Mrs Kinton’s Book Club – Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Chapters 13-15)

So, with many of us back to school, which is wonderful (it’s been so lovely to see all your smiling faces again) I understand you’ll be very tired and your reading may slow down a bit.  Life is regaining something that looks a little bit more like ‘normal’ for some.  For those of you who are still at home, you’re not forgotten and I will still be continuing on with our book club for you, as well as coming up with other ‘creative’ and ‘wordy’ ideas to keep your imaginations alight and your curiosity inspired.  So without further ado, let’s get on with looking at chapters 13-15 of the wonderful Charlotte’s Web.  The questions I’ve asked force you to dig a little bit deeper but I hope they are making you look between E.B. White’s words with admiration and wonder.

Chapter 13 – Good Progress

  1. While Wilburn sleeps, Charlotte sets about changing the word in her web from ‘Some Pig’ to ‘Terrific’.  She cheers herself along as she works.  Why do you think it’s important to cheer yourself along whilst you’re trying to do something challenging on your own?  Do you do it? I know I do.
  2. Lurvy, once again discovers the word in the web and before long it is announced publicly for the world to view.  The Zuckerman’s start to treat Wilbur differently, changing his straw regularly and arranging for the ‘famous pig’ to visit the county fair.  But E.B. White sees no reason to shield his readers from the smelly reality of farming – ‘so he pushed the straw to one side and stretched out in the manure’.  Do you think fame will change Wilbur?  It certainly seems to be changing the Zuckerman’s.  Can you think of any famous people, whose fame has gone to their heads and spoiled them?
  3. Charlotte knows that finding the best word to write in her web is of great importance.  E.B. White continues to play with words and language here.  Charlotte emphasises how words have different meanings and she therefore rejects the word ‘crunchy’, as inappropriate because it conjures up the idea of crispy bacon and she orders Templeton to go back to the rubbish dump to find a more appropriate word.  They finally settle on the word radiant.  What does this word mean and do you think it a fitting word to describe Wilbur?

When I finished reading this chapter I was curious as to why E.B. White ended it with ‘Fern got up and went home.’  He has never done this before, the reader just assumes Fern goes home at the end of the chapters in which she appears. Charlotte’s bedtime stories about her cousins help Wilbur to settle and before long he is asleep.  It would have been perfectly acceptable to conclude the chapter with the sentence, ‘But Wilbur was already asleep’.  Having already read the entirety of the book, I think E.B. White wanted to pin-point the moment where Fern begins to change.  Chapter 13 is the last time readers see Fern visit the barn.  She’s going home to her human-beings. 

Chapter 14 – Dr. Dorian

  1. Mrs Arable is worried about Fern and wishes her daughter would play with other children outside instead of watching the barn animals day after day.  When Fern recounts the story about the fish caught in the web her mother decides to visit Doctor Dorian.  Do you think this was a sensible thing for Mrs Arable to do and if so why?
  2. The doctor remains calm and very open-minded about Fern being able to talk to animals.  To me he seems more of a ‘Sigmund Freud’, who was an Austrian doctor of mental health issues who studied the conscious and unconscious mind, back in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  He doesn’t seem like the stereotypical doctor looking at physical illnesses.  E.B. White seems ahead of his time referring to a mental health doctor, who are now commonplace in our era.  Do you think it’s important to talk about mental health and why?
  3. Why do you think that Mrs Arable considers Fern’s behaviour abnormal and worrying but Avery, her little brother’s behaviour, full of mischief, no imagination and destructiveness, is totally normal and perfectly acceptable and goes unquestioned in any way?  Mrs Arable says ‘Avery is always fine’.

Did you know that the names Homer and Dorian are names from the ‘Ancient Greek’ civilisation, which relate to literature and education?  I love the fact that Doctor Dorian is ready to believe Fern about animals talking and insists to Fern’s mother that there is nothing wrong with her.  Again E.B. White points out that nature is the true miracle in life

Chapter 15 – The Crickets

  1. The crickets have started singing, which is a sign that autumn is on its way.  Fern and Avery are aware school will start soon, the sheep fret and break lose, and Charlotte knows she has little time left.  Only Wilbur seems cheerfully ignorant.  How do you know autumn is coming where you live and how does it make you feel?
  2. Charlotte tries to explain to Wilbur that she may not be able to go to the fair with him but Wilbur brushes her words aside.  When Charlotte says she might be able to come after all, Wilbur reply’s ‘I knew you wouldn’t forsake me just when I need you most’.  Do you think this is selfish of Wilbur? What else does it say about his changing character?

This chapter seems to open on a vaguely threatening note to me.  There is a great sadness in the cricket’s song and it seems to me like a warning.  Human or not, everyone is feeling worried by what is to come.  Wilburn however, seems like a first-born child when he hears the news that Charlotte will be laying eggs.  Charlotte, like a parent, is patient with Wilbur but something is definitely shifting in their relationship.  As the crickets keep saying, things are about to change and Charlotte seems to be preparing Wilburn for that change. 

Can’t wait to hear what you all thought about these three chapters. 

See you next week for chapters 16, 17, and 18. 

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