Charlotte's Web: Summary, Characters & Author

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  • 0:01 Charlotte's Web By E.B. White
  • 1:01 Summary
  • 3:23 Characters
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

E. B. White's ''Charlotte's Web'' is one of the most famous classics of children's literature, and has been translated into multiple languages and made into several films. Learn about the novel and its popularity, meet some of the main characters, and test your knowledge with a quick quiz.

Charlotte's Web By E.B. White

Charlotte's Web, was written by E.B. White and published in 1952. When praising this novel in the New York Times, fellow author Eudora Welty described it as 'a book about friendship on earth, affection, and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passage of timeā€¦just about magical in the way it is done.' Welty's description touches on the themes, heart-felt storytelling, and beloved characters of a classic that continues to capture the minds and imaginations of children.

Charlotte's Web is considered White's most famous novel. It's sold more than 45 million copies since its first publication, has been translated into 23 languages, and has been made into several film adaptations. In 1970, the novel earned White the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, one of the highest honors in children's literature.


Charlotte's Web is the story of Wilbur the pig and his friendship with Fern Arable, the little girl who adopts him, and his barnyard friends - most importantly, Charlotte the spider. When a pig gives birth to a litter of piglets at the Arable farm, Fern's father, Mr. Arable, decides to slaughter Wilbur because he is the runt, but Fern persuades him to let her keep him. Knowing that the pig will eventually need to be slaughtered for his meat, Mr. Arable tries to make the separation gentler for Fern; when Wilbur is strong, he's sent to live at the farm of Mr. Zuckerman, Fern's uncle, where Fern goes to visit him as often as she can.

Wilbur still misses her, however, and is lonely in his new home until a talking spider named Charlotte befriends him, and he gets to know the other barnyard animals as well. Once Wilbur learns of his fate to be slaughtered in the winter, Charlotte agrees to help him, and she begins spinning words in her web to describe Wilbur, the first being 'Some Pig.'

When Zuckerman notices the message in the web over Wilbur's pigpen, he thinks it's a miracle. Charlotte continues spinning miraculous messages in her web, like 'terrific' and 'radiant,' attracting much attention. Charlotte enlists the help of the barn rat, Templeton, who scours the dump for labels and slips of cast off paper that she can use to copy the words. When Wilbur is entered into the county fair, Charlotte and Templeton accompany him so that Charlotte can continue her work and make Wilbur famous. At the fair, her messages draw many crowds, and Wilbur is praised by all who see him.

During this time, Charlotte is spinning a sack for the eggs she will be laying, but she is also reaching the end of her life and sadly tells Wilbur that she won't be returning to the barn with him after the fair. She entrusts him with her eggs, and he takes them back to the Zuckerman barn, guarding them until they hatch. Most of the spiders leave, but three stay behind and befriend Wilbur, who lives a long and happy life surrounded by Charlotte's descendants.

Following in a long tradition of animal stories in children's literature, White uses the talking barnyard characters and descriptions of farm life and the anatomy of a spider both to awaken the imagination and to teach readers about the rural life he loved so much.


There is a wide variety of characters in Charlotte's Web. First, let's take a look at the animals:

Wilbur, the story's main character, is born the runt of a litter of pigs and thought too weak to live until Fern takes pity on him. He's full of life and curious about the world around him and loves his friends and his barnyard life. When he first learns his fate, he cries, and the other barnyard animals tease him because they think him foolish for not understanding his place, but with the help of Charlotte, he manages to avoid being slaughtered.

Charlotte is a barn spider who lives on a web above Wilbur's pigpen. She becomes like a mother to lonely Wilbur, telling him stories and singing to him, and teaching him about life and the loyalty of friendship.

Templeton is the greedy rat who agrees to help Charlotte find messages to write about Wilbur in her Web. However, he does so only when Charlotte convinces him that keeping Wilbur alive will benefit him because as long as Wilbur lives, Templeton can eat the food from his trough.

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