Charlotte’s Web


E. B. White

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Charlotte’s Web: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Wilbur’s new home in the Zuckermans’ barn is sweet-smelling and roomy. Wilbur lives in the lower part of the barn, directly beneath the cows, in a manure pile. Fern, as promised, visits Wilbur almost every day, and sits on an old milking stool at the edge of his pen to think, listen, and watch Wilbur play. The geese, sheep, and other animals soon take to Fern, and though she’s not allowed to enter Wilbur’s pen, she’s happy just to sit beside him for hours at a time.
Fern is true to her word. Even though Wilbur is living amongst the animals now, she still treats him like a beloved friend, and sacrifices her own time to stay with him and continue to be a part of his life.
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One afternoon in June, Fern does not arrive on time for her visit. The bored and confused Wilbur walks out to the small yard outside the barn, complaining about how there’s “never anything to do” at the Zuckermans’. He laments that at only two months old, he is “tired of living,” relegated to being trapped in a small yard. A nearby goose with a nervous voice shows Wilbur a loose board in the fence and urges him to push through it. Once free, though, Wilbur is unsure of where to go or what to do. The goose tells him that he can go anywhere he wants, and Wilbur begins exploring the fields of the farm, jumping and skipping with glee.
This passage makes it clear that the animals in the barnyard, though relatively happy, still yearn for freedom. Their lives in the barn are constricted and contained, and the dream of being free to roam is alive in all of them—even Wilbur.
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Soon, Edith notices that Wilbur has gotten out and calls for Lurvy, the hired man, to go and catch Wilbur. As news of Wilbur’s escape spreads throughout the farm, the other animals grow excited and watch as Edith and Lurvy work together to try and lure Wilbur back to the barn. Wilbur is uncomfortable with all the attention, and regrets ever trying to get “free.” The animals cheer Wilbur on as he dodges the humans, but eventually he tires of being the center of attention. When Edith entices him with a bucket of slops, Wilbur falls for the bait and returns to the pigpen, even as the animals urge him to “reconsider” and run away. 
Wilbur shows here that he is different from all the other animals—though the instinct to chase freedom is alive within him, he longs for company and comfort more than the free reign he’d have in the wild.
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As Wilbur eats his snack, Lurvy and Edith repair the loose board in the pen and comment on what a “good pig” Wilbur will make. Wilbur feels safe, warm, happy, and content again, and decides that he is perhaps “too young to go out into the world alone” as he lies down, exhausted, for an afternoon nap.
Wilbur’s journey mirrors the journey of a human child—he is experimenting with what it means to be free, learning what being cared for is worth, and making choices for himself rather than for others’ approval.
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