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Wilbur lives in a warm and comfortable pigpen in the cellar of the Zuckermans’ barn. Since Fern visits him almost every day, the sheep, geese, and other animals all come to trust her. Yet Wilbur becomes bored. He can only walk outside into his small fenced yard and then back into his pen. One day a goose points out to Wilbur that he can push on a loose fence board and free himself. Wilbur forces the board out and squeezes through but doesn’t know where to go. The goose encourages him to go wherever he wants and do whatever he pleases. Wilbur obeys, but when Mrs. Zuckerman spots him rooting around in the orchard, she shouts to Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy, their farmhand, to catch Wilbur. The farm animals all direct Wilbur to run in different directions, which confuses and scares him. Soon, Mr. Zuckerman brings out a pail of slop. Wilbur smells the food and follows as Mr. Zuckerman leads him back to his pen. As Wilbur eats, Lurvy mends the broken fence. Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy compliment Wilbur, who now feels full, content, and sleepy.
Wilbur decides how to spend his day, but rain ruins his plans. He then wants to talk with Templeton, the rat that lives under his feed trough, but Templeton is not around. Wilbur feels lonely and friendless. He doesn’t eat the food that Lurvy pours into his trough. Wilbur asks the goose to play with him, but she explains that she must sit on her eggs. He asks the lamb to play with him, but it refuses to play with a pig. When Templeton appears, Wilbur asks him to play, but Templeton just wants to eat Wilbur’s food. Lurvy suspects something is wrong with Wilbur and tells Mr. Zuckerman, who directs him to give Wilbur some medicine. Lurvy forces the medicine down Wilbur’s throat. After dark, Wilbur hears a small voice say that it will be his friend. The voice tells him to go to sleep and that they will meet in the morning.
After being sold to the Zuckermans, Wilbur experiences the loneliness of not having friends. Since he no longer lives with Fern and she cannot take him out of the pen to do fun things like she used to, Wilbur becomes sad and bored. Without a good friend, he listens to the misguided influence of the goose and pushes a loose board to escape his pen. While his escape is a nice change at first, he becomes confused and scared. He doesn’t really want to be free; he just wants company and comfort. Later, as Wilbur is stuck inside on a rainy day, he faces rejection of his offer of friendship from the goose and a lamb and learns that the rat Templeton just wants to use him for his food, not be his friend. Wilbur struggles with making new friends just as people often do.
Wilbur’s childlike behavior shows the difficulties of youth. Just as Wilbur experiences the relatable struggle with making friends, his boredom is also the result of the freedom of not having a job. The goose rejects his offer to play because, unlike Wilbur, she has the job of keeping her eggs warm. Not only does Wilbur not have a job, but he is also confined by the barriers in which he is being raised. When he does escape, rather than having purpose, he is ushered back to his pen. Again, when he does not eat because he did not want to go out in the rain, he is assumed to be sick and forced to take medicine. Like a dependent child, he experiences the relatable pains of growing up.
The introduction of Charlotte, the titular character, provides hope for the young but weary Wilbur. When Charlotte speaks to Wilbur as he is going to sleep and tells him that she wants to be his friend, he feels the hope and excitement of potential friendship, followed by the question of who that friend might be. This hope adds nuance to the central conflict of Wilbur’s life. Because of the boredom of his life, Wilbur expresses that he is tired of living. The hope of a friend makes Wilbur excited about a new day, making the central conflict about not just surviving, but thriving.