Study Guide

Charlotte's Web Coming of Age

By E. B. White

Coming of Age

Chapter 1
Fern Arable

"Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."

Mr. Arable stopped walking.

"Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself." (1.8-10)

Fern makes a huge fuss when her dad decides to kill a newborn pig. But according to her papa, over time Fern will need to learn some self-control. Do you think Fern learns to control herself as the novel goes on? Or is this something she doesn't grow out of? (And check out that Charlotte says the same thing to Wilbur, later on.)

Chapter 2

If she took her doll for a walk in the doll carriage, Wilbur followed along. Sometimes, on these journeys, Wilbur would get tired, and Fern would pick him up and put him in the carriage alongside the doll. He liked this. And if he was very tired, he would close his eyes and go to sleep under the doll's blanket. He looked cute when his eyes were closed, because his lashes were so long. The doll would close her eyes, too, and Fern would wheel the carriage very slowly and smoothly so as not to wake her infants. (2.6)

Fern sure is a great mama to her baby doll and her baby pig. We think this comparison between Wilbur and a doll is super interesting. It makes him sound like a baby, which he kind of is. But it also makes him sound like a toy.

Chapter 7
Wilbur

"How?" asked Wilbur.

"That remains to be seen. But I am going to save you, and I want you to quiet down immediately. You're carrying on in a childish way. Stop your crying! I can't stand hysterics." (7.22-26)

Charlotte thinks Wilbur is acting pretty immaturely. Of course, he did just find out that he'll probably be killed and turned into bacon and ham, so maybe she should cut him some slack. Do you agree with Charlotte's annoyance? Is Wilbur is acting "childish" here?

Chapter 14

"Well, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Let Fern associate with her friends in the barn if she wants to. I would say, offhand, that spiders and pigs were fully as interesting as Henry Fussy. Yet I predict that the day will come when even Henry will drop some chance remark that catches Fern's attention. It's amazing how children change from year to year." (14.53)

Dr. Dorian isn't worried at all about little Fern. He figures she'll eventually care more about boys than she does about animals. What do you think of this proposed transition from animals to boys? Sounds to us like animals and boys have at least one thing in common: the ability to attract Fern's attention.

Chapter 16

Fern lugged a pail of hot water to her room and took a sponge bath. Then she put on her prettiest dress because she knew she would see boys at the Fair. (16.3)

On the day of the County Fair, Fern wants to get gussied up. And is it because of all the animals she might see? Nope, Fern seems to be moving from the animal phase into her boy crazy phase.

Chapter 18
Mrs. Arable

Fern met her friend Henry Fussy, and he invited her to ride with him in the Ferris wheel. He even bought a ticket for her, so it didn't cost her anything. When Mrs. Arable happened to look up into the starry sky and saw her little daughter sitting with Henry Fussy and going higher and higher into the air, and saw how happy Fern looked, she just shook her head. "My, my!" she said. "Henry Fussy. Think of that!" (18.5)

Sounds like Fern might be on a date. What do you think of Mrs. Arable's reaction? She certainly sounds surprised. Do you think Mama Arable also sounds pleased? Or worried? And isn't Fern a little young to be going on dates?

Chapter 19
Fern Arable

"We have no time to lose!" shouted Mr. Zuckerman. "Lurvy, help with the crate!"

"Can I have some money?" asked Fern.

"You wait!" said Mrs. Arable. "Can't you see everybody is busy?" (19.58-60)

Fern sure has changed over the course of the novel. At first, she couldn't stand being away from Wilbur. Now, when Wilbur is about to get a special prize, all she cares about is money to spend at the fair. Clearly Mrs. Arable is annoyed by this change. What do you think about Fern's new attitude?

Charlotte A. Cavatica

"Maybe," said Charlotte quietly. "However, I have a feeling I'm not going to see the results of last night's efforts. I don't feel good at all. I think I'm languishing, to tell you the truth."

Wilbur didn't understand the word "languish" and he hated to bother Charlotte by asking her to explain. But he was so worried he felt he had to ask.

"What does 'languishing' mean?"

"It means I'm slowing up, feeling my age. I'm not young any more, Wilbur. But I don't want you to worry about me." (19.21-24)

For Charlotte, growing up means growing older. And being older means Charlotte's got lots of wisdom. We're pretty thankful that she has the know-how to save our buddy Wilbur. But growing up also means that she has less energy, which stinks big time.

Chapter 21
Wilbur

"Get up!" screamed Wilbur. "Stop acting like a spoiled child!"

Templeton grinned and lay still. (21.38-39)

When Wilbur realizes that Charlotte's egg sac needs to be fetched before the Zuckermans head back to their farm, he demands that Templeton help out. And what does Templeton want to do? Nothing at all, that's what. Check out how Wilbur takes charge here. It doesn't sound like he's an infant anymore. Instead of being the one acting like a child, now Wilbur is the one giving the orders.

Chapter 22

Fern did not come regularly to the barn any more. She was growing up, and was careful to avoid childish things, like sitting on a milk stool near a pigpen. (22.67)

Fern used to love being by Wilbur's side. In fact, she couldn't get enough of her favorite little pet. But this definitely changes as she gets older. What do you think about Fern's decision to "avoid" spending too much time in the barn? Is she abandoning her friend Wilbur, or this just part of growing up?

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