The night before the county fair, everyone goes to bed early to get enough rest—humans and animals alike—but find that their dreams are full of fantasies of the fair. Lurvy dreams of playing games and winning prizes, while Homer dreams that Wilbur has grown to a giant size and won every prize. The animals are excited, too, and have a restless evening in the barn. In the morning, everyone starts getting ready. Fern and Avery take baths and put on their best clothes, as do their parents. Lurvy fills Wilbur’s crate with fresh straw, and Edith gives Wilbur a buttermilk bath to make his filthy coat clean and shiny. Wilbur feels more “radiant” than ever after his bath, and his ears and snout shine pink and smooth as silk.
The fair is just as exciting to the humans as it is to the animals, and in the build-up to the event, E.B. White takes another opportunity to show how humans and animals are not so different after all. The air of excitement and anticipation in this passage is undercut by the sadness of Charlotte’s dwindling lifespan—and the fear that Wilbur may yet be killed for the enjoyment of his human caretakers.
Edith and Homer head back up to the house to finish getting ready while the animals discuss who’s going to the fair and who’s staying behind. Charlotte, surprisingly, announces her intention to go along. Templeton says he has no interest in the fair, but when the old sheep tells him it’s a “rat’s paradise” full of food scraps and discarded junk, he becomes determined to go. Charlotte and Templeton hurriedly stow themselves away in Wilbur’s crate, and warn him to put on a show of struggling when he’s loaded into the crate so that the Zuckermans don’t get suspicious or think Wilbur is “bewitched.”
Just as he has several times throughout the novel, Templeton is only motivated to participate in the other animals’ world when there’s something in it for him. Whether or not Templeton will ever learn what it means to make a sacrifice on someone’s behalf remains to be seen.
The Arables arrive to go with the Zuckermans to the fair, and everyone admires Wilbur’s shiny new appearance—especially Fern, who thinks fondly of the day he was born. As Mr. Arable studies Wilbur, he tells Homer that he’ll probably “get some good ham and bacon” when it comes time to kill Wilbur. At these words, Wilbur faints, sinking to his knees in the straw. Lurvy runs for a pail of water and throws it onto Wilbur as the Arables and Zuckermans fret, fuss, and argue about what’s wrong with the pig.
Even though Wilbur has been feeling secure in Charlotte’s plan’s efficacy and pampered by Homer, Mr. Arable’s comment throws him off his guard and shakes him to his core. Wilbur has been receiving praise and special treatment—but now he fears that his life is still not safe.
Once Wilbur gets to his feet, he is too exhausted to put on a show of struggle as he’s loaded into the crate by Lurvy, Homer, and Mr. Arable. As the Zuckermans and Arables climb into the truck and set off, the barnyard animals all cheer for Wilbur and wish him good luck at the fair.
Everyone is excited for Wilbur to get off on his adventure, oblivious to the threat that still hangs over his head.