Charlotte’s Web begins with a clear focus on life or death and the importance of friendship. The opening scene shows Fern saving the protagonist, Wilbur, from being killed by her father because he is a runt. Fern’s compassion and appealing to her parents’ compassion is what keeps Mr. Arable from killing Wilbur in the beginning. While the threat of Wilbur’s death plays an important role in the story, the resulting friendship is what shapes Wilbur. Devoted to Fern, Wilbur follows her around and learns the benefits and importance of friendship, which carries on through the rest of the story.

After being shaped by friendship, Wilbur feels the weight of his loneliness when he is sold to Mr. Zuckerman. Bored and weary with life, he feels the contrast not having a friend after having been so close to Fern. He experiences the pains of growing up when he tries to make new friends in the barn. Not only is Wilbur lonely, but he faces rejections from the animals in the barn when he offers his friendship. He also experiences the burden of being cared for, especially evident in his childlike response to being forced to take medicine. Wilbur gains a new friend when Charlotte is introduced, which brings Wilbur hope. Wilbur continues to be shaped by his friendship with Charlotte and he grows and learns from her.

While Wilbur’s friendship with Charlotte brings Wilbur hope, the initial conflict of whether Wilbur will live or dies comes back into focus. When the sheep tell him that Mr. Zuckerman plans to slaughter him at Christmastime, Wilbur is rightfully fearful and Charlotte is disturbed. Although Wilbur mentioned earlier that he was bored with life, he does not want to die and feels the panic of the threat of death. Since Wilbur is very young, it is apparent to the reader that he has not given much thought to his death prior to the sheep revealing his potential fate. Wilbur and Charlotte begin to think of ways in which Wilbur might escape death. 
Although saving Wilbur moves to the forefront of Wilbur and Charlotte’s minds, they continue to grow in friendship. Wilbur’s world is shaped by the friends around him, so the theme of the importance of friendship continually arises. Fern continues to be present at the barn and even considers the animals in the barn to be her closest friends. This worries her mother, revealing that the pains of growing up are impacting Fern as well as Wilbur.

Despite these struggles, Wilbur has a deeply loyal friend in Charlotte. She cleverly decides to trick the Zuckermans into thinking Wilbur is a special pig and should not be killed by spinning words into her web. When she executes the first word, onlookers assume it is a divine sign and stop to take notice of Wilbur. Interestingly, the words serve to both get people to pay attention to Wilbur and to shape who he is. As Charlotte contemplates the words to use to save Wilbur, Wilbur tries to live up to them. Charlotte’s affirmation of his life begins to help him believe he is special, just as Charlotte sees him to be.

The climax of the story arrives when Wilbur is taken to the fair. He believes that if he wins the Zuckermans prize money, he will not be killed. Although Charlotte is growing weak and tired and knows it is time to make her egg sac, she sacrificially travels to the fair with Wilbur. Charlotte spins Wilbur a final web, but Wilbur does not win first place. However, the attention the webs bring to the fair brings in many more people and Wilbur receives a prize anyway. The issue of whether Wilbur will be killed or not is resolved and Charlotte and Wilbur celebrate that he will continue to live.

Although Wilbur is saved, Charlotte is near the end of her life and she tells Wilbur that she is going to die. Throughout the story, Charlotte put in tremendous effort to keep Wilbur alive, yet Wilbur still experiences death through the death of a loved one when Charlotte dies at the end of the story. She spins an egg sac before she dies and Wilbur follows Charlotte’s example by sacrificially caring for Charlotte’s children.