speaks directly to the unique sensibility of his youthful readers by accentuating the wondrous in everyday life, whether it be the musical chatter of the birds on the farm or, in the book’s most astonishing sequence, the sight of Charlotte’s young as they are borne away on a gentle breeze, clutching the silk balloons they have woven. Isn’t this, after all, how the young mind comprehends the physical world, shot through with a magic that we adults have lost the ability to see?


The most remarkable achievement of Charlotte’s Web lies in White’s ability to show how life comes from death. He confronts mortality with a wide-eyed acceptance. It is the barnyard’s basic currency. The topic is often considered the great taboo for children’s literature, something too troubling to tackle head on, but White manages to create a death scene that is both harrowing and redemptive. (So nervous were his publishers in 1952 about his candour that they prevailed on him to change the name of the penultimate chapter from ‘The Death of Charlotte’ to ‘Last Day’.) Charlotte’s lonely demise at the fairgrounds is infinitely sad, and yet it is also readily understood and even accepted by children. The book’s true miracle is not Wilbur’s double survival of the axe, but rather Charlotte’s regeneration through her 514 offspring. It is a brave children’s writer indeed who will have his heroine die, abject and alone, in his penultimate chapter. It is an author of genius who is able to follow that heartbreak with a passage that brings a redeeming smile to his young reader’s face.


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