Chapter I. Before Breakfast
Fern Arable, an eight-year-old farm girl, sees her father carrying an ax and asks her mother where he is going with it. Her mother, Mrs. Arable, explains that a runt pig was born the night before and that Fern’s father, Mr. Arable, will kill the pig because it’s too small and weak. Fern becomes extremely upset and races outside to stop her father. Sobbing, Fern insists that killing the pig just because it’s small is unfair. Moved by her pleas, her father agrees not to kill the pig. He tells Fern to go back inside, where she can feed the pig with a bottle like a baby. Mr. Arable brings the pig into the kitchen in a box. Fern peeks inside and is delighted. She kisses her father and mother and then lifts the pig out and holds it against her cheek. Fern’s brother Avery enters the kitchen armed with toy weapons. He asks if he too can have a pig, but Mr. Arable says no—he didn’t rise early enough. Fern feeds the baby pig milk from a bottle. When the school bus honks, Fern and Avery hurry to meet it. On the bus, Fern thinks of a name for her pig: Wilbur.
Chapter II. Wilbur
Fern loves Wilbur. Every morning, she feeds him warm milk from a bottle. Every afternoon after school, she jumps off the bus and races home to feed him some more. Fern also gives Wilbur a bottle at suppertime and again at bedtime. Mrs. Arable helps by feeding Wilbur at noon, when Fern is in school. At first, Wilbur lives in his box in the kitchen. Soon he moves to a bigger box in the woodshed. When he is two weeks old, Mr. Arable fixes a large box with straw for Wilbur outside under an apple tree. Wilbur tunnels into the straw to keep warm while he sleeps, which makes Fern feel relieved. Wilbur follows Fern everywhere. Sometimes Fern places him in her doll carriage and wheels him around. When Fern and Avery go swimming, Wilbur follows and plays in the mud onshore. When Wilbur is five weeks old, Mr. Arable says he must be sold. Fern cries, but her father insists. Fern calls her aunt and uncle, the Zuckermans, who agree to buy Wilbur for six dollars, and so Wilbur goes to live on their farm.
Chapter III. Escape
Wilbur lives in a warm and comfortable pigpen in the cellar of the Zuckermans’ barn. Since Fern visits him almost every day, the sheep, geese, and other animals all come to trust her. Yet Wilbur becomes bored. He can only walk outside into his small fenced yard and then back into his pen. One day a goose points out to Wilbur that he can push on a loose fence board and free himself. Wilbur forces the board out and squeezes through but doesn’t know where to go. The goose encourages him to go wherever he wants and do whatever he pleases. Wilbur obeys, but when Mrs. Zuckerman spots him rooting around in the orchard, she shouts to Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy, their farmhand, to catch Wilbur. The farm animals all direct Wilbur to run in different directions, which confuses and scares him. Soon, Mr. Zuckerman brings out a pail of slop. Wilbur smells the food and follows as Mr. Zuckerman leads him back to his pen. As Wilbur eats, Lurvy mends the broken fence. Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy compliment Wilbur, who now feels full, content, and sleepy.
Chapter IV. Loneliness
Wilbur decides how to spend his day, but rain ruins his plans. He then wants to talk with Templeton, the rat that lives under his feed trough, but Templeton is not around. Wilbur feels lonely and friendless. He doesn’t eat the food that Lurvy pours into his trough. Wilbur asks the goose to play with him, but she explains that she must sit on her eggs. He asks the lamb to play with him, but it refuses to play with a pig. When Templeton appears, Wilbur asks him to play, but Templeton just wants to eat Wilbur’s food. Lurvy suspects something is wrong with Wilbur and tells Mr. Zuckerman, who directs him to give Wilbur some medicine. Lurvy forces the medicine down Wilbur’s throat. After dark, Wilbur hears a small voice say that it will be his friend. The voice tells him to go to sleep and that they will meet in the morning.
Chapter V. Charlotte
Filled with excitement about meeting his new friend, Wilbur has a hard time sleeping. When daylight comes, he searches for his new friend but doesn’t see anyone. He loudly asks who the friend is, but he wakes the other animals, and the oldest sheep shushes him. Lurvy brings Wilbur his slop, which he gobbles up hungrily. As Wilbur lies down for his morning nap, he hears the voice again. The voice greets him and introduces itself as Charlotte, the spider whose web spans the upper corner of the doorway above his pen. Charlotte demonstrates how she catches and wraps a fly that gets caught in her web. She lists all the insects she eats, explaining that she actually just drinks their blood. Upon hearing this, Wilbur feels disturbed. Charlotte explains that she is the way she is and that if she didn’t eat bugs, they would overtake the earth. Hearing their conversation, the goose thinks to herself how innocent Wilbur is and that he doesn’t even know the Zuckermans will slaughter him at Christmas. As Charlotte eats the fly, Wilbur settles down for his nap.
Chapter VI . Summer Days
School lets out for the summer, and Fern visits Wilbur almost every day. The goose’s eggs hatch, and Charlotte announces the goslings’ arrival to the barnyard animals. One egg does not hatch, however. The goose gives it to Templeton, while the gander warns Templeton that he had better stay away from the goslings. Charlotte warns everyone that if the unhatched egg ever breaks, the stink from the rotten egg will fill the whole barn.
Chapter VII. Bad News
Wilbur likes Charlotte more and more, and he grows bigger day by day. The oldest sheep tells Wilbur that the Zuckermans are fattening him up in order to kill him at Christmastime and make ham and bacon from him. Shocked and terrified by this news, Wilbur cries out for someone to save him. Charlotte declares that she will save Wilbur but that he must stop crying and behaving childishly.
Chapter VIII. A Talk at Home
Fern tells her parents about the conversations she hears the animals have when she visits the Zuckermans’ barn. Her father doesn’t feel overly concerned, but her mother worries and says she will ask the family doctor, Dr. Dorian, about Fern’s behavior.
Chapter IX. Wilbur’s Boast
Fern watches Charlotte repair her web. Charlotte describes to Wilbur how her legs help her spin. Wilbur brags that he could spin a web too. Smiling, Charlotte agrees to coach Wilbur on how to spin. To begin, Wilbur leaps from the top of the manure pile but crashes to the ground because his body can’t produce a line of thread to suspend him. He asks Templeton to tie a string to his tail and leaps once more, only to crash again because the string isn’t attached to anything else. Charlotte finally tells Wilbur that he can’t spin a web like a spider and neither can men. As twilight settles, Wilbur feels comfortable in his pen but then remembers what the sheep had told him about the Zuckermans’ plan to slaughter him. He tells Charlotte he doesn’t want to die and asks if she was serious about saving him. Charlotte assures Wilbur that she is thinking of a plan.
Chapter X. An Explosion
Charlotte has finally come up with a plan—she will save Wilbur by playing a trick on Mr. Zuckerman. Fern and Avery come to play on the Zuckermans’ farm. They swing on an old rope in the barn doorway and pick raspberries in the pasture. Fern then decides to visit Wilbur. As they walk toward the pigpen, Avery notices Charlotte’s web. He announces he’s going to knock the spider down with a stick and capture it in a box. Fern cries out to stop him. As Avery climbs the fence into the pen, he loses his balance and lands on the edge of Wilbur’s trough, tipping it over.
The rotten egg that Templeton had hidden under the trough breaks, and a horrible stench fills the air. Fern and Avery hold their noses and run away, and Charlotte is saved. When the rest of the animals return to the barn, they complain about the smell. Soon, Lurvy appears with Wilbur’s lunch slop. Smelling the rotten egg and seeing the rat’s nest, he covers everything with dirt. Throughout the rest of the day, the barnyard settles down. As Wilbur and the other animals sleep, Charlotte tears a hole in her web and begins to spin.
Chapter XI. The Miracle
A heavy morning fog leaves drops of water on Charlotte’s web, making it glisten. When Lurvy comes to deliver Wilbur’s breakfast, he notices the web’s beauty and two words spelled out in its middle: SOME PIG! Astonished, Lurvy gets Mr. Zuckerman to come see the web. Both men tremble. They look at Wilbur and then at Charlotte. Mr. Zuckerman returns to his house to inform Mrs. Zuckerman that a miracle has happened: A message in a spider web tells them they have a very unusual pig. She suggests that maybe the spider is unusual rather than the pig, but Mr. Zuckerman feels sure that the pig, not the spider, is special.
The Zuckermans return to the pigpen and, along with Lurvy, stare in amazement at Wilbur. Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy agree that Wilbur certainly is some pig. Mr. Zuckerman changes into his best clothes and goes to inform the minister that a miracle has happened on his farm. The news spreads, and people from all over the county come to see Wilbur. The Zuckermans begin to neglect their farm, as all their time is taken up with entertaining the visitors and tending to Wilbur.
Chapter XII. A Meeting
Charlotte calls all the barn animals together for a meeting. She needs ideas for more words about Wilbur to spin in her web. The goose suggests terrific, and Charlotte agrees. The oldest sheep suggests that Templeton tear out ads from newspapers and magazines in the dump and bring them to Charlotte for other words to use. At first, Templeton refuses, but the old sheep reminds him how much he relies on the leftover food in Wilbur’s trough. If Wilbur dies, there will be no food left over for Templeton. Templeton promises to look for a magazine clipping in the dump the next day. Charlotte calls the meeting to an end because she needs to start spinning the word terrific in her web. Wilbur insists he’s not terrific, but Charlotte tells him that to her, he is.
Chapter XIII. Good Progress
Charlotte spends much of the night spinning the word TERRIFIC in the middle of her web. The next morning, when Lurvy sees the new word, he races to get Mr. Zuckerman, who races to tell his wife, who races to tell the Arables, who race to come see. The news spreads, and people return to see the “terrific” pig. Mr. Zuckerman decides to bring Wilbur to the county fair in September.
Meanwhile, Templeton brings paper scraps with words from the dump to Charlotte. She tells him that the first two he brings—crunchy and pre-shrunk—will not work. When he returns with a soap ad reading “With New Radiant Action,” Charlotte asks to see Wilbur in action and then decides that the word radiant will do. Fern arrives for a visit. Tired, Wilbur asks Charlotte to tell him a story. She tells him about a cousin who once caught a fish in her web and about a cousin who spun a balloon and sailed away on the wind. Wilbur falls asleep as Charlotte sings him a lullaby, and Fern leaves.
Chapter XIV. Dr. Dorian
The next day, while helping her mother with the dishes, Fern begins telling Mrs. Arable about the stories Charlotte told Wilbur. Her mother somewhat angrily tells Fern to stop making up wild tales. Fern replies that she is not. Mrs. Arable suggests that Fern play with friends outdoors instead of spending time alone in the barn. Fern responds that her best friends are in the barn and soon after leaves for the Zuckermans’ farm.
Concerned about Fern’s behavior, Mrs. Arable drives into town to seek Dr. Dorian’s advice. After hearing Mrs. Arable’s story, Dr. Dorian doesn’t feel too concerned about Fern. He tells Mrs. Arable that he hears the Zuckermans’ pig is special and that a spider’s web is something of a miracle. He even admits that it’s possible that animals do talk to each other. Dr. Dorian tells Mrs. Arable not to worry and that Fern will one day become just as interested in Henry Fussy, a boy she knows, as she is in the animals. Mrs. Arable leaves the doctor’s office feeling relieved.
Chapter XV. The Crickets
The crickets begin to sing, a sign that summer’s end approaches. Charlotte has written RADIANT in her web, and crowds keep coming to see Wilbur. The pig shows off for them, but despite the other animals’ fears, he doesn’t become stuck up. He does sometimes have bad dreams about men coming for him with knives and guns. The county fair is approaching, and Wilbur hopes he will win prize money there so Mr. Zuckerman will keep him. Wilbur asks Charlotte to come to the fair with him, but she tells him she may not be able to because it’s time for her to make an egg sac and fill it with eggs. She promises that she will go to the fair with Wilbur if she can.
Chapter XVI. Off to the Fair
Everybody goes to bed early the night before the fair and dreams about what will happen there. The next morning, they all put on their best clothes. Mr. Arable polishes his truck. Lurvy puts straw into the special green-and-gold crate he built for Wilbur that’s labeled ZUCKERMAN’S FAMOUS PIG. Mrs. Zuckerman gives Wilbur a buttermilk bath. Charlotte decides to go to the fair and wants Templeton to go too to help her. The old sheep persuades Templeton to go by telling him of all the leftover food he will find at the fair. Charlotte hides in a knothole in Wilbur’s crate, and Templeton buries himself under the straw.
When Mr. Arable backs his truck up to the pigpen to load Wilbur onto it, he comments how Mr. Zuckerman will get extra good ham and bacon out of Wilbur. Wilbur sinks to his knees, alarmed. Clowning around, Avery climbs into Wilbur’s crate, and the truck begins to roll away, but Mr. Arable manages to stop it. Amid the chaos, Wilbur faints. Fern kneels by his side, and Lurvy rouses the pig with cold water. The men manage to push Wilbur into his crate and onto the truck. Everybody climbs in, and they take off for the fair.
Chapter XVII. Uncle
At the fair, Mr. and Mrs. Arable give Fern and Avery money to go off and have some fun on their own. When Wilbur is unloaded, people gather to watch. Charlotte scurries out of his crate to a high post and sees a huge hog in the next pen. He tells her to call him Uncle and cracks a weak joke, but Charlotte doesn’t care for him. She warns Wilbur that Uncle may be hard to beat for a prize because of his size. Charlotte feels tired, and Wilbur notices she looks swollen. She takes a nap while people come to admire Wilbur. Wilbur worries when he hears people comment favorably on Uncle.
Chapter XVIII. The Cool of the Evening
Templeton creeps out of Wilbur’s crate to explore the fair. Charlotte tells him to bring back a word for her to write for the last time. Fern meets Henry Fussy, who buys a ticket for her to ride the Ferris wheel with him. After eating a leftover lunch, Templeton tears the word humble out of its newspaper wrapping, brings it back to Charlotte, and then goes off to gorge himself on more food. Charlotte weaves HUMBLE into her web, but as the Arables, the Zuckermans, and Lurvy return after dark, they fail to notice the new word. The families drive home after their long day at the fair. Wilbur asks Charlotte to sing, but she feels too tired. She tells Wilbur she is making a masterpiece, which she will show him tomorrow. Back at the Arable home, Fern tells her mother she had the best time of her life at the fair.
Chapter XIX. The Egg Sac
When Wilbur awakes the next morning, he sees Charlotte in a high corner next to a cocoon-like sac. She seems smaller and sounds weak. Charlotte tells Wilbur she has made a strong, waterproof egg sac that contains 514 eggs, but she doesn’t think she’ll live to see her children. Templeton returns, stuffed from his night eating leftovers, and tells Wilbur and Charlotte that Uncle has a blue tag on his pen, meaning he won first prize. When they arrive at the fair, the Arables, the Zuckermans, and Lurvy spot the word HUMBLE in Charlotte’s web and rejoice but then notice that Uncle has already won.
All feel upset, and Mrs. Zuckerman begins to cry, but Mr. Zuckerman tells them not to be sad and insists on giving Wilbur a buttermilk bath. People gather and admire how clean and humble Wilbur looks. Suddenly a voice comes over the loudspeaker, announcing that a special award will be given and asking Mr. Zuckerman to bring his pig to the judges’ booth. Everyone celebrates, and Charlotte feels content that she has saved Wilbur’s life. As they drive Wilbur to the judges, Fern glances at the Ferris wheel and wishes she were on it with Henry.
Chapter XX. The Hour of Triumph
The truck carrying Wilbur arrives at the judges’ booth, surrounded by onlookers. Avery is especially helpful in hoisting Wilbur’s crate up off the truck. Fern sees Henry and asks for money to treat him to a Ferris wheel ride. Mrs. Arable gives Fern forty cents, and she races off. The loudspeaker voice presents Wilbur to the crowd and reminds everyone of the mysterious writing in the spider’s web. The voice attributes the writing to supernatural forces because spiders cannot write. Mr. Zuckerman is awarded $25 and a bronze medal, and Wilbur faints from all the excitement. Mr. Zuckerman fans Wilbur with his cap and yells for Lurvy to fetch some water. Templeton, hidden in Wilbur’s crate, bites the pig’s tail, which revives him and makes him cry out. Everyone feels delighted. Mr. Zuckerman receives his award, and a photographer takes Wilbur’s picture. Just then Lurvy races up with a bucket of water to throw on Wilbur but misses, drenching Mr. Zuckerman and Avery instead. The crowd laughs, and Avery shows off. Eventually Wilbur is loaded back onto the truck and returned to his pen.
Chapter XXI. Last Day
While the families look for Fern, Charlotte tells Wilbur that he will be safe now. When Wilbur asks why she helped him, Charlotte responds that she helped because he is her friend. She then explains that she won’t be returning to the farm because she will die soon. Wilbur sobs and insists that he’ll stay at the fair too, but Charlotte reminds him there would be no one there to feed him. Then Wilbur gets an idea.
As the Arables and Zuckermans come to take him home, Wilbur tells Templeton that Charlotte is dying and asks him to climb up and take the egg sac. Templeton dawdles, complaining that others always ask him for favors yet he’s never appreciated. As people approach, Wilbur becomes desperate. Wilbur promises Templeton that if he retrieves the egg sac, he can always eat from Wilbur’s trough first. Templeton agrees. He climbs up, gnaws through the spider threads holding the sac, and brings it back down to Wilbur just as the families arrive. Wilbur places the egg sac in his mouth. As he’s pushed into his crate, Wilbur winks at Charlotte, who whispers goodbye and weakly waves with one leg. She knows her children will be safe. The next day, Charlotte dies.
Chapter XXII. A Warm Wind
At home, Wilbur places the egg sac in a safe corner. Mr. Zuckerman hangs his medal where everyone can see it. Fall comes and then winter, but Fern still thinks of riding the Ferris wheel with Henry. Wilbur grows big and thinks often of Charlotte, and Templeton grows fat because Wilbur keeps his promise and shares his food. Through the cold winter, Wilbur guards the egg sac and warms it with his breath.
One spring day, tiny spiders begin crawling out of the egg sac. Wilbur introduces himself. For several days, the spiders grow and explore their surroundings. One morning, each spins a balloon of fine silk and sails away on a warm draft. Wilbur becomes distraught and cries himself to sleep. When he awakens, however, several tiny voices greet him. Three of Charlotte’s daughters have decided to stay. After Wilbur helps name them—Joy, Aranea, and Nellie—the three spiders pledge their friendship. Over the years, Fern grows up and no longer visits regularly, but every spring new spiders are born. Most fly away, but a few always stay and become Wilbur’s friends. Mr. Zuckerman takes great care of Wilbur. Life for Wilbur is good, though he never forgets his friend Charlotte.