Study Guide

Charlotte's Web Mortality

By E. B. White

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Chapter 1
Fern Arable

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night." (1.1)

Sheesh, what an opening line! Right off the bat, we know that death is going to be important in this novel.

Chapter 7

Wilbur admired the way Charlotte managed. He was particularly glad that she always put her victim to sleep before eating it.

"It's real thoughtful of you to do that, Charlotte," he said.

"Yes," she replied in her sweet, musical voice, "I always give them an anaesthetic so they won't feel pain. It's a little service I throw in." (7.2-4)

Charlotte might be a ruthless fly-killer, but at least she's a "thoughtful" one. What do you think about the way Charlotte talks about her victims?

"I don't want to die!" screamed Wilbur, throwing himself to the ground.

"You shall not die," said Charlotte, briskly.

"What? Really?" cried Wilbur. "Who's going to save me?"

"I am," said Charlotte.

"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)

Wilbur is so upset about dying that he starts throwing a tantrum. We can understand; the little guy is definitely scared. But Charlotte is not about to stand for such shenanigans. What do you think about her reaction to Wilbur?

"Well, I don't like to spread bad news," said the sheep, "but they're fattening you up because they're going to kill you, that's why."

"They're going to what?" screamed Wilbur. Fern grew rigid on her stool.

"Kill you. Turn you into smoked bacon and ham," continued the old sheep. (7.10-12)

This is pretty shocking news for Wilbur. Clearly our favorite pig is distraught, to say the least. But the sheep doesn't seem to mind. What do you think of the old sheep's tone? Sounds pretty matter-of-fact to us. That may not be the nicest way to tell a little naïve pig that he's about to get turned into bacon, but he's probably seen a lot of pigs die.

Chapter 9

"Charlotte?" he said, softly.

"Yes, Wilbur?"

"I don't want to die."

"Of course you don't," said Charlotte, in a comforting voice. (9.62)

Wilbur is pretty upfront with his feelings about death. He doesn't want to die, and that's that. Check out how Charlotte has changed her tune a bit. Before she was pretty harsh. But now she's a bit softer when she talks to Wilbur. Why do you think this happens?

Chapter 16
John Arable

Mr. Arable studied Wilbur carefully. "Yes, he's a wonderful pig," he said. "It's hard to believe that he was the runt of the litter. You'll get some extra good ham and bacon, Homer, when it comes time to kill that pig." (16.46)

Wilbur had hoped all of Charlotte's signs would convince his owners not to kill him. But here it sounds like they might be convincing the humans to kill him instead! Plus, it's the morning of the fair. Does Mr. Arable really need to be so rude? Talking about death right before the fair might put a damper on the day, especially for Wilbur. (To be fair, they don't know he can understand them.)

Chapter 18

Wilbur closed his eyes. "Charlotte," he said, after a while, "do you really think Zuckerman will let me live and not kill me when the cold weather comes? Do you really think so?"

"Of course," said Charlotte. "You are a famous pig and you are a good pig. Tomorrow you will probably win a prize. The whole world will hear about you. Zuckerman will be proud and happy to own such a pig. You have nothing to fear, Wilbur—nothing to worry about. Maybe you'll live forever—who knows? And now, go to sleep." (18.28-29)

Charlotte sounds pretty confident. Actually, maybe she's a little over-confident. Does the novel suggest there's a chance for Wilbur to live forever? Or is Charlotte just making things up?

Chapter 19
Charlotte A. Cavatica

"Oh, don't pay any attention to me," said Charlotte. "I just don't have much pep any more. I guess I feel sad because I won't ever see my children." (19.19)

What a horrible thought! We've been so worried about Wilbur dying that the fact that Charlotte is going to die soon feels almost like a surprise. Check out how even when she's so close to the end, Charlotte doesn't want attention on herself.

Chapter 21

She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died. (21.52)

In the end, Charlotte dies all alone. This makes us pretty sad, since Charlotte was such a good friend to Wilbur. What do you think about Charlotte's death? Why might it be important that she die alone?

Charlotte A. Cavatica

"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." (21.9)

Charlotte is a bit of a downer in her old age. But even her bleak outlook on life has a bright side. For Charlotte, helping out a friend can help make life better. We're thinking Wilbur will return the favor when he helps out Charlotte by saving her spider babies.

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