After returning Wilbur to his pen, everyone goes off to find Fern, and Charlotte and Wilbur are left alone. Wilbur is happy and proud of the medal around his neck, but Charlotte is silent. When Wilbur asks her why she’s being so quiet, she tells him that she feels tired—but peaceful, and grateful for Wilbur’s success (which she sees, in part, as her success, too.) Charlotte is grateful that she has assured Wilbur’s security and happiness—no one will harm him now, and he will “live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world,” and even the seasons to come.
Though Charlotte is quiet and clearly in pain, she is satisfied and happy—she has achieved the goal she set for herself, and has saved her friend. She always knew that her lifespan would be a short one, and in the brief time she had, wanted to ensure that Wilbur would live to see all the things she never would.
At Charlotte’s beautiful description of the seasons and their changing, Wilbur becomes tearful and emotional. He asks what he ever did to deserve all of her help—he feels he hasn’t done enough for her in return. Charlotte assures Wilbur, though, that his just being her friend is more than enough. In helping Wilbur, she has “lift[ed] up her life a trifle.”
Wilbur begins talking about how wonderful it will be for them to all return home to the farm together, but Charlotte announces that she will not be going back to the barn—in just a day or two, she’ll be dead. She doesn’t even have enough strength, she says, to climb down into the crate. Wilbur throws himself onto the ground in a fit of “pain and sorrow,” and he sobs over the loss of his only “true friend.” Charlotte, though, insists Wilbur stop making such a scene.
Wilbur is as dramatic as always as Charlotte at last tells him that she’s dying. Wilbur is both selfless and selfish in this passage—he is mourning his loss of Charlotte rather that Charlotte’s loss of life.
Wilbur is struck by an idea—if Charlotte can’t bring her egg sac back to the barn, he will do it for her. He calls for Templeton and informs the rat of the situation. Charlotte is very sick, he says, and needs for Templeton to fetch her egg sac from the rafters of the shed. Templeton complains that the other animals are always calling upon him to do their dirty work, but Wilbur is desperate to secure his help before the Arables and Zuckermans return and prepare to drive back to the farm. Wilbur makes Templeton a deal: he promises that at every single meal, he will let Templeton have his fill of the slop before he himself even touches it. The greedy Templeton, excited, agrees to the deal and clambers up to the ceiling, where he detaches the egg sac and carries it back down between his teeth.
Wilbur sees that there is still time to repay Charlotte for all of her kindness and sacrifice by doing her one last favor. In order to secure help in completing it, Wilbur must make a sacrifice himself—something he gladly does knowing that just as Charlotte sacrificed her own time, energy, and happiness to ensure that his life would go on, he must now sacrifice those things to ensure that her lineage is protected as well.
Templeton creeps down and puts the egg sac at Wilbur’s feet, complaining about the sticky feeling in his mouth. He climbs into Wilbur’s crate just as Lurvy, Mr. Arable, and Homer Zuckerman return, followed by all the rest of the humans. Wilbur carefully takes the egg sac into his mouth and gently holds it on top of his tongue. As he is loaded into the crate, he looks up at Charlotte and gives her a wink—the only goodbye he can manage. Summoning the last of her strength, Charlotte waves goodbye to Wilbur with one of her legs. Charlotte never moves again—the next day, as the fairgrounds clear out, Charlotte dies peacefully. No one is with her when she passes—and no one knows that in all the goings-on at the fair, “a grey spider had played the most important part of all.”
Charlotte’s death is lonely and quiet, just as her life often was. During her short time alive, she spent most of it trying to help others—namely Wilbur. The sacrifices that have defined her life have made her a good and beloved friend, and yet she dies alone anyway. In this passage, White demonstrates the cruelty of the natural world alongside the beauty of a life lived with good intentions.