Study Guide

Charlotte's Web Language and Communication

By E. B. White

Language and Communication

Chapter 11

There, in the center of the web, neatly woven in block letters, was a message. It said: SOME PIG! (11.2)

Who knew Charlotte was a writer? Come to think of it, who knew spiders could write at all? But Charlotte sure can whip up a memorable phrase. What do you think of Charlotte's word choice? "Some" isn't necessarily the snazziest word around. Even so, the phrase "some pig" is going to become the start of something big for our friend Wilbur.

Lurvy

"Sure. Sure I do," said Lurvy. "I've always noticed that pig. He's quite a pig."

"He's long, and he's smooth," said Zuckerman.

"That's right," agreed Lurvy. "He's as smooth as they come. He's some pig." (11.30-32)

Well, it turns out "some pig" is such a memorable phrase that Lurvy is now using it. He's taken the spider web's words and turned them into his own. Charlotte may have just invented a new catchphrase.

Chapter 12
Wilbur

"But Charlotte," said Wilbur, "I'm not terrific."

"That doesn't make a particle of difference," replied Charlotte. "Not a particle. People believe almost anything they see in print. Does anybody here know how to spell 'terrific'?" (12.27-8)

Charlotte knows just how powerful writing can be. She knows that she needs to make people believe that Wilbur is terrific by using the right words. Do you think this makes Charlotte a liar? Or is she just really good at campaigning for her friend?

Charlotte A. Cavatica

"The message I wrote in my web, praising Wilbur, has been received. The Zuckermans have fallen for it, and so has everybody else. Zuckerman thinks Wilbur is an unusual pig, and therefore he won't want to kill him and eat him. I dare say my trick will work and Wilbur's life can be saved." (12.20)

Wow, Charlotte is quite a wily little spider. Check out how she calls her writing in the web a "trick." This would mean writing is equivalent with trickery, which is a crazy intriguing idea. Does calling her message a "trick" make it sound like a good thing or a bad thing?

The Barn Animals

"And if Charlotte needs help in finding words, I think she can get it from our friend Templeton. The rat visits the dump regularly and has access to old magazines. He can tear out bits of advertisements and bring them up here to the barn cellar, so that Charlotte can have something to copy." (12.32)

The old sheep has a good idea: go to magazine advertisements to find slogans to put up in the web. This also makes it sound like the web is similar to an advertisement. What do you think of that comparison?

Chapter 13
Homer L. Zuckerman

Everybody stood at the pigpen and stared at the web and read the word, over and over, while Wilbur, who really felt terrific, stood quietly swelling out his chest and swinging his snout from side to side.

"Terrific!" breathed Zuckerman, in joyful admiration. "Edith, you better phone the reporter on the Weekly Chronicle and tell him what has happened. He will want to know about this." (13.12-13)

Apparently Charlotte's propaganda is starting to work on Wilbur too. Remember how earlier Wilbur said he wasn't terrific? Well the sign seems to be changing his mind. The power of language is so strong that it can even change Wilbur's opinion of himself. And that's a huge deal.

Charlotte A. Cavatica

"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." (13.50-1)

After Templeton brings Charlotte a soap ad with the word "radiant," Charlotte has to figure out if the word accurately describes her little piggy friend. But Wilbur doesn't need much convincing at all. It took him a little while to start feeling "terrific," but now he feels radiant almost immediately.

Chapter 15
Wilbur

Charlotte had written the word RADIANT, and Wilbur really looked radiant as he stood in the golden sunlight. Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When Charlotte's web had said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte's web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow. (15.6)

Wilbur's relationship with the words in the web gets closer all the time. Instead of wondering if he's terrific, now he does his best to just be as terrific as possible. Check out how the last three sentences use a similar structure. It's almost like cause and effect: the web says one thing, so Wilbur tries to act it out.

Chapter 16
Mrs. Arable

"That's some pig!" said Mrs. Arable.

"He's terrific," said Lurvy.

"He's very radiant," said Fern, remembering the day he was born. (16.42-4)

It's obvious to us that Mrs. Arable, Lurvy, and Fern are quoting directly from Charlotte's web. But do you think they realize they're quoting the web's messages? Or have they absorbed the web's message into their own minds? Now that's a scary thought.

Chapter 19
Homer L. Zuckerman

"'Humble,'" said Mr. Zuckerman. "Now isn't that just the word for Wilbur!"

Everyone rejoiced to find that the miracle of the web had been repeated. Wilbur gazed up lovingly into their faces. He looked very humble and very grateful. Fern winked at Charlotte. (19.41-42)

The very last word Charlotte writes in the web is "Humble." We're thinking that this word is pretty different from the other phrases Charlotte has chosen. Plus, we hate to have to ask this, but is it really accurate to call a pig "humble" when he's been standing under signs saying "TERRIFIC" and "RADIANT" for weeks? Just saying.

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