Review: “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White

For the love of books

Fern Arable lives with her family on a farm.  One morning she rescues a runty pig from certain death, which she lovingly adopts and names “Wilbur.”  Wilbur grows up quickly, and he is eventually sold to Fern’s uncle.  Meanwhile, he learns that he is predestined for one fate: the slaughterhouse.  Wilbur’s pleas for friendship are answered by Charlotte, a beautiful talented spider who pities Wilbur’s inevitable end.  She is determined to do everything in her intelligence and her power to save his life, even if it means having to sacrifice her own.

Charlotte’s Web is not only an extraordinary work of fiction, but it is also a philosophical novel with very serious morals at its heart.  E.B. White discusses numerous issues in this book, delicately binding them together under the main storyline.  Altruism, friendship, loyalty, mortality, and prejudice are the major themes that envelop the story.  The use of personification for the author’s animal characters makes the story more captivating, with a special focus on the relationships between humans and domesticated animals.  The author’s personal wisdom and philosophy arise more than once from the mouths of animals, and logical arguments presented in the novel are very witty and strikingly true.  For example, Wilbur argues with a lamb in a moment of prejudice about “nothingness,” refuting outright the belief in physics and mathematics that nothing is in fact something.  White makes it evident via logical reasoning and common sense that nothing is nothing, despite what scientists may theorize.

Another remark of great wisdom in Charlotte’s Web is the author’s steadfast recommendation to be a good listener, as there are many good talkers but few good listeners in the world.  Charlotte’s listening and self-sacrifice prove her loyalty and her friendship with Wilbur to be true.  In the same manner, Wilbur’s great love and acceptance of Charlotte as a spider testify to the depth of his friendship with her.  However, Templeton the rat is an example of a cynical, self-centered, and greedy personality that is unwillingly changed by Charlotte.  The hierarchy in the barnyard among the animals is a reflection of human society, while Fern’s love for Wilbur can be considered an epitome of compassion and understanding which is in itself unfathomable to the adults within the story.  Charlotte’s Web is, simply, a great and poignant classic from its hopeful beginning to its tragic culmination.

Original review: Part 2: The masterpieces of E.B. White, Examiner.com

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