Charlotte´s Web by E. B. White: “Sweet tears and lessons of generosity”

Por Olivia Dithurbide.

True generosity is an offering. It is to give freely without expecting anything in return. There are no strings attached and no expectations. Giving one’s time and love are the most precious things one can share.

What is friendship without generosity? Nothing, both things are inextricably connected. In Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, friendship and generosity are two very important themes. Wilbur’s first notion of this is when Fern saves him from slaughter when he is a baby. She fights with her father and finally is able to save Wilbur and takes care of him until her uncle buys him. She is a friend to Wilbur throughout the book even though at the end she has grown up “like all little girls do” and does not visit often. She is the reason why Wilbur is alive and that itself shows unconditional love.

The main relationship in the book is between Charlotte the spider and Wilbur. When he is already on Zuckerberg’s farm he longs for friendship but is unable to find it. One day a little voice starts talking to him and acknowledges his existence. Charlotte is a spider who lives in the barn and befriends Wilbur. Even though they are very different, in many ways they are equal. This is what happens in many friendships; two different people with very different lives and backgrounds can become very close friends: “I’ve got a new friend, all right. But what a gamble friendship is! Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty—everything I don’t like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?” Friendship is unconditional and blind; two people can be total opposites and still like each other.

E.B White shows this friendship in many opportunities. The most powerful moments that portray a lesson in generosity and subsequently friendship are when the fair has ended and Charlotte tells Wilbur she is dying: “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. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.” Friendship is carved out of acts of generosity and compassion. A true friendship is selfless; it does not seek reward or payback. Generosity is based on actions: Wilbur is saying that he has never done anything for Charlotte and she believes that his friendship in itself has been more than she could ever ask for.

Another powerful passage from the book is when Wilbur thanks Charlotte for everything she has done for him: “I’m no good at making speeches. I haven’t got your gift for words. But you have saved me, Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you -I really would.” E.B White chooses the word “save” which can be interpreted in many ways. On one hand it means that Charlotte has saved him from slaughter because he is now famous and worth more alive than dead. On the other hand it means that she has saved him from a life without friendship. She has given him something he has longed for since he was born: a life with meaning.

 White then writes “I would gladly give my life for you -I really would.” We could draw a parallelism with a passage from the Bible: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. Wilbur has not literally given his life for Charlotte yet he is grateful for her friendship and would gladly do so. This passage from the Bible can also be related to Charlotte.  Even though the cause of her death is not a result of helping Wilbur, she has invested all her strength and energy in weaving her webs to save him. In a way, she has sacrificed herself to help Wilbur.

Death is a part of life. There is no getting away from it, no escaping. Life is a cycle and one day we all will die. This is another strong theme throughout the book. White writes “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” Here the writer is showing how death is inevitable and how accepting Charlotte is about it.

Charlotte dies a peaceful death, she knows it is going to happen and does not fight it even though Wilbur is upset. At first he cries and screams, then he realizes that it is something that cannot be undone and is a part of life: “Wilbur often thought of Charlotte. A few strands of her old web still hung in the doorway. Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat. No one had ever had such a friend-so affectionate, so loyal, and so skillful.”  Like any being grieving the loss of a friend, at first Wilbur is saddened by Charlotte’s passing. He feels melancholic and looks at the empty web, wishing for her to come back. This is a part of the grieving process. When a loved one passes away the first feeling present is pure and utter sadness.

As time goes by, feelings evolve. Sadness is not as present anymore. After mourning and grieving the loss of a loved one; the mind starts to see all the good things they have given when they were alive. This is shown at the end of the book: “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Wilbur remembers her with affection. He takes care of her children and her grandchildren as a duty towards Charlotte. Their friendship remains forever in his heart. Even though he is devasted by her death, he remembers her with “sweet tears”. When a loved one dies at first we may only feel sadness but then as time goes by even though the sadness remains, in our memory we remember them with blissful feelings which they had transmitted us when they were alive.

As we can see the two issues which we have analyzed are inextricably combined to weave a web that illustrates the meaning of true friendship between two species with different life spans and different personalities. The lesson we can learn from this apparently simple story is that as humans we can connect with individuals who are very different from us and build friendships in a similar way that Charlotte wove her web for Wilbur.

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Olivia Dithurbide
Estudiante de Abogacía
olidithur@gmail.com