Questions: Why did White have a literate spider save Wilbur rather than allowing Wilbur to be literate, the better to save himself? It ensures that what wins Wilbur his freedom is a lie (there’s nothing special about Wilbur), though, of course, the animals’ ability to talk makes them all more special than the humans realize. Is it important that the animals are able to trick the humans? Would their victory mean less if it was based in “reality”—i.e. if Wilbur could write himself? I think the answer is yes: the fact that he’s just an ordinary pig that others go to all this trouble for makes the story much more poignant. The implication is that every pig is worth the trouble and yet not similarly saved. The fact that the spider who saves Wilbur is carnivorous herself (but, as Ratelle points out, not frivolously so) seems important. You care about Wilbur more because of his relationship with Charlotte and vice versa, and the fact that a carnivorous spider is kinder than the humans brings the point home.
What Ratelle said about the illustrations really stuck with me. Wilbur’s separation as an animal for consumption has a nightmare quality. I’m reminded of the Ball we read last week—about cannibalism being “an unpassable boundary between communities.” What’s interesting about the othering of meat animals is that there’s so little pretense about it—it’s so clearly intended to manage human feelings, such as shame.
Your remarks about literacy are particularly well taken–and the idea of Charlotte’s trickery is all the more resonant to me this week as we read all of Derrida’s remarks about feigning etc….CH