I was really interested in Ratelle’s discussion of the dichotomy between subjectivity and edibility and how Charlotte seems to know that if Wilbur can be seen as an individual or subject, as ‘some pig’, that he will be saved from his place as food. It made me wonder though if it really needs to be such an opposition, can you really not be both an individual and a food source? I would love to see a story that dives into an exploration of how one might be both, there seems like there could have been opportunity even within Charlotte’s web – we could have had more of the perspective of the flies that Charlotte was trapping and eating. All the other animals were engaged in a community but her prey was specifically left out.
I don’t know that I fully agreed with Ratelle’s point that ultimately White undermines his argument of subjectivity by the character of Uncle. Isn’t Charlotte’s whole endeavor actually making Wilbur exceptional, even without the character of Uncle to contrast her whole project is to say that Wilbur stands in contrast to all other pigs and thus should be saved. She never set out to make all pigs subject, just to save this one. And isn’t there something inherent about subjectivity that is created by contrasting with a larger whole? Even if she had tried to save all pigs it would have had to be through creating an identity for them by contrasting them from the larger whole of ‘food source’.
I also think the novel holds a lot of really interesting craft questions. The rat character as a sort of animal anti-hero is really fascinating, I wonder why White chose to make such a complicated character in a genre that is usually much more black and white about who is good and bad. It’s also very strange to me that it’s pretty much a close third person perspective but with a single POV switch from Fern to Wilbur after the first two chapters that never really goes back. I think in a writing workshop that would just get tagged as sloppy writing, but clearly White is such a genius that he does it for a purpose. I wonder if that’s also a part the ‘subject-making’ of Wilbur, to make his voice/perspective equal to the human who begins the story.
And as a totally non-academic point, I had remembered that Charlotte dies but I totally forgot she died all alone not even at the barn!?! That seems wildly & unnecessarily sad!
Great questions. I feel we should discuss this question of whether an entity can be both an individual and a food source; I think there has been a firm distinction generally but when John Griffin writes about Charlotte’s Web, he notes that the book exemplifies a farmer’s concern for his animals: love, but also commercial concerns. And about Charlotte’s death: a lot of people write about it, and in particularly what they view as a very gendered sacrifice. So much to discuss here! CH