Charlotte is Wilbur's best friend. Oh, and she's a spider—specifically, a common barn spider, technical name Araneus cavaticus. (Guess that's where her last name comes from.)
But Charlotte isn't just any spider: she's the spider who sticks by Wilbur through thick and thin. And she's the kind of spider who can write words in a web, which is seriously awesome. Finally, she's the spider who does the impossible and saves Wilbur's life.
Now that's one amazing eight-legged (and eight-eyed) gal.
It's true: Charlotte is bloodthirsty. Actually, this is one of the first impressions we get of her. Wilbur watches Charlotte as she traps her flies, kills them, and then eats the unwitting victims.
She sure can fend for herself, but all this killing makes Wilbur a little suspicious about Charlotte. In fact, he's got some not-so-nice things to say about her when they first meet: "Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty—everything I don't like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty, and of course, clever?" (5.56).
Wilbur is definitely suffering from some doubts about his new acquaintance, but this just reminds us that first impressions sure can be deceiving.
The truth is that Charlotte never stops killing flies. So she's got the bloodthirsty vampire thing going from start to finish. But Wilbur soon discovers that Charlotte has a softer side too. You might say that she's a pretty considerate killer: "Wilbur admired the way Charlotte managed. He was particularly glad that she always put her victim to sleep before eating it" (7.2).
So Char is bloodthirsty but kind. What can we say? The girl's complex.
Charlotte is as loyal as they come. When Wilbur is worried about being killed by the Zuckermans, who comes to the rescue? Charlotte. And when Wilbur feels nervous about going to the fair, who joins him in the crate? Charlotte, that's who. And when Wilbur needs one more amazing web to seal his fate, who whips one up even though she's dying? Yep, it's Charlotte.
The thing is, all this loyalty comes at a cost. When Charlotte heads to the fair, she gives up on the possibility of dying in her own home. She knows she'll have to make her egg sac at the fair instead.
Even with these downsides, Charlotte says she's going to stay with her friend anyway: "I have decided to go with Wilbur. He may need me" (16.23). What do you think of Charlotte's tone? We're thinking she sounds super matter-of-fact. It's as if she's decided Wilbur comes first, and that's all there is to it. She's definitely a girl you can count on.
But even though Charlotte is clever, self-sacrificing, and loyal, she never gets any attention. (Except from us! Head on over to the "Admiration" theme for more on this topic.) In fact, most of the characters in the book don't even know she exists. All over the county, people think the spider web is a miracle. They don't realize that it was woven by an actual spider.
So why do you think Charlotte never gets any attention? Well, for starters, she's teeny tiny. It's hard for people to even see her. Plus, those characters who do know she exists figure that she's just plain ordinary. Mr. Zuckerman sums it up when he says to his wife: "You see, Edith? It's just a common grey spider" (11.24). Well, that's where you're wrong, buddy.
But the thing is, Charlotte seems to like living out of the spotlight. She doesn't draw extra attention to herself. Instead, she focuses all the admiration on her best buddy, Wilbur.
And we have to ask: why? What does Charlotte get out of her relationship with Wilbur?