Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s Web Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on E.B. White's Charlotte’s Web. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of E.B. White

The sixth child born in his family, Elwyn Brooks White grew up in New York and went on to attend Cornell University. After graduating, he worked at newspapers and magazines around the country before landing at the prestigious New Yorker magazine in 1927. He rose to prominence as an editor there over the years, all the while composing essays, poetry, style books (The Elements of Style is a guide to American English usage that is still used as a gold standard today), and children’s novels such as Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. White and his family maintained a second residence on a farm in Maine, where White was able to be in and around nature, one of his life’s great passions. He passed away at the farm in 1985 after a struggle with Alzheimer’s, having built a storied career encompassing awards such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal for Literature, and the Newbery Medal—the latter was a prize he earned in 1953 for Charlotte’s Web, his best-known work to many Americans, which is now regarded as a classic of children’s literature.
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Historical Context of Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s Web is given an ambiguous setting somewhere on a farm in rural America in the early 1950s. The novel seems to occur in a kind of nameless, idyllic postwar bubble, removed from the racial strife of the burgeoning civil rights movement, the economic misery of the Great Depression, and the emotional and political fallout of World War II. Through Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White seemingly erases unsavory historical context and focuses entirely on his tranquil vision of the American countryside—and the relationships between the humans and animals that populate it.

Other Books Related to Charlotte’s Web

Anthropomorphized animals—that is, animals imbued with human emotions, characteristics, thoughts, and language—are a staple of children’s literature, and rightly so: by humanizing animals, writers are able to communicate the universality of pain and joy across species and demonstrate the innate worth of human and non-human life alike. Anthropomorphic animals also populate literature that is more allegorical and aimed mainly at adults, in novels like Richard Adams’s Watership Down and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Other novels that carefully examine the struggles and triumphs of animals living in a human world—often getting help and support from their human counterparts, just as Fern helps Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web—include E.B. White’s own novels Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, as well as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling, Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows, and Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.
Key Facts about Charlotte’s Web
  • Full Title: Charlotte’s Web
  • When Written: Early 1950s
  • Where Written: New York City and Maine
  • When Published: October 15, 1952
  • Literary Period: Contemporary, midcentury
  • Genre: Young adult fiction; coming-of-age tale
  • Setting: Rural America
  • Climax: Wilbur wins a special prize at the county fair due to Charlotte’s help in signaling, through her intricately-woven webs, how special he is to the humans around him.
  • Antagonist: Templeton; aging
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Charlotte’s Web

Classic. Charlotte’s Web occupies a unique space not just in the American literary canon, but also in the ranks of great world literature. It is one of the most popular children’s books of all time, having sold more than 45 million copies worldwide and having been translated into 23 languages. It has been ranked as the best-selling children’s paperback ever published, and has been widely adapted as a film, play, and even a video game.