Study Guide

Charlotte's Web Setting

By E. B. White

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American farmland, sometime before the 1950s

Close your eyes and picture this: a big barn, lots of hay, plenty of noisy animals, and a few insects. Throw in a farmer and his wife, some homemade blueberry pie (yum), a rope swing for the kids, and a trough for the pig, and you've got yourself the Zuckerman farm.

Oh, and maybe toss some manure into the picture, too. Seriously, we're always hearing about how much manure there is on this farm. Apparently pigs really like a nice warm bed of manure. Smelly times.

Manure aside, the farm life sounds pretty great. There's always fun to be had (on the rope swing!) and food to be eaten by animals and humans alike (more slop please!).

For Wilbur, the Zuckerman farm just feels like home. (We've got loads more to say about this. Take a look at "The Home" in Themes, and then head back here.) He loves everything about it, from the way it looks to the way it smells. Nothing, not even a mean rat, can put a damper on the bliss that is the Zuckerman farm. Check out this tidbit describing Wilbur's return from the county fair:

"And so Wilbur came home to his beloved manure pile in the barn cellar. […] There is no place like home, Wilbur thought […] The barn smelled good." (22.1)

Wilbur loves his surroundings so much he can hardly stand it. Plus, see what we mean about manure? The praises abound.

Sometime Before the 1950s

White isn't too specific about when Charlotte's Web is set, but we know it's before he published the book in 1952. We can pick that up from its depiction of rural American life. These are simple people—no iPhones, no computers, and maybe even no TV. In fact, the biggest piece of technology is Mrs. Zuckerman's freezer.

And here's something else. In the decades before (and including) the 1950s, advertising was really taking off. Companies were learning that it wasn't just enough to announce a new product—they had to convince people it was special. Radiant, even. Or "terrific."

And notice how Templeton brings back advertising material from the dump? Yeah, that's where Charlotte gets her ideas. And notice how people start agreeing Wilbur must be special, just because it's written in print? Yep, that too. We think White is poking just a little bit of fun at the new-fangled powers of advertising.

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