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By E.B. White (A Summary)
Charlotte’s Web is a classic children’s novel about a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. This animal fable was first published in 1952 and was listed by Publisher’s Weekly as the top-selling children’s paperback of all time in the year 2000. Charlotte’s Web explores themes of friendship, loyalty, nature, justice, language, and the cycles of life and death.
When eight-year-old Fern learns in the beginning of the novel that her father, John Arable, intends to kill a baby piglet because it is the runt of the litter, Fern begs him to spare the piglet’s life. Mr. Arable finally relents and gives Fern the responsibility of raising the piglet herself, hoping this will show Fern “how much trouble a pig can be.”
Fern nurses the piglet, which she names Wilbur, for several weeks, feeding him with a baby bottle and taking him for walks in her doll stroller. Once Wilbur is old enough, Mr. Arable informs Fern she must sell the piglet and suggests calling her uncle, Homer Zuckerman, who has a farm up the road. Fern sells Wilbur for six dollars to her uncle, who allows Fern to come and visit Wilbur any time she chooses.
At Zuckerman’s farm, Wilbur becomes lonely for friendship but none of the farm animals will play with him. Eventually, a soothing voice comes to Wilbur, telling him that she will be his friend. The next morning Wilbur meets Charlotte A. Cavatica, a large gray spider whose web stretches above the door to Wilbur’s pigpen. Wilbur is at first horrified by the bloodthirsty nature of the spider, but eventually the two become dear friends.
When Wilbur learns from the old sheep that Mr. Zuckerman intends to kill Wilbur to eat for Christmas dinner, he turns to Charlotte for help. Charlotte promises she will devise a plan to save Wilbur’s life, and after several days an idea comes to her. Charlotte begins spinning messages in her web which praise Wilbur, including “Some Pig!” and “TERRIFIC,” which have the desired effect of astonishing the Zuckermans and the townspeople.
Mr. Zuckerman becomes so preoccupied with the miracles of his famous pig he decides to enter Wilbur in a competition at the County Fair. With Charlotte’s assistance, Wilbur goes to the fair and wins Mr. Zuckerman top prize, ensuring that Wilbur will not go to slaughter.
Charlotte, however, has reached the end of her natural lifespan, and after laying her eggs and weaving an egg sac while at the fair, Charlotte becomes too weak to go on. With help from Templeton the rat, Wilbur salvages Charlotte’s eggs and transports them back to Zuckerman’s barn, where he awaits their hatching the following spring.
When Charlotte’s eggs eventually hatch, most of the baby spiders depart to build webs of their own elsewhere. Three of Charlotte’s daughters, however, stay behind at Zuckerman’s barn as friends to Wilbur.