Charlotte’s Web

by

E. B. White

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Charlotte’s Web Symbol Analysis

Charlotte’s Web Symbol Icon

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

The Charlotte’s Web quotes below all refer to the symbol of Charlotte’s Web. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Charlotte’s Web published in 1952.
Chapter 5 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Wilbur (speaker), Charlotte (speaker)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 39-40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“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.

Related Characters: Fern Arable (speaker), Avery Arable (speaker), Wilbur, Charlotte
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Homer Zuckerman (speaker), Lurvy (speaker), Wilbur, Charlotte
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 77-79
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Wilbur, Charlotte , Fern Arable
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 84-85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

“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.

Wilbur obeyed.

“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.”

Related Characters: Wilbur (speaker), Charlotte (speaker), Templeton
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 100-101
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Wilbur (speaker), Charlotte (speaker)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Wilbur, Homer Zuckerman
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 157-158
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Wilbur (speaker), Charlotte (speaker)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Web
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Charlotte’s Web LitChart as a printable PDF.
Charlotte’s Web PDF

Charlotte’s Web Symbol Timeline in Charlotte’s Web

The timeline below shows where the symbol Charlotte’s Web appears in Charlotte’s Web. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Charlotte
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
...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.”... (full context)
Chapter 9: Wilbur’s Boast
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
As the days pass by, Charlotte weaves and re-weaves her webs each time one of her prey disturbs its threads. Wilbur admires Charlotte’s hard work and... (full context)
Chapter 10: An Explosion
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
Day after day, Charlotte sits in her web deep in thought, trying to come up with a way to save Wilbur. Charlotte is... (full context)
The Natural World  Theme Icon
...begs Avery to stop, but he begins climbing up on Wilbur’s through to reach her web. (full context)
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
...sleep, Charlotte sets to work. She tears out a section in the middle of her web and starts weaving something new in its place. (full context)
Chapter 11: The Miracle
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The next morning is foggy and wet, and the farm is covered in dew. Charlotte’s web is “a thing of beauty,” and each strand shines with beads of water. When Lurvy... (full context)
The Natural World  Theme Icon
...that a “miracle has happened on [the] farm,” and when he tells Edith about the web, she suggests they go take a look at the spider. Edith and Homer go down... (full context)
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Well before Sunday, however, word about the web has spread, and people begin coming from miles around to visit the Zuckerman farm and... (full context)
Chapter 13: Good Progress
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Charlotte works hard on her web all through the night while the other barn animals sleep all around her. The process... (full context)
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...arrives to bring Wilbur his breakfast, he is shocked to see Wilbur standing under the web, which now spells out “TERRIFIC.” He calls Edith and Homer to show them the new... (full context)
Chapter 14: Dr. Dorian
The Natural World  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...all of his other barnyard friends. Dr. Dorian has heard the news about the mysterious webs on the farm, and points out that it’s not the words appearing on them that... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Crickets
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...been trying to live up to the words Charlotte has woven for him in her webs. Wilbur tries to show off and look pretty for the audiences who come to see... (full context)
Chapter 17: Uncle
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
...a plan to help Wilbur win first prize anyway. Wilbur asks when she’ll spin a web, and Charlotte says she’ll get to it later in the afternoon—but admits that she’s feeling... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Cool of the Evening
The Natural World  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...crate and begins exploring. As he sets out, Charlotte, who has started weaving a new web, calls out to him to “bring [her] back a word”—she tells him that she is... (full context)
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
Charlotte gets back to work and finishes her web, but in the dark of the night, no one notices. The Zuckermans and Arables pile... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Egg Sac
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
...as today is his special day. She urges him to take a look at the web, and as Wilbur peers at it, he thinks it’s her most beautiful one yet, dazzling... (full context)
Chapter 22: A Warm Wind
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...he misses Charlotte badly, and spends many hours staring at the wispy remnants of her web over the barn door. Autumn turns to winter, and just before Christmas, Wilbur sees snow... (full context)
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
...back to life, the goose lays nine new eggs and the last threads of Charlotte’s web float away. (full context)
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality and Rebirth Theme Icon
The Natural World  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...up at the barn door to see that three of Charlotte’s daughters have woven brand-new webs of their own. Wilbur is overjoyed that the spiders have chosen to stay and live... (full context)