Summary: Chapter XIII. Good Progress

Charlotte spends much of the night spinning the word TERRIFIC in the middle of her web. The next morning, when Lurvy sees the new word, he races to get Mr. Zuckerman, who races to tell his wife, who races to tell the Arables, who race to come see. The news spreads, and people return to see the “terrific” pig. Mr. Zuckerman decides to bring Wilbur to the county fair in September. 

Meanwhile, Templeton brings paper scraps with words from the dump to Charlotte. She tells him that the first two he brings—crunchy and pre-shrunk—will not work. When he returns with a soap ad reading “With New Radiant Action,” Charlotte asks to see Wilbur in action and then decides that the word radiant will do. Fern arrives for a visit. Tired, Wilbur asks Charlotte to tell him a story. She tells him about a cousin who once caught a fish in her web and about a cousin who spun a balloon and sailed away on the wind. Wilbur falls asleep as Charlotte sings him a lullaby, and Fern leaves.

Summary: Chapter XIV. Dr. Dorian

The next day, while helping her mother with the dishes, Fern begins telling Mrs. Arable about the stories Charlotte told Wilbur. Her mother somewhat angrily tells Fern to stop making up wild tales. Fern replies that she is not. Mrs. Arable suggests that Fern play with friends outdoors instead of spending time alone in the barn. Fern responds that her best friends are in the barn and soon after leaves for the Zuckermans’ farm. 

Concerned about Fern’s behavior, Mrs. Arable drives into town to seek Dr. Dorian’s advice. After hearing Mrs. Arable’s story, Dr. Dorian doesn’t feel too concerned about Fern. He tells Mrs. Arable that he hears the Zuckermans’ pig is special and that a spider’s web is something of a miracle. He even admits that it’s possible that animals do talk to each other. Dr. Dorian tells Mrs. Arable not to worry and that Fern will one day become just as interested in Henry Fussy, a boy she knows, as she is in the animals. Mrs. Arable leaves the doctor’s office feeling relieved.

Analysis: Chapters XIII–XIV

Charlotte, with great effort on her own part, writes “TERRIFIC” in the web. This is a time consuming and difficult endeavor, which highlights the depth of love among friends. Wilbur is unable to save himself and must rely on Charlotte to help him, but he trusts her completely. For Wilbur, their friendship has life and death consequences. This brings the idea of friendship and what it means to be alive back to the readers’ minds as Charlotte shows herself a faithful friend, even though the work is making her weary.

As the farm animals discuss more words, they talk about the power of language. Because of her web spinning skills, Charlotte is the only one in the barn capable of communicating to the humans. She is determined to select the perfect words for Wilbur to make an impression on the Zuckermans. The animals reflect on what words can do, especially as Charlotte explains that they do not want Wilbur associated with words like “crunchy” since it would make people think of food. Charlotte acts as a teacher as well as a friend as she talks through the word options.

As friendship is displayed through the animals in the barn, the question of what real friendship should look like is challenged when Fern tells her mother that her best friends are in the barn. Fern’s mother expects Fern to have human friends. She is concerned for Fern because Fern is not behaving the way she expects her to. This challenges the reader to consider what constitutes friendship. Fern connects with and speaks to the animals, even though it does not make logical sense. Her brother, the only peer the reader has met so far, often acts rashly and the two do not seem to enjoy each other. This relationship contrasts with the comfort Fern and the animals feel when they are together at the barn where Charlotte’s selfless love is on display.

Not only is the topic of friendship and proper socialization brought up by Mrs. Arable, but she also challenges what it means to grow up. Mrs. Arable is so concerned about Fern’s behavior that she visits a doctor to discuss whether something needs to be done for Fern. Dr. Dorian reassures Mrs. Arable that Fern is fine and argues that her involvement with animals is actually healthy for her. He points out that children change from year to year and childhood fancies and friendships, even with animals, shouldn’t be rushed.