The Power of Writing in E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web”

Everyone is familiar with E.B. White’s classic children’s story, Charlotte’s Web, or at least seen one of the movie versions. I remember watching the cartoon version with my mom in our family room when I was about 6- or 7-years old. And from that first viewing through all the times I’ve seen it since, I always tear up when Charlotte says farewell to her friend and Wilbur weeps for his loss.

It’s been many years since I’ve sat through an entire showing of Charlotte’s Web. But recently I sat on the couch with my daughter, Sophie, to watch the movie. She has seen it several times, but she has not yet experienced the sorrow from Charlotte’s dying at the end. And while I admit that I often leave the room because it’s painful for me to experience the ending, this time I chose to sit through the movie and experience the ending – and hear the words – as an adult.

Like all the times before, I did not get through the ending without shedding a few tears (okay, crying hysterically). This time, however, the movie and its ending took on a much deeper meaning to me.  Of course I was still sad when Charlotte drifts off to sleep. But this time, it was the last line of the movie (or book) that put me over the edge.

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Until now I had no idea Charlotte’s Web is not only a story about friendship and the sadness of death. It is also about words and the difference storytelling can make in people’s lives. It was not just Charlotte’s friendship that meant so much to Wilbur. It was the words Charlotte used to describe him; the words that eventually saved his life. That is the powerful moment and moral of the story.

Even as I reflect on the true meaning of the story and the testament to the power of words, I find tears dripping from my eyes. As E.B. White so beautifully says, Charlotte is indeed a true friend and a good writer. The beauty lies with that little spider who changed (and saved) lives through the power of her writing. I only hope I can live up to Charlotte and do the same with my words.

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