Although Charlotte’s Web focuses on the relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte throughout the majority of the text, the passage that struck me as most interesting was, “as they passed the Ferris wheel, Fern gazed up at it and wished she were in the topmost car with Henry Fussy at her side” (p.154). This passage reflects the development of Fern from a little girl to the beginning stages of womanhood, where she is less concerned with childhood things, like her pet pig, and more interested in boys. Coupled with the recurring theme of motherhood, it seems like the author intended for this book to teach young girls not only about gender, but also about the naturalness of growing up. Motherhood first occurs with Fern saving and nurturing Wilbur as a baby pig and then with Charlotte teaching him the meaning of words and things about the world. Most importantly, Charlotte sacrifices her own life through exhausting efforts to save Wilbur’s life. Charlotte, the key symbol of motherhood in this novel, also finds meaning in her life by producing and securing the safety her own children even at her demise- a hallmark of motherhood. This correlates with the text from Peter Pan with the line, “the nest must have fallen into the water, but would a mother desert her eggs? No” (p. 116). Thus, the idea behind motherhood conveyed in Charlotte’s Web is also found in many other children’s novels, teaching young girls that as mothers, they are expected to devote themselves to their children and make sacrifices when necessary. However, unlike in Peter Pan, Fern abandons her “baby,” Wilbur as she begins to grow up. Although this isn’t clear in the text, it seems possible that Fern, in her transition to womanhood, is trading childhood “play” of motherhood for future prospects of a genuine experience.
Charlotte’s Web was my favorite book growing up as a child because I could easily relate to Fern. I have always had a soft side for animals and spent more time outside exploring nature, similar to Fern at her uncle’s farm, than playing with girls my age. I would always have my dog at my side and pretend it was my baby. I took care of it from the day I got it as a puppy. Like Fern, I started growing up and became involved in more things like sports, while simultaneously developing typical preteen interests like boys and movies, etc. However, this was the first time I’ve read this book since I was a young girl and it never occurred to me how prevalent motherhood and gender were. I also never paid much attention to Fern once Wilbur met Charlotte. It’s very interesting to me how subtle, yet noticeable Fern’s transition is now that I’m older. Despite the number of times I read this book, it wasn’t so obvious to me as a kid.