The Main Themes in Charlotte’s Web by Elwyn White
Fern Arable lives with her mother, father, and brother on their little ranch. At the point when her dad chooses to ‘do away’ with the runt of the piglet litter Fern volunteers raise the little piglet herself and names him Wilbur. At the point when Wilbur gets too big for the Arable’s ranch, he goes to live with the Zuckerman’s, Fern’s Aunt and Uncle, in their horse shelter where Fern can visit the pig she has grown to love. Despite the fact that Fern visits as much as she can, she and Wilbur are not together as regularly. Wilbur begins to feel very forlorn in the barn where he is kept, that is until the point that he meets Charlotte, a wonderful huge insect who lives above Wilbur in the entryway of the horse shelter. Wilbur and Charlotte soon turn out to be firm companions and when the old sheep recounts the plot the Zuckerman’s need to fill Wilbur out for their Christmas supper, Charlotte brings forth an arrangement to spare Wilbur’s life that astonishes the entire town!
Life and Death
At the time when the story is set, 1950s postwar flourishing pushed the making of rural areas and the advancement of the vehicle, which thus caused the decrease of urban areas as wealthy whites left urban regions for rural ones. Flourishing likewise prompted a time of increased birth rates and the advancement of traditionalist esteems. In the late 1950s, craftsmen started to oppose this conservatism. A portion of the early debate encompassing the book originated from White’s straightforward depiction of issues of life and death. After World War II there was much dread and vulnerability about death and, written in 1952, Charlotte’s Web examines the person’s connections to the vulnerability of life, of kinship, love, and misfortune. Despite the fact that the book tends to death, forlornness, and misfortune, it likewise praises life love and camaraderie and this is the thing that makes the novel so moving.
Female Home Life
For women in the 1950s, life was focused on the family and household obligations. Women who had held wartime occupations were relied upon to surrender their professions keeping in mind the end goal to give work to men returning structure war. A few women, in any case, tested customary esteems and stayed in the paid workforce. They were normally paid not as much as men for playing out a similar work and were regularly utilized in standard, low-status positions. The women’s’ rights development was as yet 10 years away. In the book, Mrs. Zuckerman’s residential life typifies what life was life for ladies in the 1950s.The baby boom was a result of and a reason for moderate family esteems—particularly about the place of ladies in American culture. It was recommended that mothers give themselves to the full-time care of their kids. Mainstream culture delineated marriage and female home life as an essential objective for American women and the training framework strengthened this depiction.
The proposition of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is about life, White expounds on companionship, unwaveringness, demise, and valor. He fuses a variety of characters in this story as homestead creatures with the goal that children can pick up knowledge about companionships: what they involve, and passing: how to acknowledge it. What’s more, by utilizing this configuration, White enlightens ethnicity allegorically by having diverse creatures in the story, which speaks to the distinctive ethnicities or foundations of individuals. The writer expounds on connections between characters, their affections for each other, and how they all arrangement with horrendous mishaps. There are three heroes in this story, Charlotte the arachnid, Wilbur the pig, and Fern.
A story that children will remember fondly. There is such warmth and silliness in this story and the characters are so elegantly composed, including not so loveable rebel Templeton the rodent but rather it is Charlotte you can’t resist the urge to love and respect. It demonstrates kids what genuine companionship is and that nothing else is very as imperative as the adoration and reliability of a closest companion. The delineations by Garth Williams likewise add to the satisfaction to the story and are not all that continuous as to be intrusive.
The principle message of the book stays ageless yet there are a few entries where the dialect and references have dated a bit, which has been reflected in the score however general this ought not diminish any child’s pleasure in the story and this is a book I would wholeheartedly suggest. Unashamedly wistful, this story will leave you with a warm and fluffy inclination.
A New Look on Charlotte’s Web
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.
Charlotte’s Web and Childhood Needs
In the book, Charlotte’s Web, the author E.B. White’s purposely puts the characters through similar experiences that children go through while growing up. These life comparisons make the story relatable and meaningful to its young audience. The experiences that challenge the characters in the book intellectually, physically, emotionally, and morally, are also important aspects of a child’s growth. Many of these experiences are closely related with the theories of child development that are explained in the second chapter of Literature for Children written by David Russell.
To Love and Be Loved
One of the childhood “needs” that is expressed in Charlotte’s Web is the need to love and to be loved. The main character, Wilbur, experiences many ups and downs throughout the story. In the fourth chapter, Lurvy comes to bring Wilbur food, however, Wilbur doesn’t have the expected excitement to eat. “Wilbur didn’t want food, he wanted love. He wanted a friend –someone who would play with him (White, 27)”. Wilbur is lonely without much to do on the farm and no one willing to play with him. The love of a friendship is an important part of growth for children. It teaches them respect, appreciation, and to value the people in their lives. At the end of the chapter Charlotte asks Wilbur to be friends, after all the other farm animals reject Wilbur’s offer to play. This marks the beginning of a loving friendship between the two characters. Wilbur experiences the emotional and physical need to love and be loved because without friendship he is depressed. This stage of Wilbur’s life correlates with Erik Erikson’s theory on psychosocial development “Trust versus Mistrust” that occurs during the very early age of a child’s life. This theory explains that at such a young age children are dependent on the security and reassurance of their parents. They find comfort in the familiarity of books because “these books become like old, reliable friends, providing stability and a sense of security” (Russell, 25). Wilbur is searching for a loving relationship that he can depend on, like what children have when hearing familiar books.
For Physical Well Being
The need for physical well being in a child’s development stages is a crucial part for one’s sense of security. In the very beginning of Charlotte’s Web, Mr. Arable attempts to kill Wilbur for being the weakling of his litter, however Fern stops anything from happening.
“A minute later, Fern was seated on the floor in the corner of the kitchen with her infant between her knees, teaching it to suck from the bottle ” (White, 7). Fern nurtures Wilbur in the same way a caregiver takes care of a child. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory “Trust versus Mistrust” is categorized for newborns between birth and 18 months because they are in need of protection and reassurance (25). Wilbur, like infants, needs the security and comfort of a caregiver for their physical well being.
When children are growing up, they move through stages of defining their place in society. Along the way, they experience the need to belong in order to fit in and be happy. When Wilbur is taken to the Zuckerman farm he is separated from Fern and is forced to find his place in a new community. At first, Wilbur is very lonely and describes himself as, “I’m less than two months old and I’m tired of living” (White, 16). Wilbur does not feel like he belongs at Zuckerman farm mainly due to his lack of socialization and purpose. This stage of Wilbur’s life can be compared to Erik Erikson’s “industry Versus Inferiority” stage of psychosocial development in children (Russell, 26). Erikson believes that during the ages 7 to 11, children start to understand the need to be accepted by the people around him, which is similar to what Wilbur is going through.
Achievement is a developmental need for children as they begin to grow and find their place in society. In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur demonstrates the need to achieve when it comes to his task to bring Charlotte’s eggs back to the barn so that her babies will live. Charlotte has already saved Wilbur’s life, and it is now time for Wilbur to return the favor. “…he looked up at Charlotte and gave her a wink. She knew he was saying good-bye in the only way he could. And she knew her children were safe” (White, 171). Wilbur’s determination to save Charlotte’s babies for her is an example of a child’s need to achieve. The theory of child development this relates to is Jean Piaget’s “Period of Formal Operations” stage of cognitive development (Russell, 24). Piaget’s theory is that at this period of a child’s life they begin to mature and understand their role in society. Wilbur steps up at the end of the book to take care of Charlotte, which shows his moral growth and need to contribute to his society.
The need for change is something that occurs many times throughout a child’s life and it is an essential part of one’s intellectual growth. In the seventh chapter of Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur learns that Mr. Zuckerman has plans to kill him. His immediate reaction is to freak out, to which Charlotte complains that he is acting immature. “You’re carrying on in a childish way. Stop your crying! I can’t stand hysterics” (White, 51). At this point in the story, something must change in order for Wilbur to be saved. Wilbur’s response to the news is comparable to Erik Erikson’s “Autonomy Versus Doubt” stage of development (Russell, 25). Erikson explains that children at 18 month to 3 years start to experiment with their independence and responsibility, although they are not quite sure of their abilities. Wilbur during this crisis of life or death is in need of change and is starting to explore what his options are. However, Wilbur is still very immature and has not completely grasped his capabilities, which is why he panics.
The need for knowledge is a functional part of growing up. Children are constantly learning from the people around them about the difference between right and wrong. At the very beginning of Charlotte’s Web, Fern takes matters into her own hands when she sees that her father is about to kill Wilbur. She explains her reasoning as, “The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?” (White, 3). At this stage of Fern’s childhood development, she has learned the difference between what is right and wrong. Additionally, she is following Erikson’s theory “Initiative Versus Guilt” by stepping up and taking responsibility (Russell, 25). Her strong initiative to do what is right shows that she has reached a higher level in her psychosocial development.
For Beauty and Order
During a child’s development phases, the need for beauty and structure is something that children learn to appreciate as they grow. In Charlotte’s Web, the change of season is consistent pattern throughout the story. The characters of the book value the change of seasons because it is a way to track time. Summer is described as a beautiful time of the year for the farm animals because children are out of school and nature is at its peak. “The early summer days on a farm are the happiest and fairest days of the year. Lilacs bloom and make the air sweet, and then fade. Apple blossoms come with the lilacs, and the bees visit around among the apple trees” (White, 43). The appreciation for the signs of the season changing is comparable to Piaget’s theory on the “Period of Concrete Operations”, which explains how children begin to understand logic as they are maturing (Russell, 24). As a part of a child’s development stages they learn how to make sense of basic logical concepts, such as the beauty and order of the season changes.
In the book, Charlotte’s Web, the characters go through experiences that challenge them in intellectual, physical, emotional, and moral ways. The theories of child development explored in Literature of Children are comparable to these childhood needs because they explain the stages of a child’s development. These experiences, although sometimes difficult, are important for a child’s growth because they help shape the person that they are becoming.
Charlotte’s Web vs. Spider Man: Similarities & Differences
Have you ever watch a movie calls Spider Man? He used his web as a weapon to help people in danger. I just finished a cartoon called Charlottes Web. Charlotte also used her web to save her friends life. Charlotte, a spider is the main character. She helped a pig named Wilber get out of death. For many things she did help Wilbur, she seems as an animal has good traits. First, she is really friendly with Wilbur and others animal. Second, she used her intelligent to save Wilburs life. Lastly, she could be a leader.
To begin, Charlotte was very friendly with Wilbur and others animal. It was terrible, horrible, and very bad day for a pig, Wilbur because his plan escaped from the farm got ruined. Wilbur started to cry, but then she heard a friendly voice. Wilbur heard the voice came from the roof, but he didnt know who it was. Then he saw a large grey spider waving at him. It was Charlotte. She advised Wilbur that she will be friend with him and Wilbur was not going to be bore anymore because Wilbur had Charlotte as a good friend. She wanted Wilbur to be happy with his life, and she wanted him to know about the friendship. She was not only treating kind with Wilbur, but also she treat fairly with others animal. She was always there to help them when they needed her. Near the end of the story, Wilbur had to go to the fair to compete the prize with other animal from different farms. Wilbur was timid. He was afraid to go to the fair. He wanted Charlotte to go with him but she didnt want to go at first because it was inconvenient for her to go. It was eggs laying time for her. But then, she decided to go with Wilbur. She thought about her friendship between her and Wilbur. She didnt want anything wrong happen to Wilbur, and she respected her friendship with Wilbur.
Next, she seemed as very smart because she helped Wilbur got out of danger many time. One day, Wilbur found out that he was going to kill on this Christmas. Wilbur told Charlotte about that. She thought about the ways to save his life and she got an idea. Charlotte calmed Wilbur down, and told him how to save his life. At the same night, she started to make a web that had the word to describe about Wilbur. She wrote Some Pig in her web. People were surprised when whey first saw Charlotte message. They thought it was a miracle. Wilbur became famous, and the news about him was published everyday. People were from another the town came to see the miracle of the web. Wilbur became valuable for Ferns uncle, and he wasnt going to kill Wilbur. She continued to make another web when the worlds Some Pig in the web was destroy. It was only for one reason that she saved Wilburs life. She wrote these words like Terrific and Radiant made Wilbur more popular. So, Wilbur was chosen to go to the County Fair. At the fair, the pig had a name Uncle won the first prize. Charlotte wanted Wilbur would be more famous than Uncle. So, she decided to make a last web for Wilbur. The web was had the words Humble on it. She did it because Wilburs life will be in danger if he was not won the prize. And Wilbur did have the special prize.
Finally, she was a good leader and others animal could realized it. Wilbur was in danger again when the words Some Pig on the web was destroy. Charlotte couldnt think of a new idea. She couldnt read the words and she wanted others animal are help to get a better way for her way to save Wilburs life. She called the farm animals to come in her place, and thought about the words that she would describe specific about Wilbur. Others animal tried to pronoun the words, but it didnt make any sense. She found another way to help Wilbur, and others animal were force by her order to find it. Suddenly, she discovered that a rat, Templeton could read the words and he knew where these words were. Templeton was a kind of selfish animal. He could anything with his benefit. Charlotte advised Templeton and he would have food for finding the words for Charlotte. But Templeton was also obeying Charlottes order.
In conclusion, Charlotte passed away but she died a satisfying and happy death. Her good traits still remained in all animals heart, especially for Wilbur. She was nice, friendly and a good leader. Take your time to watch Spider Man and Charlottes Web. You can realize how Spider man and Charlotte have same purposes, and they would do anything for their friends.
Didacticism and Teaching in Animal Literature and Charlotte’s Web
Since the birth of Aesop’s Fables, originating over two thousand years ago, “animal literature” has been used as a teaching tool. That is, when a certain piece of literature centers on an animal, there is usually a certain moral, emotional, or ethical lesson to be learned. The method varies, as sometimes the animal exists realistically and other times the animal is anthropomorphic and teaches directly through words. Using animals as a teaching tool is necessary in many regards, because they act as symbols and totems for our real life morals and teach these in such a way that human characters could not.
In Charlotte’s Web, the titular Charlotte is a spider who uses her worldly knowledge to help Wilbur the pig through his life (and at times, save it). Her position as a motherly, knowledgeable figure is unlike many other animal stories, though – she does not teach through her experiences in the novel but rather directly through words. She already has the knowledge necessary to aide Wilbur and speak of the complexities of life. She acts as his first real companion and teaches him about life and the nature of spiders, as only a spider could do, in addition to establishing her credibility and intelligence. She says, “I have to say what is true. I am not entirely happy about my diet of flies and bugs, but it’s the way I’m made… Way back for thousands and thousands of years we spiders have been laying for flies and bugs” (White 39). Her use of “we” to refer to the family of spiders indicates the close relationship she has with her own kind. This establishes Charlotte as a trustworthy teacher and member of the spider species, especially since the first thing she says is “I have to say what is true,” telling us directly that what she says is believable. Charlotte’s position as a trustworthy and friendly character is necessary framework for her teachings later, as we now know that her philosophical statements later are founded on an intelligent background. A reader, particularly a younger one in the target audience for this novel, would likely be impressed at the cleverness Charlotte exhibits given her living habits and would be interested in her ideas later on.
Charlotte also asserts her intelligence in saying “I live by my wits. I have to be sharp and clever, lest I go hungry” (40). We learn that through her very nature, Charlotte is a witty character able to make claims that we can believe or at least consider to be true. Her ensuing explanation of how her eating habits help save the world around her from being infested with bugs (40) as well as her later mention of activities at the Queensborough Bridge (60) reinforce that Charlotte has a strong worldly background and knowledge that extends far beyond the limited realm of the barn in which she lives.
When Wilbur that he is to be killed for Christmas meat, the ensuing panic leads him to call his only close friend for help. It is not possible for a human to stand in for an animal in this position, of course; only an animal can help him since the humans (the enemy to him at this point) are in it together to have him eaten. Only Fern, the girl, may be considered an ally, yet she transcends the human group because she can talk to the animals, and thus from the beginning is the only human that does not side with their reasoning or desires. For the second time in the novel, now, Wilbur must be saved. Both times, he is saved by a transcendent figure: Fern, the girl who can talk to animals, and now Charlotte, the animal who can communicate with humans through web writing (80).
The animals’ discussions parallel human concerns and desires, so when Charlotte speaks to Wilbur about something, the reader can understand it as the solution to the problems human pose to animals, and thus, the solution in how to act with them. She says later of Templeton’s possible unwillingness to help in saving Wilbur, “I’m not sure Templeton will be willing to help. You know how he is— always looking out for himself, never thinking of the other fellow” (89). In saying this Charlotte has acknowledged multiple things at once. For one, she alludes to her own altruism in helping Wilbur, that is, “thinking of the other fellow,” but also to Templeton the rat who has not done so. She criticizes people here who do not consider the wants of “the other fellow” (animals) and act selfishly. She further criticizes humans in other areas, such as arguing against the nature of their fast-paced busy lives (60). Again, a reader may be inclined to see Charlotte’s views on people as a reflection of someone who has experienced it that way: someone who lives day in and day out in a rush, or with folks who are inconsiderate, would certainly have a more informed opinion on these matters. A spider, who lives calmly and outside of the bustling human life, offers a view outside the realm of human existence that allows us to reflect on ourselves and question our own lives. Charlotte’s commentary could only be done by a country animal outside of the busy and inconsiderate humans’ lives.
In addition, Charlotte has firm opinions on the concepts of life and death. Her opinions are quite philosophical; at one point she says “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 lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that” (164). Charlotte’s vast knowledge and clever wit are less significant than the friendship she has with a pig. Charlotte is saying that companionship and friendship are the most important things to cherish in lieu of intelligence or other endeavors. As an animal with a short life and repetitive lifestyle, the friendship she has with Wilbur is the most important thing to her. So, in our short lives (according to Charlotte, the length of any life is just “a little”) it is most important to find friends to spend the life we have with. Wilbur then takes this advice and quickly befriends three of Charlotte’s daughters after she has died (182).
Although it may seem counterintuitive to trust a spider’s advice on providing answers to deep questions like “What is most important in my life?,” it actually in this case makes sense. Charlotte’s realm of experience is huge, somehow, yet her existence is short and limited only to the barn in which she lives. For many of us, we have a breadth of knowledge that expands far beyond where we live, yet we do not have a chance to experience the entirety of that knowledge. Charlotte says, “do you know how long it took men to build [the Queensborough Bridge]? Eight whole years. My goodness, I would have starved to death waiting that long” (60). She goes on to discuss her own lifestyle and her content nature in not going out to explore everything, giving her more time to think and reflect on life. Perhaps Charlotte is not advocating that everyone do the same, but that they consider taking a moment to “take in” life.
So, why Charlotte? Why use any animal as a teacher of morals? Marianne Dekoven’s “Why Animals Now?” mentions that “only from the point of view of the human are other animals nonhuman” (Dekoven 363). This describes the character of Fern quite well, as she can act as both the human and animal, able to speak with both. She can see the animals as humans and through the eyes of Fern (a child) we see Charlotte and the other characters as possessing human consciousness. Dekoven goes on to mention a “massive interdependence between humans and other animals” (366) which implies our own need for animals both practically and as a tool to understand ourselves. These animals can be used, she argues, more specifically for political intentions or otherwise (366-7) although it is more apparent in works like White’s that animals play a more metaphorical or otherwise symbolic role that could not be fulfilled by humans, or is more aptly fulfilled by a fitting animal.
Additional studies have discussed animal fables more specifically, including Aesop’s short moralistic stories. Although longer novels and stories can serve a similar function, Jill Mann writes in her book From Aesop to Reynard that there is “an overlap of the human and the animal world; the animals are seen as having human characteristics although they lack a human complexity” (Mann 30). This view is not applicable to Charlotte’s Web, where the animals certainly have both human complexity and relationships. Thus Mann may not classify this book as a fable, but rather an extended allegory for life. The animal character of Charlotte is not the same as the animals in fables, who exist possess no context, being only what they are outlined as their animal characters define them. Charlotte does not conform to a pre-existing “spider” outline; she fills another role entirely, using real spider characteristics (web-weaving, bug-catching, etc.) to defend the character traits she creates for herself. This bolsters her teachings and lessons more because she has created a believable, deep character for herself that escapes the flatness of the common fables. In both cases, the didactic element is present, but rather than relying on what Mann calls an “essential character,” (31) White creates a new set of “characters” for us to experience as readers, creating a more meaningful relationship that does not rely on previous foundations or assumptions. Thus within the realm of Charlotte’s Web, we only need to be self-referential, as Charlotte provides all the necessary evidence we need to believe she possesses the ethos to make the claims and convey the messages she does for us.
While Charlotte’s Web may teach in a way unlike animal fables traditionally do, it is specifically the character of Charlotte as a humanlike animal that teaches the lessons a human could not. Her traits and breadth of experience give us reason to accept her teachings, which make sense in the context of the novel. Her reason and wit allow us to believe her. In the greater context of animal fiction, it is not presupposed assumptions that we must rely on, as Mann argues, but rather a relationship that is meaningfully established and defended. Dekoven’s commentary on how animals, especially in fiction, have developed a dependent relationship with humans refers back to this. We understand animals, those who are anthropomorphic, as an extension of the human world. So when the animals in Charlotte’s Web specifically teach us something, we can accept it because they as symbols, and not true animals, reflect ideals and morals we understand more effectively.
The Not So Subtle Portrayal of Supernatural Elements in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Louis Sachar’s Holes
In children’s literature, supernatural elements can be found throughout many novels and short stories. The definition of supernatural according to merriam-webster is “attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature” (Webster). In E.B White’s Charlotte’s Web and Louis Sachar’s Holes, nature is the catalyst to all the events that take place throughout the two novels. Nature and the supernatural are often in correlation with one another since many things in the world are still unexplained and may never fully be explained. Humans have an innate sense of wonder and awe and often times seek the answers to such unexplainable supernatural occurrences. In Charlotte’s Web, the supernatural events that take place and portrayed mysticism of nature are the basis of the entire stories plot while in Holes, the supernatural elements of history, fate, and nature are the backbone to the events that unfold in the novel.
In E.B White’s Charlotte’s Web, elements of the supernatural can be found throughout the plot of the novel. The entire concept of this novel is based upon the supernatural ideas of talking animals, the “miracle” of words appearing in a spider’s web, and the sense of wonder at the beauty found in the natural world that is often seen as as safe haven. In terms of talking animals, it is a universally accepted concept that animals do not speak, but in the world of fantasy and supernatural occurrences, this concept can be disregarded completely. Fern’s mother, Mrs. Arable, follows the belief that animals simply cannot talk and worries about her daughters well being when Fern communicates the events that have recently taken place in the barnyard. Mr. Arable concludes that it is simply Fern’s imagination stating that “she’s just got a lively imagination. Kids think they hear all sorts of things” (White 54). He then suggests that maybe a child’s ears hear more than an adult’s do. Adults are often too busy dealing with the hubbub of day to day life, while children take the time to listen to the surroundings. Adults also attribute what children say to overactive imaginations, as did Mr. Arable. This idea of overactive imaginations ultimately detracts from the supernatural essence of this novel, even though many of events that take place would be considered out of the ordinary if such things happened in reality.
Although the adults in this novel do not believe that animals speak, it is an odd contradiction that they are gullible enough to believe that supernatural forces are at work in order for the words to appear in a spiders web. According to Trudelle H. Thomas, “The dopey adults who read these messages decide a supernatural sign has occurred – a miracle! Wilbur must indeed be very special to merit such praise” (Thomas 203). The adults are quick to dismiss the notion that an animal, let alone a tiny grey spider, is capable of communicating via writing. The concept of speaking animals could only possibly be understood by a child, whom due to their active imaginations, can comprehend. If a pig could receive a supernatural gift, the pig must be superior in one way or another. Wilbur’s life is ultimately saved by the end of the novel, but for no actual reason. The webs state that Wilbur is superior by saying he is “Some Pig”, “Terrific”, “Radiant”, and “Humble, although there is not actual evidence of Wilbur being such things (White 78, 94, 114,149). The characters in this novel simply assume and believe the ordinary pig is anything but, due to the miracle of the web. If “logical” adults are to believe that words in a spider web could be caused by a possible miracle or supernatural phenomenon, who really has the active imaginations here? If kids hear more than what is actually said or done, does that mean that parents seek signs and meaning in occurrences that are not actually there?
Nature is often seen as a a safe haven where love can blossom, as a saving grace, or as an outlet to the realities of life. In terms of Charlotte’s Web, all three of these concepts apply. Almost the entire novel is placed in nature, and nature is where Charlotte and Wilbur develop and grow a selfless pure plutonic love for one another. E.B. White states that “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself” (White 184). The love he has for Charlotte is carried out long after her death through the many generations of her offspring, although no one love surmounts to the love he has for Charlotte. Wilbur can never replace his love for Charlotte, due especially to the fact that she had dedicated a good portion of her life to saving his life. Wilbur in return sacrifices his life in a sense and dedicates it to the caring of Charlotte’s offspring, generations after she is gone. Nature is where these loves develop and without the natural surrounding itself, there wouldn’t even be a story to tell. It is in nature itself, specifically a spiders web, that ultimately saves the life of an all too ordinary pig.
Charlotte’s natural ability to form a web is heightened to a supernatural circumstance due to humanities natural draw to nature as a source of supernatural activity. According to Sue Misheff, “Charlotte’s web is a true-to-life spider’s web built by an all-too-realistic spider who devours flies in seemingly bloodthirsty ways. Is she evil, or just doing what comes naturally?” (Missheff 132). Charlotte is simply an ordinary spider with an extraordinary gift. Charlotte selflessly performs these acts out of love due to the fact that she is never given credit for such feats, and instead, Wilbur is the one given praise. It is in nature itself that Charlotte produces a web that she naturally creates due to her biological instincts in order to be the saving grace Wilbur needs to stay alive. Misheff also states “It is [Charlotte’s] imagination that transcends the natural way of things and inspires her to save her friend through her masterful weaving of words” (Misheff 132). This transcendence of natural ways is what leads the human characters in the novel to seek this miracle of nature as a source of escaping reality. The human characters, specifically the adults, use this “supernatural phenomenon” as a possible source of hope, awe, or a sign to something more. Children in the novel are depicted as simply being intrigued and in awe of such occurrences, rather than seeking more from what it is, a spider web. Nature is seen in this novel as being Wilbur and Charlotte’s safe haven in order for their friendship to grow, it is where Wilber is ultimately saved, and it is where humans go to seek more than what is simply put in front of one’s eyes.
In the novel Holes by Louis Sachar, the theme of fantasy and/or the supernatural is prevalent throughout the story. The entire novel centers around the supernatural occurrences of fate and nature being a source of refuge. In terms of fate, the book is crawling with instances where fate has brought characters together. An instance of such supernatural occurrences as told by Pat Pinset, the author of “Fate and Fortune in a Modern Fairy Tale: Louis Sachar’s Holes”, “Magic formula[s] are not lacking either, from the curse that ruined Elya, to the song that Elya should have sung to the old woman on the mountain in Latvia but that, much later, his great-great-grandson sings to her great- great-great-grandson, Zero” (Pinset 207). Elya Yelnats and his descendants were bestowed their curse due to the breaking of Elya’s promise to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain where the piglet she gifted him had drank. Madame Zeroni’s great- great-great-grandson Zero, or Hector Zeroni, crosses paths with Elya’s great-great grandson 100+ years into the future after that incident due to fate. Fate brought these two descendants together after both were arrested for two separate charges of theft that are seemingly unrelated, but we later learn this to be untrue. Zero states that “I should have just kept them. […] If I had just kept those old smelly sneakers, then neither of us would be here right now” (Sachar 184). It is supernatural fate that Stanley finds the Clyde Livingston sneakers Zero originally stole and attempts to bring them home for his father’s Zeroni curse induced failed shoe stench remedies. Fate also brings the boys together in order to break the curse that was placed by Hector’s great-great-great grandmother Madame Zeroni. After escaping from Camp Green Lake and seeking refuge on God’s Thumb, Stanley carries Zero up the rest of the mountain once he has fallen ill and is too weak to continue any farther on his own. Stanley then proceeds to sing him the song Madame Zeroni had requested Elya to sing to her when he promised to carry her up the mountain all those years before, ultimately fulfilling the obligation to a Zeroni. At this moment in time, the curse is lifted. It is fate that has brought Stanley’s and Hector’s families back together in order to break the curse in a setting that is all too familiar.
Nature is heavily portrayed as a refuge to both Stanley Yelnats and Hector Zeroni (Zero) in the novel. Nature saves the lives of Stanley and Hector not only once, but three times throughout the novel. Kirsten Møllegaard’s article “Haunting and History in Louis Sachar’s Holes” explores the concept that landscapes are haunted by their pasts and states that
[Holes illustrates] the turn to the supernatural in the process of recovering history
emphasizes the difficulty of gaining access to a lost or denied past […]. In Holes,
storytelling constructs the reality of the characters. Stories provide frames for
understanding bizarre occurrences, seemingly arbitrary acts of violence and injustice, and
for establishing bonds and meaningful relationships between people (Møllegaard 139).
It was stated earlier that fate brought these two young men together, but along with fate, the surroundings themselves brought Stanley and Zero closer than ever. This can be seen when Zero escapes from Camp Green Lake, he is protected from the environment by a piece of this lands history that has long been forgotten. Zero is being protected by Sam’s old overturned boat that provides him nutrients from the jars of decaying peaches he names sploosh. When searching for Zero, Stanley stumbles across the overturned boat as well and seeks refuge from the heat under this haunted piece of history, luckily finding Zero during the process. After hiding out underneath the boat and eating the last of the sploosh, Stanley decides that in order to survive, him and Zero must climb God’s Thumb. Ever since Stanley had arrived to Camp Green Lake, he had a heightened attraction to God’s Thumb and referenced back to the story of Stanley’s great grandfather finding and seeking refuge on God’s Thumb when he was robbed by Kissing Kate. After a treacherous climb up the mountain and ultimately fulfilling the obligation to carry and sing the obscure song to a Zeroni, Stanley and Zero are saved by the abundance of onions and water at the top of God’s thumb. Nature provided Stanley and Zero a place to recuperate and ultimately saved their lives once again when they encounter the yellow spotted lizards when recovering the suitcase full of treasure where Kissing Kate’s lipstick tube was buried. According to Sam the onion man, “The lizards don’t like onion blood” (Sachar 224). No one knows this though since this knowledge was lost in history when Sam was murdered. Nature, or in this case onions, saves the boys’ lives when they are caught digging up the suitcase. Nature also saves them due to the fact that the hole was filled with yellow spotted lizards. If Stanley and Zero had been caught without the immediate danger of being surrounded by poisonous lizards, Stanley would never have obtained his family’s treasure and Zero most likely would have been severely punished or even possibly killed. In relation to Møllegaard’s theory that the landscape is haunted by the past and ultimately draws people together and sets events into motion and nature being used as a refuge, the story of Holes draws heavily on the supernatural qualities of nature.
Both Holes and Charlotte’s Web use nature as a form of supernatural refuge. The novel Holes plays on the concepts of fate and nature as a form of refuge, while Charlotte’s Web focuses in more on the supernatural ideas of talking animals, the “miracle” of words appearing in a spider’s web, and the sense of wonder at the beauty found in the natural world that is often seen as as safe haven. Although these novels have different plots, themes, and motifs, both stories have undeniable traces of supernatural nuances throughout the entirety of the stories being told.
Misheff, Sue. “Beneath the Web and over the Stream: The Search for Safe Places in Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 29, no. 3, Sept. 1998, pp. 131-141. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gwclib.nocccd.edu/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=11305724&site=ehost-live.
Møllegaard, Kirsten. “Haunting and History in Louis Sachar’s Holes.” Western American Literature, vol. 45 no. 2, 2010, pp. 138-161. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/wal.0.0117
Pinsent, Pat. “Fate and Fortune in a Modern Fairy Tale: Louis Sachar’s Holes.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 33, no. 3, Sept. 2002, pp. 203-212. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gwclib.nocccd.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=11305812&site=ehost-live.
Sachar, Louis. Holes. Thorndike Press, a Part of Gale, Cengage Company, 2000.
“Supernatural.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ supernatural.
Thomas, Trudelle H. “The Arc of the Rope Swing: Humour, Poetry, and Spirituality in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, vol. 21, no. 3/4, Aug-Nov2016, pp. 201-215. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/1364436X.2016.1228618.
White, E. B., and Garth Williams. Charlotte’s Web. Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
E.B. White’s Faith in Nature: The Critique of Christianity in ‘Charlotte’s Web’
In Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White juxtaposes a conventional children’s story surrounding the anthropomorphism of farm animals with relatively difficult concepts such as death in order to call readers to question their own faith and morality. This is an intriguing structure, for it goes against the traditional tendency to use children’s books to impose values, historically Christian values, on children. It is from this structure that White is able to comment on concepts of mortality, salvation, after life, and the existence of God, all of which are themes one may find striking or alarming in a children’s book. E. B. White effectively utilizes themes of faith, mortality, and nature to argue against a more traditional Christian understanding of morality, while simultaneously emphasizing a naturalistic vision of morality in which the laws and forces of nature are the basis of morality.
It is first necessary to understand the way in which White trivializes religion in order to understand the way in which he wants to move beyond traditional morality to a more naturalistic understanding of values in the world. White most profoundly trivializes faith in God, through Charlotte’s web. He begins this process by repeatedly utilizing the word “trick” to refer to Charlotte’s plan. From the first mention of the plan, Charlotte emphasizes the gullibility of humans and the way in which she could “trick” them into the most outrageous of beliefs (67). As Charlotte’s engagement in trickery is developed and she spins the first web, Mr. Zuckerman immediately identifies the “trick” with a miracle from God. White draws out the way in which Mr. Zuckerman immediately appeals to God, as Mr. Zuckerman goes to discuss the trick with the minister (82-83). The juxtaposition between a trick and a miracle intends to reveal how easily the work of a mere spider is confused with divine intervention. He forms a contrast between a trick, something trivial and childish, and a miracle, something that traditionally holds incredible weight. Further, the way in which White depicts the animals as essentially the ones with true knowledge of the situation, as opposed to humans, he portrays an unusual hierarchy in which humans are confusing lesser beings, animals, with the work of God. Thus, White ultimately equates the animal to God, which is an attempt to trivialize the concept of God, for he suggests that an act of God is truly the work of a lesser being. This is an excellent commentary on the ways in which faith can bring people to irrational conclusions, for he demonstrates how the work of something as trivial as a spider can be misunderstood for the work of the highest divine entity. This is not the only instance in which White questions the blind faith of religious persons through reference to the words on Charlotte’s webs. In Chapter 11, the goose suggests that Charlotte use the word “terrific” to which Wilbur disagrees on the basis that he does not believe himself to be terrific. Charlotte responds, “People believe almost anything they see in print,” (89). Here, White is again highlight the Christian practice of putting faith into religious books such as the Bible. One may go so far as to suggest that White is critiquing the Creationist tendency to interpret the Bible in a literal sense. Again, White trivializes this concept by having a lesser being, a spider, critique the complex idea of blind faith in a manner which portrays such blind faith as absurd. From this attempt to draw away from a faith-based understanding of the world through the trivialization of miracles and the Bible, White can successfully lead his readers to a new sense of morality away from religion.
The new understanding of morality that White proposed throughout the book is one that has a naturalistic understanding of values, relations, and guiding principles. Perhaps the most famous instance of this naturalistic understanding of morality, as well as the way it impacts views of mortality, is in Chapter 21 when Charlotte states, “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 lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that,” (164). Here, Charlotte describes the natural cycle of life without any mention of salvation or afterlife. Again, this goes against traditional Christian tendency to remain hopeful in an afterlife or to work towards salvation, in favor of a more naturalistic perspective. It is also important to note the ironic use of the phrase “Heaven knows…” for White is drawing attention to Charlotte’s lack of reference to heaven even though she clearly has knowledge of the existence of the concept. White continues his attack on the Christian understanding of working toward salvation as a guiding moral principle when he describes Charlotte’s death stating, “No one was with her when she died,” (171). This is White’s final attempt to comment on the Christian notion of salvation. One may argue that this statement directly implies that no one was with Charlotte, not even God. From a Christian viewpoint this statement would be absurd, as they ascribe to the belief that God is always with his followers. Further, it is at death that Christians believe they will be judged by God for their actions. Again, White wants readers to turn away from these religious understandings and instead turn to nature. From this statement, he is remaining true to the natural world by stating that Charlotte, a spider, dies alone. However, the phrases “We’re born, we live a little, we die,” as well as “No one was with her when she died,” have slightly nihilistic undertones which is not White’s ultimate intention. One may argue that this is clarified by Charlotte’ statement to Wilbur, “Maybe you’ll live forever—who knows?” (142). Here, White attempts to address the fact that humans do not have access to such information regarding mortality, for it is something that neither humankind, nor the animal kingdom, may ever understand. It is from this quote that White shows that it is not necessary to become nihilistic towards the naturalistic interpretation of mortality, yet at the same time he argues that we must willfully admit partial ignorance towards the subject.
By laying out his attack on Christianity, White’s argument for a naturalistic morality in which the laws of nature hold moral value becomes clear. White proposes nature to be a powerful force, perhaps subliminally competing with the excessive power that religion carries. White uses the forceful, ever-present cycle of the seasons to demonstrate nature’s power. He argues that despite the acts of humans or animals, seasons continue to cycle. Further, they determine natural events without anyone’s say. Thus, nature has a power over humans and animals alike. The cyclic nature of the seasons as a representation of the powerful force of nature ensures throughout the book that life and death coexist in harmony. This is exemplified by the way in which Charlotte leaves behind her children who become friends with nature. These children, like Charlotte, will also die in a year. However, they too leave behind children for Wilbur to become friends with. White states, “But Charlotte’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, year after year, lived in the doorway. Each spring there were new little spiders hatching out to take the place of the old. Most of them sailed away, on their balloons. But always two or three stayed and set up housekeeping in the doorway,” (183). Here, White reinforces the power of nature and the continuous cycle of season, not in a nihilistic way, but in a manner which produces a hopeful, more naturalistic understanding of mortality. This morality is more orderly and logical, going hand in hand with the natural world. White’s preference for this morality is exemplified through Dr. Dorian who states, “When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out the web itself is a miracle,” (109). White uses the doctor, who represents science and reason, to point out that the web’s existence itself is miraculous. This sets up a contrast between religion and science, and White effectively uses it to demonstrate to readers that one who adheres to a naturalistic, perhaps more scientific, morality is left with miracles, as well. It is a moment where White highlights the way in which the naturalistic morality can and does provide a sense of hope and mystery, the same hope and mystery people often find attractive in religion.
Charlotte’s Web is an unexpected critique of religion, faith, and Christian values, yet White does not fall victim to the often nihilistic attitude of the atheist. Rather, White turns to nature and its tendencies to propose a more logical, impartial, yet ultimately hopeful conception of morality. From the cyclical nature of the seasons, to the promise of recurring generations, to the rationality of scientific claims, White exposes his youthful audience to a new understanding of the world, one which is not often found in books for children.