Charlotte's Web | Study Guide

E.B. White

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Charlotte's Web | Character Analysis



Wilbur is sweet, naive, somewhat anxious, and a bit melodramatic. He loves his food, the other animals in the barnyard, and especially Charlotte, whom he treats almost like a mother or a wise older sister as well as an instructor in the ways of life. Though Wilbur feels dependent on the spider, he proves to be resourceful when he comes up with a way to bring her eggs back to the barn safely. He also turns out to be unexpectedly good at negotiating with the rat, Templeton. At the book's end, Wilbur has grown to a huge size, but somehow it's hard to think of him as anything but a baby because he does not change much.


Charlotte is practical, plainspoken, and intelligent. She neither sugarcoats the truth nor tolerates melodrama. At the same time, she is optimistic and has faith in her own abilities. She never doubts she'll be able to save Wilbur. Charlotte is patient with her younger friend, but she speaks to him sternly when necessary and doesn't let him overdramatize. She leads like a model teacher. Charlotte is polite but somewhat distant with the other animals on the Zuckerman farm. It seems she never interacted with them before Wilbur came along. When it's time for her to die, Charlotte faces the end calmly and fearlessly.


Fern's personality comes across forcefully in the book's first chapter, partly because of the way the artist, Garth Williams, draws her. She's passionate about justice, hates the thought that Wilbur might be killed just because of his small size, and stands up to her father until he gives in and lets Wilbur live. As the book progresses, however, Fern subtly recedes from the action. After Chapter 2, when she sells Wilbur to her uncle, Fern is shown mostly as a quiet observer of life at the Zuckermans' farm. The animals know she's there—and she both hears and understands their conversations—but there is no interaction between them and her. She is always oriented toward Wilbur and saving him. Fern does recount barnyard events to members of her immediate family, thus causing her mother to question her mental health. But wearing a frilly dress to the fair, without being forced, shows Fern has matured. When she does get some lines of dialogue toward the end of the book, they are not about Wilbur. Presumably she still loves Wilbur but has other priorities now.


Templeton is the closest thing Charlotte's Web has to an antagonist. Not once does he break character and show tenderness or compassion for his companions. He caches a rotten goose egg in his tunnel because he feels like it—he has no plans to eat the egg. In Chapter 12 he makes it clear he doesn't care whether Wilbur lives or dies. Still, Templeton livens up every page he's on. His dialogue and habits are funny, and any reader who likes eating will appreciate Templeton's gargantuan appetite. If he is an antagonist, he is a riotous one, and far from evil or dangerous.

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