Study Guide

Charlotte's Web Themes

By E. B. White

  • Admiration

    Sometimes it's fun to be in the limelight. Wilbur sure does enjoy all the attention he gets when Charlotte weaves her first words into the web. For Wilbur, being the center of attention means getting extra slop, a nice warm bed, and oodles of admirers. But in Charlotte's Web admiration isn't just about fun and games. It's also a means of survival. If sweet little Wilbur gets positive attention, his owners will want him to live. Yippee! If not, then watch out because it's off to the butcher for this poor piggy. Those are some super high stakes: it's time for Wilbur to get famous, or die trying.

    Questions About Admiration

    1. Does Wilbur deserve all the admiration he's getting? Why do you think he's an admirable pig? Or why might he not be quite so admirable?
    2. Why do you think Charlotte gets ignored so much? Who admires her? Is it enough? Why doesn't she weave "SOME SPIDER" into her web?
    3. What are the good things about being admired? How about the bad?

    Chew on This

    It's great to be in the spotlight. Wilbur gets tons of attention, and this is a good thing.

    It's better to be on the sidelines. Charlotte stays out of the limelight, and that's the way it should be.

  • Language and Communication

    Are you looking for a wily little spider to manage your upcoming social media campaign? Well look no further than Ms. Charlotte A. Cavatica. She's got propaganda in the bag. This spider knows just how influential language can be. Whether the words are printed in a newspaper or a magazine advertisement or a spider's web, they can make a big impact. Plus, it's not every day you see words written inside a spider's web. The fact that most of the humans in Charlotte's Web have no idea how the words got into the web might just make the language even more powerful.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Is it good that the writing in Charlotte's web is so persuasive? Are there any downsides to her messages?
    2. How do the messages in the web relate to advertisements? Or how are they like propaganda? Are there other persuasive forms you'd compare the messages to?
    3. How do the words in the spider web affect the humans who read them?

    Chew on This

    Language is persuasive, and this is good news. Charlotte's web convinces everyone that Wilbur is great and deserves to live.

    Be careful with the words you use, because language can be dangerous. If Charlotte picks the wrong words (like "crunchy" or "tasty"), the consequences could be dire.

  • Friendship

    If there's one thing we know about Charlotte's Web it's this: Charlotte and Wilbur are good friends. Actually, it might be tough for you to find a better pair of chums out there. For Charlotte and Wilbur, friendship means being loyal to one another and sometimes even making sacrifices. But even Wilbur and Charlotte have their tiffs. Sometimes Charlotte isn't patient enough, and sometimes Wilbur can be a little self-involved. But in the end, these buddies watch out for each other when it really counts. They remind us that friendship is super duper important. In fact, it might even last after Charlotte is gone.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How is Fern a good friend to Wilbur? And how is she a poor friend? What does this say about human-animal friendships?
    2. Does Wilbur rely on his friends too much? Or does Charlotte rely on her friends too little? What does the book suggest is the right balance between dependence and independence?
    3. Is Wilbur always a good friend? Are there ways in which he is not a good friend?

    Chew on This

    Friends are necessary for survival. Without friends, Wilbur would have been killed, so it's a good thing he's got some good buds in his corner.

    Friends are nice, but Charlotte can also cut it on her own. Charlotte's Web argues that her independence is a good thing.

  • Time

    On a farm, time is extra important. The Arables and the Zuckermans have to pay attention to those pesky changing seasons. There are certain farm tasks to be done in the spring when things are growing. And then there are different jobs for the fall, when it's time for the harvest or to prepare for winter. Sound like a lot of work? Yep, it sure is. On top of all that, changing seasons can be bad news for a pig like Wilbur. He needs to make sure he's not going to become food during the winter. You might say that time isn't always on Wilbur's side. But we have to ask: in Charlotte's Web, is it on anyone's time?

    Questions About Time

    1. What do you think of the way changing seasons are represented? Do the changes sound good or bad?
    2. In the novel, is there anything that stays the same over time?
    3. How do the adult characters change over time? And who do you think changes the most?
    4. Which animal characters do you think change over time? How so?

    Chew on This

    Over time, everything changes. Charlotte's Web argues that change is inevitable, so it's better to accept this fact and keep moving with the times.

    Over time, the important stuff remains the same. Charlotte's Web argues that time never tarnishes the things that are truly significant in life.

  • The Home

    For a pig, Wilbur experiences quite a few "homes" over time. Check them out:

    (1) The Arable home. His first place!
    (2) The Zuckerman barn.
    (3) The pigpen at the County Fair, for a little while.
    (4) The Zuckerman barn again. 

    But what makes each of these homes a true home? Some of these digs are temporary, and some are more permanent. But in each of them, Wilbur finds something or someone to make him feel at home. Whether it's Fern or Charlotte or a familiar smell, Wilbur finds a way to have that homey feel. In Charlotte's Web, home is more about the friends you have than the place you're sleeping. (Of course, having a warm manure pile doesn't hurt.)

    Questions About The Home

    1. For Wilbur, what ingredients make up a home? Is home a physical building? Or a feeling? Or is it both?
    2. How do you think the baby spiders' ideas about home compare with Wilbur's ideas?
    3. Do the animals get to choose where their home is? How so?
    4. Does home have to be in just one place or can it move around?

    Chew on This

    The novel argues that a "home" is a physical place. For Wilbur, home is the Zuckerman barn and always will be.

    The novel argues that a "home" is a feeling you get. For Wilbur, home is with his friends, no matter where they are.

  • Perseverance

    The saying goes like this: if at first you don't succeed, try try again. In Charlotte's Web we've got a lot of characters who try really hard, even when times are tough. Actually, these characters try hard especially when times are tough. For Wilbur and his friends, hard work pays off. After all, Charlotte works hard on her web and she saves Wilbur's life. Perseverance definitely has its plus sides. But this has us wondering: are there any downsides to working so hard?

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Which human characters really value hard work? Are there certain characters that don't try very hard?
    2. Why does Charlotte work so hard to save Wilbur? Are there any negative effects from all her hard work? What about the positive effects?
    3. What is Templeton's attitude towards hard work?

    Chew on This

    No matter what, you can build your own success. Wilbur tries hard and eventually he succeeds.

    No matter what, failure is part of life. Charlotte has successes, but she doesn't live to see all of them through.

  • Mortality

    Were you as sad as we were when Charlotte died? And were you as shocked as we were to learn that Wilbur might end up as Christmas dinner? There sure is a lot talk about death in this book. For Wilbur and his friends, there are two ways to respond to their finite lifetimes:

    (1) Fight the good fight.
    (2) Accept your fate.

    In the end, Charlotte's Web reminds us that death is part of life. Sure, it's scary. But maybe knowing that life doesn't last forever has its benefits, too.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. What is Charlotte's attitude towards death? How would you compare this to Wilbur's outlook on death?
    2. Should the characters fight to stay alive or accept the fact that they'll eventually die?
    3. Do the humans have a different outlook on death than the animals? How so?

    Chew on This

    You can't avoid death. The best thing for all the characters is to accept the fact that they'll eventually die, and give in.

    No matter what, people (and animals) must try to survive. The novel argues that the characters should fight against death at any cost.

  • Coming of Age

    In Charlotte's Web, we've got two different types of characters who grow up: kids and animals. And growing up isn't necessarily an easy feat. For an animal like Wilbur, growing up means gaining new friends and learning to stand on his own four feet. That's got to be a tough challenge. For a little girl like Fern, growing up means spending less time with Wilbur and more time with boys. That sounds like some tough stuff too. One thing is for sure: for all of our characters, growing up definitely has its ups and downs. But Charlotte's Web reminds us that everyone grows up, whether or not they want to.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. What is Fern's outlook on her childhood as she gets older? Does she leave her childhood behind when she grows up? What about the other human characters?
    2. Is growing up different for the human characters and the animal characters? How so?
    3. What life lessons do the humans and animals learn as they come of age? Are there lessons they should learn but don't?

    Chew on This

    You never really leave your childhood behind. Even if Fern grows up, she'll always be the same girl who saved Wilbur's life.

    Eventually, everyone grows up and moves on. It's good that Fern grows out of her animal phase and starts acting her own age.