Charlotte’s Web Book Review
Charlotte’s Web (1952) is a children’s novel by E.B. White. The book is deservedly considered one of the most important novels of the American children’s literature. The novel has a layered narrative and raises themes often avoided in children’s literature, thus, it is valued among children and parents, educators and literary critics. A simple story of a pig saved from the butcher’s hatchet by a spider, surprisingly, provides various possibilities for interpretation.
When analyzed from different angles, Charlotte’s Web has a number of author’s ideas which can be considered dominant. It can be regarded a story of friendship, a story about growing up, a story about responsibility, a story about death. However, the main argument the author seems to single out throughout the novel is that life works according to the laws of nature. The author points out that everything, whether it is beautiful or ugly, life-affirming or tragic, is a part of the natural cycle. As all people witness different representations of nature, it is important to understand and appreciate its different sides. Unlike other books for young audience, which soften the darker aspects of natural life cycle, such as aging and death, Charlotte’s Web approaches them with wisdom and honesty. White’s book successfully represents this difficult idea to the young audiences, teaches them to be open to nature’s different sides not with prejudice, but with open eyes of a researcher.
The main subject of the book shows the natural circle of life. In the book, the author demonstrates birth, growing up, creation of a new life, growing old, and dying by means of different human and animal characters. White treats this cycle of life with admiration as a natural miracle. The main story unfolds from spring, when the piglet Wilbur is born, to winter, when his friend, a spider named Charlotte, dies. This passage of time is typically associated with the periods of life, from childhood to the old age. Although each of the periods of life is represented by a different character and a plotline, combined they represent a complete life cycle. The motif of the natural flow of life is present throughout the whole book. The events take place on the farm that is in itself a closed ecosystem where generations of animals replace one another. Various scenes that take place in this microcosm demonstrate a full specter of emotions. At the same time, these episodes have educational value. A reader gets acquainted with the little secrets of animal life and gradually starts to understand how nature works. Author’s choice to make a spider and a little pig the central characters of the story creates an effective contrast. Whether people consider one of the animals cute and the other disgusting, nature does not make this division. Thus, the writer makes the readers question their perception of basic aesthetic and ethical categories.
The plotline of Charlotte’s death represents the author’s point. The death of a major character in the children’s book is a difficult subject for the author to deal with. White is very straightforward when it comes to death in his novel. It becomes evident in the scene where Charlotte feeds and Wilbur is terrified by this sight. However, as Charlotte explains, the only way she can feed is hunting and killing. Moreover, by killing flies she supports the natural balance. The death of Charlotte’s character is treated in a similar way, with sadness, but at the same time as something inevitable. White stresses that death is just a part of life, and this cycle will continue generation after generation. This makes the readers reconsider their attitude to dying and become more appreciative of the time they have. For the young audience, such thoughts can become a revelation.
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The author of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White, is mostly known for his work in children’s literature. However, his work is not limited to writing for young readers. White was also a journalist and an acclaimed researcher in the field of literature. This is evident in author’s mastery of language and story creation. White’s personal experiences also influenced the creation of Charlotte’s Web. Since his childhood, the author was fond of animals, and most part of his adult life E.B. White spent on a farm. Even the plot of the novel is based on a real-life experience of the author finding a spider’s web in a barn. White’s love for animals and his naturalistic views are evident throughout the book. His animal characters seem wiser and more sympathetic than humans do. Charlotte even shows condescension towards humans, calling them stupid and easily impressionable. White suggests that animals have more sincere and natural understanding of life. The only human character who seems to be aware of this secret knowledge is Fern, who spends much time observing the animals. However, as she grows up, she loses this connection.
From the point of view of the genre, Charlotte’s Web can be defined both as a fable and as a “coming of age” story. Charlotte’s Web tells an ethical tale with a clear moral message by the means of partially anthropomorphic animals (in White’s novel animal characters have human language but still behave like animals). The book can be defined as a fable. At the same time, the novel can be considered a “coming of age” story, as its central characters go through the process of growing up. Fern, the central human character, at the beginning of the novel looks at the world with the eyes of the child. She is open and impressionable, she even can hear the animals talk, which means that she is closer to nature than her parents. Taking care of Wilbur makes her understand the responsibilities of the adult life. By the end of the book, Fern passes from being a child to becoming a teenager, her interests change and she is no longer as involved with the lives of her animal friends as she did before. Wilbur is another character who goes through the process of growth, as he understands the inevitability of death. After Charlotte’s death, he is no longer a helpless being, as he takes care of spider eggs by himself. Charlotte also has a distinct character arc, as she comes to an understanding of her mortality and a need to leave something behind her. Understanding of the inevitable changes that come with growing up is one of the strongest elements of the book.
On the surface, Charlotte’s Web is a simple fable promoting basic human values – friendship, compassion, caring for the loved ones. However, one of the strongest messages of White’s novel is its celebration of life. The author clearly states that instead of searching of made up miracles, people should look around and see the magic of natural world. The childish amazement with which the author describes little wonders of nature should draw the attention of young readers. At the same time, the adult audience will certainly admire White’s mastery in language, storytelling, and philosophy. Both young and adult readers should appreciate how the book challenges a person and makes them redefine their view of the external world.