Ethics and edibility in Charlotte’s Web.

Authors: Ratelle, A.

E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952) has long been considered by scholars and educators to be a classic of children’s literature. Most analyses of the text retain the practice of seeing the animal body as a stand-in for human values, emotions and experiences. Early scholarship on Charlotte’s Web focuses on its structural elements, including White’s proficiency with poetic language. Peter Neumeyer (1979), for example, attends to the “mythopoetic dimension” (p. 66) of the novel, clearly positioning it within the pastoral tradition. Perry Nodelman (1985) similarly examines the narrativity of the novel in the larger framework of folklore studies. Karen Coats (1999), meanwhile, has recently approached the novel through a psychoanalytic lens, contending that “reading Charlotte’s Web through Lacan’s theory of subjectivity […] enables us to come to an understanding of just how complicated the Other (as other people, as our own unconscious, as language itself) is in the formation of our identities” (p. 105). Coats is correct in envisioning the Other as a means by which identity is formed, but her analysis remains focused on the creation of human identity, unproblematically using Wilbur as a stand-in for the human child. Ashraf Rushdy (1991) similarly prioritizes the human experience, positioning Charlotte’s Web as “a representation of individual and communal desires” (p. 36), by which he is referring to human desires.


Ratelle, A. (2014). Ethics and edibility in Charlotte’s Web. The Lion and the Unicorn 38 (3), 327-341. [article]

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