The central symbol throughout Charlotte’s Web is the titular web—really a series of webs—woven by the wise, practical, inventive Charlotte. These webs, woven deftly but not without effort, come to symbolize the desire for animals to have the inherent dignity and worth of their lives recognized by the humans who would kill them for reasons both utilitarian and careless. Through the words she weaves on her web, Charlotte attempts to trick the “gullible” human owners of the Zuckerman farm into believing a “miracle” has occurred. Charlotte hopes that they will see Wilbur the pig as special, “terrific,” and “humble,” and thus spare his life instead of slaughtering him for meat come Christmastime. Charlotte knows that Wilbur’s life is valuable and worth saving, and believes that he is truly the things she says he is in her webs—at the same time, she knows that the humans in charge of Wilbur’s life and death will never see these things on their own, and must be shocked out of their complacency and relative contempt for animal life through something miraculous. The webs symbolize a kind of wish-fulfillment on the part of E.B. White, a naturalist and animal lover throughout his long life—if only animals could speak up on their own behalves, and broadcast to indifferent or ill-meaning humans how valuable, special, and worthy their lives are.
Charlotte’s Web Quotes in Charlotte’s Web
“You mean you eat flies?” gasped Wilbur.
“Certainly. […] I have to live, don’t I? […] Of course, I don’t really eat them. I drink them—drink their blood. I love blood,” said Charlotte, and her pleasant, thin voice grew even thinner and more pleasant.
“Don’t say that!” groaned Wilbur. “Please don’t say things like that!”
“Why not? It’s true, and I have to say what is true. I am not entirely happy about my diet of flies and bugs, but it’s the way I’m made. A spider has to pick up a living somehow or other, and I happen to be a trapper. I just naturally build a web and trap flies and other in sects. My mother was a trapper before me. Her mother was a trapper before her. All our family have been trappers. Way back for thousands and thousands of years we spiders have been laying for flies and bugs.”
“It’s a miserable inheritance,” said Wilbur, gloomily. He was sad because his new friend was so bloodthirsty.
“Well, you can’t talk,” said Charlotte. “You have your meals brought to you in a pail. Nobody feeds me. I have to get my own living. I live by my wits. I have to be sharp and clever, lest I go hungry. I have to think things out, catch what I can, take what comes. And it just so happens, my friend, that what comes is flies and insects and bugs. And furthermore,” said Charlotte, shaking one of her legs, “do you realize that if I didn’t catch bugs and eat them, bugs would increase and multiply and get so numerous that they’d destroy the earth, wipe out everything?”
“Really?” said Wilbur. “I wouldn’t want that to happen. Perhaps your web is a good thing after all.”
“Hey, look at that big spider!” [Avery] said. “It’s tremenjus.”
“Leave it alone!” commanded Fern. “You’ve got a frog—isn’t that enough?”
“That’s a fine spider and I’m going to capture it,” said Avery. He took the cover off the candy box. Then he picked up a stick. “I’m going to knock that ol’ spider into this box,” he said.
Wilbur’s heart almost stopped when he saw what was going on. This might be the end of Charlotte if the boy succeeded in catching her.
“You stop it, Avery!” cried Fern.
Avery put one leg over the fence of the pigpen. He was just about to raise his stick to hit Charlotte when he lost his balance. He swayed and toppled and landed on the edge of Wilbur’s trough. The trough tipped up and then came down with a slap. The goose egg was right underneath. There was a dull explosion as the egg broke, and then a horrible smell.
There, in the center of the web, neatly woven in block letters, was a message. It said: SOME PIG!
Lurvy felt weak. He brushed his hand across his eyes and stared harder at Charlotte’s web. “I’m seeing things,” he whispered. He dropped to his knees and uttered a short prayer. Then, forgetting all about Wilbur’s breakfast, he walked back to the house and called Mr. Zuckerman.
“I think you’d better come down to the pigpen,” he said.
Zuckerman stared at the writing on the web. Then he murmured the words “Some Pig.” Then he looked at Lurvy. Then they both began to tremble. Charlotte, sleepy after her night’s exertions, smiled as she watched.
Wilbur came and stood directly under the web.
“Some pig!” muttered Lurvy in a low voice.
“Some pig!” whispered Mr. Zuckerman.
On Sunday the church was full. The minister explained the miracle. He said that the words on the spider’s web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.
All in all, the Zuckermans’ pigpen was the center of attraction. Fern was happy, for she felt that Charlotte’s trick was working and that Wilbur’s life would be saved. But she found that the barn was not nearly as pleasant—too many people. She liked it better when she could be all alone with her friends the animals.
“Run around!” commanded Charlotte. “I want to see you in action, to see if you are radiant.”
Wilbur raced to the end of his yard.
“Now back again, faster!” said Charlotte.
Wilbur galloped back. His skin shone. His tail had a fine, tight curl in it.
“Jump into the air!” cried Charlotte.
Wilbur jumped as high as he could.
“Keep your knees straight and touch the ground with your ears!” called Charlotte.
“Do a back flip with a half twist in it!” cried Charlotte.
Wilbur went over backwards, writhing and twisting.
“O.K., Wilbur,” said Charlotte. “You can go back to sleep. O.K., Templeton, the soap ad will do, I guess. I’m not sure Wilbur’s action is exactly radiant, but it’s interesting.”
“Actually,” said Wilbur, “I feel radiant.”
“Do you?” said Charlotte, looking at him with affection. “Well, you’re a good little pig, and radiant you shall be.”
“What are you doing up there, Charlotte?”
“Oh, making something,” she said. “Making something, as usual.”
“Is it something for me?” asked Wilbur.
“No,” said Charlotte. “It’s something for me, for a change.”
“Please tell me what it is,” begged Wilbur.
“I’ll tell you in the morning,” she said. “When the first light comes into the sky and the sparrows stir and the cows rattle their chains, when the rooster crows and the stars fade, when early cars whisper along the highway, you look up here and I’ll show you something. I will show you my masterpiece.”
“Ladeez and gentlemen,” said the loud speaker, “we now present Mr. Homer L. Zuckerman’s distinguished pig. The fame of this unique animal has spread to the far corners of the earth, attracting many valuable tourists to our great State.”
“This magnificent animal,” continued the loud speaker, “is truly terrific. Look at him, ladies and gentlemen! Note the smoothness and whiteness of the coat, observe the spotless skin, the healthy pink glow of ears and snout.”
“Ladeez and gentlemen,” continued the loud speaker, “I must not take any more of your valuable time. On behalf of the governors of the Fair, I have the honor of awarding a special prize of twenty-five dollars to Mr. Zuckerman, together with a handsome bronze medal suitably engraved, in token of our appreciation of the part played by this pig—this radiant, this terrific, this humble pig—in attracting so many visitors to our great County Fair.”
“Why did you do all this for me?” [Wilbur] asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”