By E.B. White
I really thought I’d read this book before, but it turns out I only saw the animated film from 1973. Which is just fine, considering that movie turned out to be incredibly true to the book! A lot of lines and scenes I remembered from the movie—that I watched quite a lot as a kid in the 90s—were word for word from the book!
Charlotte’s Web is really about accepting change. It’s a good message for kids that, sometimes, you can’t “fight fate” and sometimes you can. Wilbur changes his fate through the help of the friends around him. They put in work, and so does he. Wilbur jumps and dances and tries his best to please the humans. Yes, sure, it’s so they won’t butcher and eat him, but this is a story about a pig on a farm.
But Charlotte cannot change her fate or her place in the world. I liked this acceptance of life as it is: unfair. Wilbur’s grief at Charlotte’s death is less traumatizing because it’s framed as “life goes on.” Instead of becoming bitter, Wilbur is grateful for his time with Charlotte, and he vows to care for her descendants.
Which brings me to the second main point of the novel: unconditional friendship. Charlotte and Wilbur’s relationship is completely based in companionship. Their relationship is not transactional. Templeton, on the other hand, shares a purely transactional relationship with Wilbur. What’s important here is these two relationships are the two Wilbur most often connects with due to proximity. This is often the case for school-aged children: they have friends mostly based on who’s in their class.
In the two extreme cases of Templeton (transactional) and Charlotte (companionable,) E.B. White makes it super easy for a child to understand which relationship is healthier, even if they can’t explain the why.
Overall, I’m happy to have finally read Charlotte’s Web. I hope it continues to live on as a classic.