The night is long and passes fitfully. Wilbur keeps waking up at every tiny sound, anticipating the morning and the chance to greet his new friend. As soon as the sun comes up, Wilbur rises and starts looking all over the barn for the source of the voice, but can’t see anything new or strange. He calls out and asks for “the party who addressed [him] at bedtime” to “make himself or herself known,” but the other animals only yell at Wilbur to quiet down. Wilbur eats breakfast and wonders where his friend could be.
Again, Wilbur’s attempts to find himself a friend are met with harshness and exasperation. Wilbur is sweet, earnest, and desperate for connection—human-like traits that grate on the other barn animals and alienate Wilbur from them.
After eating, Wilbur settles back down for a morning nap—just then, the mysterious voice greets him once again with a cry of “Salutations!” Wilbur looks for the source of the voice, and at last finds it in the doorway to the barn. Stretched across the entrance is a large spider web, and hanging down from the top is a grey spider “the size of a gumdrop.” The spider introduces herself as Charlotte A. Cavatica, but tells Wilbur to call her Charlotte.
A pig raised by humans and a barn spider are an unlikely pair—but in making Charlotte and Wilbur friends, White is pointing out that even the most mismatched individuals can offer one another something.
Charlotte begins wrapping up a fly that’s gotten caught in her web, and explains to Wilbur, step by step, the process through which she catches and consumes her prey. As Charlotte wraps the fly in threat and bites him, paralyzing him, Wilbur is horrified to learn that Charlotte eats all sorts of insects, draining their blood to keep herself alive. Charlotte blithely states that she can’t change her nature—spiders have always been “trappers,” and she herself sees the practice of catching and eating prey as “clever.” Charlotte points out that someone brings Wilbur all his meals—she has to “live by [her] wits” and “take what comes.” Charlotte also points out that if she and others like her didn’t kill and eat insects, they’d take over the world and “wipe out everything.”
Wilbur is squeamish and naïve, and doesn’t yet truly understand that the natural world can be as vicious as it is beautiful. Charlotte is matter-of-fact, though, as she defends her way of life, pointing out that different animals must get by in the world in different ways. She also shows Wilbur that death is often necessary, echoing Mr. Arable’s matter-of-fact approach to the idea of slaughtering Wilbur himself earlier in the novel.
The goose overhears this conversation and thinks to herself what an innocent and naïve little pig Wilbur is. He doesn’t even know, the goose thinks to herself, that “Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy are plotting to kill him” for meat around Christmastime. The goose shifts herself around her eggs, trying to keep them all warm.
The goose’s reaction and thought process in this passage shows how the things about the natural world which humans perceive as brutal are often just part of life for animals. The goose feels sad about Wilbur’s impending death—but also knows that she needs to focus on securing the safety of her own brood.
As Charlotte eats the fly, Wilbur lies down and closes his eyes. He thinks about how though he has at last made a new friendship, the friend he’s found is “fierce, brutal, scheming, [and] bloodthirsty.” He worries that he’ll never learn to like Charlotte—but doesn’t yet know that she will soon “prove loyal and true to the very end.”
Wilbur is learning more about the world around him. He is still skeptical of the brutality that comes with growing up in the world of animals—but so grateful for the warmth of a new friendship that he’s willing to put his fears and judgements aside.