Study Guide

Charlotte's Web Chapter 1

By E. B. White

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Chapter 1

Before Breakfast

  • Charlotte's Web kicks off with Fern Arable asking her mother a question: "Where's Papa going with that ax?" (1.1). Huh, that's not the first line you normally see in a kids' book. But now that you mention it, Fern, we're pretty curious too.
  • According to Fern's Mama, Mrs. Arable, Papa is heading out to the hoghouse to "do away" with the smallest pig (1.4).
  • But this little euphemism isn't about to fool Fern. She turns out to be quite the smarty-pants and realizes right away that "do away" means "kill" (1.5).
  • Fern isn't about to stand for this pig-killing business. It just doesn't seem fair to kill a newborn pig just because he's the runt of the litter.
  • So Fern rushes outside and pleads with her dad to spare the pig. She even tries to take the ax from his hands. Whoa, Fern, safety first!
  • Papa puts up a struggle, but it looks like Fern is a daddy's girl because she eventually gets her way. Her dad decides to save the pig, and let her care for it just like a baby.
  • Sounds like he also thinks this might teach Fern a lesson about just how tough it can be to care for animals.
  • Soon after, Papa brings the pig into the house and sets it in a carton at the kitchen table. Oh, and there's bacon for breakfast sitting at the kitchen table. Awk-ward.
  • When Fern sees the pig, she's psyched. A new pet!
  • We can't say the same for Fern's ten-year-old brother, Avery. Check this out: Avery comes into the kitchen with not one but two weapons: an air rifle and a wooden dagger. Don't cross this kid, is all we're saying.
  • When Avery sees the pig, he thinks it looks pretty silly because it's so small. But then he asks his dad if he can have one too.
  • Hmm, seems like Avery might be a smidge jealous of his little sis.
  • The family tries to eat a bit of breakfast before the kids head off to school. But Fern just wants to make sure her new pig gets his meal.
  • So she feeds him milk with a baby bottle. How sweet is that?
  • On the bus to school, all Fern can dream about is her cute little pig. And soon she's come up with "the most beautiful name she could think of": Wilbur (1.34).
  • Fern is so into her new pet that she keeps daydreaming about him in class. So when her teacher asks Fern to recite the capital of Pennsylvania, what do you think Fern says? Yep: Wilbur.
  • The girl's only got one thing on her mind.

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