The Middle School drama department is currently rehearsing an adaptation of Charlotte’s Web by Joseph Robinette. This classic children’s story, written by American author E.B. White in 1952, tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Mr. Zuckerman– as would be expected in the circle of life on the farm – Charlotte implements a plan to save Wilbur’s life by writing special words “some pig”, “radiant” and “humble” in her web. Her words, or these “miracles” that Mr. Zuckerman and the other humans refer to them as, ends up making Wilbur famous and saves his life.
Since beginning rehearsals in September, we have had almost two months to get to know E.B. White’s characters and his wonderful story. Charlotte’s Web, though technically a child’s fairytale, has many important themes to share with young and old alike. Last Friday the cast and I sat down to discuss and reflect upon what themes stood out to them in the play, so I’d like to share their ideas with you.
Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.
When Wilbur first meets Charlotte, he calls her “brutal and bloodthirsty” because she admits to him that she captures flies and other bugs in her web and drinks their blood. Wilbur comments, “How can I learn to like her?” Once Wilbur takes the time to get to know Charlotte, he realizes how gentle, kind, and special she is.
Selflessness -v- Selfishness (Greed)
Templeton, the rat, and Charlotte are hugely contrasting characters. Templeton is viewed by the other animals in the barn as a rat with “no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feelings, and no friendliness, no anything.” He seeks his own interests, but he can be bribed with the promises of food. Charlotte on the other hand, sacrifices her own time and energy, and puts at risk her unborn babies to save Wilbur while asking for nothing in return. She loves Wilbur as if he was her own son.
Life and Death (The Circle of Life)
The play opens with Fern Arable, the young girl who ends up raising Wilbur, watching her father head out the to the shed carrying an axe in his hand. When she asks her mother what he is planning to do with it, her mother tells her that he’s going to slaughter the tiny pig because “he was too small to thrive and survive.” Outraged, she runs out to the barn and begs her father not to kill the animal and promises to use her own time and energy to care for the pig. This is Wilbur’s first encounter of many regarding his own death throughout the play. Wilbur constantly has death on his mind and continues to suffer nightmares about the humans coming to slaughter him. But even though Wilbur can escape his death, Charlotte is not able to escape her own. Near the end of the play, when the County Fair is over and Wilbur and his humans are packing up to go home, Charlotte reveals in a heart-breaking moment that she is dying. Charlotte discloses that she is “done fore. In a day or two I’ll be dead.”
But with death comes new beginnings and a rebirth. And as Charlottes slowly begins to die, she gives Wilbur something to take back to his farm – her egg sack filled with eggs that will soon hatch into her children. Her legacy will live on through Wilbur’s memory of her, as well as through her children who will soon be born and heading out into the world. And Wilbur, who was once horrified by the realization of death, has learned to accept at the end of the play that eventually everything must die. Death is not the end, but a transfer of energy.
Friendship and Love
Finally, the biggest take-away we’d like you to experience from Charlotte’s web is the power of friendship and love. The unconditional love between a spider and pig is best captured at the end of play when Wilber says, “Oh Charlotte. Why did you do all this for me? I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. After all, what is life anyway? We’re born, we live a little, we die. By helping you, perhaps I was lifting up my life a trifle. Heaven knows, anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
“You have saved me, Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you…I really would.”
“I’m sure you would.”
We hope to see everyone at the performances of Charlotte’s Web on December 9 and 10, 2022.