May 17, 2021

#08-084: Charlotte's Web

cover illustration from a book with a spider dangling from top of frame, and (l to r) a sheep, a pig, a girl, and a goose looking up at it with various expressions
Charlotte, Fern, Wilbur, and the others

Note: Who's more terrific, a spider that can weave letters, or the pig she praises? Join Fern's conspiracy to save Wilbur the "runt"!

Get Ready: Have you ever thought what it means to take the life of an animal and turn it into food? It's like eating a pet, isn't it?

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" With this line, E.B. White ushers us into the world of his classic 1952 children's novel, Charlotte's Web.

Papa, in fact, is on his way to kill a newly-born pig, the "runt" of the litter, and when Fern Arable, the eight-year-old girl who spoke the line, learns the truth, she sets her sights on preventing the death of the piglet, whom she names Wilbur.

Fern--who seems able to understand the speech of animals--is assisted in her task by a most unlikely comrade: Charlotte, a barn spider. Charlotte's plan is simple: after Wilbur is sold to Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman, Charlotte begins weaving messages into her web.

Her reasoning was this: If she could convince Farmer Zuckerman that there was something special about Wilbur, maybe he would never have the impulse to kill and eat the pig. So the first thing she wove was: SOME PIG! This is an expression meaning something is special, like, "That's some car you've got there."

It worked. First the hired hand, Lurvy, saw it. Then he told Mr. Zuckerman, who decided it was a miracle. He told Mrs. Zuckerman, who suggested that maybe it was the spider who was special, not the pig. (She had a point!)

Soon, all the other farm animals--even Templeton, the rat--are working to save Wilbur. Charlotte writes other messages in her web: TERRIFIC, RADIANT, and HUMBLE.

But when Fern tells her mother what the animals are saying, Mrs. Arable worries there's something wrong with her. She visits the local physician, Doctor Dorian, who tells her not to worry. He also says that any spider weaving a web is as much a miracle as anything!

In the end, Wilbur is taken to the County Fair, accompanied by Charlotte and Templeton. He doesn't win the blue ribbon, but he does win a special prize, which will assure that he is never butchered. Her work finished, Charlotte prepares to die--this kind of spider only lives for a season--but her egg case is taken back to the barn, where 514 baby spiders hatch out, and most of them balloon away. Only three remain to be friends with Wilbur, as do their offspring for generations to come.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. assure
  2. balloon
  3. blue ribbon
  4. butchered
  5. comrade
  6. hatch
  7. litter
  8. piglet
  9. runt
  10. ushers

  1. the smallest, weakest animal in a litter
  2. first prize
  3. person sharing one's activities
  4. fly as in a balloon
  5. killed and cut up to be eaten
  6. a group of animals born to a mother at the same time
  7. make certain
  8. be born from an egg
  9. guides
  10. a baby pig

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 17, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. d; 3. b; 4. e; 5. c; 6. h; 7. f; 8. j; 9. a; 10. i