Firstly, wow, it was very strange to return to Charlotte’s Web…I thought I remembered enough of that book from my primary school days but there were many, many surprises.
- This initial question may be…anthropocentric…of me, but I’m thinking about Fern; it’s hard not to see some hints of Madonna and Child religious iconography in the first few descriptions of her fawning over and taking care of Wilbur. In this vein, it’s perhaps a little confusing that her mother is so concerned about her development into adolescence and womanhood, or even into a more conventional kind of girlhood when the way we hear about her taking care of Wilbur is steeped in imagery of (white) motherhood and caretaking. We’ve talked a little bit about pets as pre-children, or as fitting into a pseudo-nuclear-family structure, but I think this is a good point to return to this again. I’m reminded of girls’ encouraged conduct with even younger siblings, baby dolls, and other toys that allow one to act out maternal care. I think what I’m trying to ask is maybe less anthropocentric than I initially thought: what makes Wilbur an errant or inappropriate subject/object of care? Is it that he straddles the boundary between living subject (even if nonverbal in some way) and fetishizable object? What does this suggest about the way girlhood is similarly moderated, policed, and surveilled through the eyes of Fern’s mother and White?
- I’m also interested in edibility, particularly in contrast to some of the animals we encountered in Doctor Dolittle last week; how racialized are the lines between species considered, as Ratelle puts it, ‘companion-species’ and species of animals that are considered exotic, or more interesting to look at than to have? I’m not suggesting that we can simply transpose racial categories and binaries – I think this is more complicated, particularly when we take into account a given author’s own background – but I do think the presumed docility of companion animals sits uneasily alongside the ‘wild’ island animals that line up to be vaccinated by Dolittle. Where does the edible/non-edible binary emerge?
- The scenes at the fair were really interesting to me, in part because I associate fairs with a hard-to-justify image of early twentieth century American rural life and culture (even though events like the Chicago World Fair were far from rural). Oddly, seeing the fair through Templeton’s eyes was more useful than I expected; what kinds of relics of E.B. White’s historical context does Templeton find, hoard, discard, and eat? How do these ephemera in turn constitute the ecology of the fair itself, one that is put up and taken down, and designed to be temporary, yet results in a fair amount of waste?
Hi Alexandra, I love all of these angles…I don’t think Fern is discussed enough, and I think you did an amazing job of articulating some contexts for that. I think a Templeton-centered inquiry is never a bad idea! I was even wondering this week whether I should write some Templeton fan fiction… I love all of your questions and can’t wait to discuss this book with you and the seminar tonight! CH