Charlotte's Web | Study Guide

E.B. White

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Charlotte's Web | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Fern Saves Wilbur

One spring morning, eight-year-old Fern Arable notices her father leaving the house with an ax. Told he is on his way to kill the runt in a new litter of pigs, Fern rushes out to stop him. After a stormy discussion, Mr. Arable agrees to let Fern bottle-raise the tiny pig.

Fern names the piglet Wilbur. He thrives under her care, and she loves having him as a pet. But when Wilbur is five weeks old, Fern's father says Wilbur is now big and strong enough to be sold. Luckily, Fern's uncle, Mr. Zuckerman, has a farm just down the road and buys Wilbur for six dollars.

Wilbur Meets Charlotte

Wilbur likes his new home, but he's lonely. One night, after a dismal day, he hears a small voice from somewhere over his head. "Do you want a friend, Wilbur? I'll be a friend to you." The next morning Wilbur meets Charlotte, a barn spider with a large web in one corner of the doorway. Though the two have nothing in common and can't play together, they become fast friends.

Wilbur has no idea what lies ahead until the oldest sheep on the farm tells him Mr. Zuckerman is raising him for meat and will kill him before Christmas. Wilbur is shocked and horrified, but Charlotte promises to save him. All she needs is a plan.

The Miracle in the Web

Charlotte thinks hard for a few days and finally decides her best option is to trick Mr. Zuckerman. That night she weaves the words SOME PIG into the center of her web. Rumors of a "miracle" flood the county, and soon dozens of people are visiting the farm daily.

But Charlotte knows she needs to keep refreshing her message or else it will lose its impact. She changes the word in the middle to just one, TERRIFIC. Next she persuades the barn rat, Templeton, to help her find a new word. After several false attempts, Templeton finds the phrase "With New Radiant Action" on a box of soap powder. Charlotte trims the message to RADIANT and weaves it into the web, whereupon Mr. Zuckerman decides to bring Wilbur to the county fair in September and enter him in the pig competition.

The County Fair

As the summer weeks pass, Charlotte becomes increasingly weak and tired. At first she's not sure she can go to the fair with Wilbur. Finally he persuades her, and she lowers herself into his crate. Along with Templeton (who is looking forward to the food at the fair and hides himself in Wilbur's straw), Wilbur and Charlotte are stashed into the back of Mr. Zuckerman's truck, and everyone takes off for the fair.

An ugly but impressive pig named Uncle turns out to be in the pen next to Wilbur's. Worried that Uncle may beat out Wilbur for the prize, Charlotte begs Templeton to find one more word for her. He comes up with HUMBLE, and Charlotte prepares a new web that night. She also lays 514 eggs and wraps them carefully in a silken egg sac.

Everyone is crushed when Uncle wins the blue ribbon, but the fair's organizers have a surprise in store. A loudspeaker summons the Zuckermans, the Arables, and Wilbur to the grandstand, where Wilbur receives an engraved bronze medal and Mr. Zuckerman a 25-dollar prize. Charlotte tells him his future is assured and promises he'll see beautiful things in seasons to come. When Wilbur wonders why she has done all this for him, Charlotte says simply it's because he's her friend. "What's a life, anyway?" she asks. "By helping you perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle."

Charlotte's Death and Its Aftermath

Then Charlotte says she won't be going back to the barn. She is dying. Even if she had any silk left, she doesn't have strength to lower herself down to the ground. Sobbing, Wilbur suddenly remembers the egg sac on the ceiling. He begs Templeton to climb up and rescue Charlotte's children. Templeton sneers, "How touching," and lies back on the straw. "What do you think I am?" he asks. "A rat-of-all-work?"

As the Zuckermans and the Arables are walking over to put Wilbur into his crate for the ride home, in a flash Wilbur remembers Templeton will do anything for food. Quickly he promises that if the rat will bring down the egg sac, Wilbur will always give him first dibs on his (Wilbur's) meals in the trough.

Grumbling, Templeton pulls himself up to the ceiling and snips the egg sac free. He brings it down, and Wilbur carefully takes the sac into his mouth—the safest way to carry it. As he is being shoved into his crate, he winks goodbye to Charlotte, and she waves back at him. That night Charlotte dies alone and unseen at the deserted fairground.

Back at the barn, Wilbur hides the egg sac in a corner. In the weeks to come, he often misses Charlotte, but otherwise he is happy. He grows huge, as fall and then winter arrive. As spring approaches, the snow begins to melt, and the birds begin to come back. The last strands of Charlotte's web blow away. As Wilbur is watching the egg sac one morning, he suddenly notices something moving—something no bigger than a grain of sand. It's one of Charlotte's children. The eggs are finally hatching!

As Wilbur watches in delight, tiny spiders emerge from the sac, waving at him. The babies are too small for him to hear, but for a few days they crawl around, exploring and waving at Wilbur. One morning, when a warm updraft blows through the barn, the baby spiders amaze Wilbur by beginning to make tiny silk balloons, rising into the air, and floating away.

Wilbur watches, frantic, as Charlotte's children fly away. Tiny cries of "Goodbye, goodbye!" drift down to him. To Wilbur, it feels like the end of the world, and he cries himself to sleep.

It's late afternoon when Wilbur wakes up. He's thinking sadly of Charlotte when he hears three tiny voices. Three of Charlotte's "daughters" are setting up house at the top of the doorway, just where Charlotte's web used to be. Stunned, Wilbur asks if they plan to stay. They do.

From then on, Wilbur is never without friends. Some of Charlotte's descendants build webs in the doorway year after year. Wilbur's admirers visit often. Life in the barn is good, but Wilbur never forgets Charlotte. "She was in a class by herself," he thinks.

Charlotte's Web Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Fern rescues Wilbur from an early death.

Rising Action

2 Wilbur moves to Mr. Zuckerman's barn.

3 The oldest sheep tells Wilbur he's going to be killed.

4 Charlotte weaves words into her web, saving his life.

5 Wilbur wins a special prize at the fair.

6 Charlotte tells Wilbur she's dying.


7 Wilbur gets Templeton to rescue Charlotte's egg sac.

Falling Action

8 Charlotte dies alone.


9 Charlotte's eggs hatch, ensuring friends for Wilbur.

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