The Difficulties of Growing Up

 “Wilbur couldn’t believe what was happening to him when Lurvy caught him and forced the medicine down his throat. This was certainly the worst day of his life."

In Chapter IV (Loneliness), Wilbur experiences the inconvenience of being dependent on people taking care of him. Rather than have the liberty to go out where he pleases, as he did with Fern, and do things that are not good for him, like not eat his food, he is watched at all times and taken care of whether he wants it or not. He is not allowed to become despondent and is given medicine to keep him healthy. The reader can relate to being forced to take medicine as a child. While this seems like a small thing in comparison to the threat of Wilbur being killed, it is still a very real struggle of growing up. He has not yet shown the responsibility to be independent.

“You’re carrying on in such a childish way. Stop your crying! I can’t stand hysterics."

In Chapter VII (Bad News), the oldest sheep tells Wilbur that Mr. Zuckerman plans to fatten him to kill him at Christmastime. Wilbur is understandably upset by the news and, like a child, begins screaming and crying. While Wilbur may be justified in his strong reaction to news of his impending death, he is scolded and told to act in a more mature way. He is not allowed to stay in the emotions of the moment. This is not simply a moment to collect himself, but a moment to learn to conduct himself in a mature way.

“‘Fern!’ snapped her mother. ‘Stop it! Stop inventing these wild tales!’”

In Chapter XIV (Dr. Dorian), Fern tells her mother a story that Charlotte had told in the barn. Her mother is upset by Fern’s claim that she heard the story from a spider and tells her to stop making up stories. As an eight-year-old, it is normal to make up stories and enjoy spending time with animals. Despite this, Fern’s mother challenges her to grow up and stop doing childish things like making up stories. Fern’s mother even consults Dr. Dorian to see if there is something she needs to do to change Fern’s behavior. Ultimately, Fern faces the conflict of disapproval of her mother or enjoying the childish things of youth.

The Reality of Death

“‘He’s yours,” said Mr. Arable. ‘Saved from an untimely death. And may the good Lord forgive me for this foolishness.’”

In Chapter I (Before Breakfast), Fern pleads with her father to spare Wilbur. Fern is overcome by the prospect of Wilbur dying an unjust death and she does what she can to save him. Even as an eight-year-old, Fern has an understanding of the grief of someone or something dying and fights to prevent it. Similarly, her dad knows the sadness of death but finds it to be an unavoidable part of life. He calls saving Wilbur foolishness and asks forgiveness for it but is also clearly sad about the prospect of Wilbur dying. The thought of death impacts both Fern and her father despite the differences of age and life experience.

 “‘I don’t want to die!’ screamed Wilbur, throwing himself on the ground.

In Chapter VII (Bad News), Wilbur learns that he may be slaughtered by Mr. Zuckerman and he begins to think about the prospect of death. Despite narrowly escaping death through Fern’s intervention at his birth, Wilbur has not had a reason to think about dying. When he hears about potentially being slaughtered, he faces the reality that he may die and becomes understandably upset by it. Just as Fern is aware of death as an eight-year-old, two-month-old Wilbur must be aware of it as well. However, Wilbur’s struggle is whether he will live or die, not with anyone else dying.

“After all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little, we die.”

In Chapter XXI (Last Day), Charlotte knows she is going to die and she has told Wilbur. Wilbur questions why Charlotte would spend her time spinning webs to save him, and she reassures him that she does it because they are friends. Charlotte chose how she would live and how she would treat Wilbur with the prospect of her death in mind. Because she knew that her life would end, and in fact end fairly soon, she chose to selflessly love her friend. She also chose to help a friend escape being killed rather than focus on her own death. This statement to Wilbur also helps Wilbur cope with the knowledge that Charlotte is dying. While he has struggled with the idea of his own death, he is young and had not considered the repercussions of his friend’s death.

The Importance of Friendship

“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’
‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte.”

In Chapter XXI (Last Day), Wilbur knows that he is safe thanks to Charlotte’s webs, but he also knows that Charlotte is dying. When he asks Charlotte why she helped him, she assures him that it is because she is his friend. He did not earn her friendship, but they were friends anyway. That friendship ultimately saved Wilbur’s life. Knowing how hard Charlotte worked to save him, he has a deeper appreciation for friendship and he grows to become a friend like Charlotte was to him.

“He didn’t know if he could endure this awful loneliness any more.”

In Chapter IV (Loneliness), Wilbur is away from the only friend he has known, Fern, and any attempts to make new friends have been rebuffed. At only two months old, Wilbur feels tired of living because of the loneliness of not having any friends. All of Wilbur’s other needs are met. He is given food he enjoys, he has a safe place to live, and he has a pigpen with room to move in, but he is unsatisfied because he does not have friends. The weight of Wilbur’s sadness at not having friends highlights the importance of friendship, even when all other needs are met. 

 “‘Alone?’ said Fern. ‘Alone? My best friends are in the barn cellar. It is a very sociable place. Not at all lonely.’”

In Chapter XIV (Dr. Dorian), Fern’s mother expresses concern that Fern prefers to go to the barn instead of spending time with her friends. However, Fern views the animals in the barn as some of her best friends. While Fern’s friendships look different from what her mother thinks they should look like, she still prioritizes friendship. She listens to the excitements and the struggles of what happens in the barn and feel that she relates to them. Her mother clearly sees the importance of friends as well since she encourages Fern to spend time with human friends instead of by herself.