The night before the fair, everybody goes to bed early: the animals want their rest so they are able to wish Wilbur well in the morning. It is a hot morning when they all get up early. At the Arable's, Fern and Avery wash and dress in their best clothes. Lurvy puts clean straw in Wilbur's crate, which has ZUCKERMAN'S FAMOUS PIG written on it. Mrs Zuckerman decides that it is imperative for Wilbur to have a buttermilk bath before leaving and when she finishes he really does look radiant.
Charlotte - who had been the only creature to go to bed late the night before- announces that she is going to the fair too. She elects Templeton to go with her to run errands. He is resistant until the old sheep tells him about the left-over food that could be scavenged at a fair. No time is lost and Charlotte and Templeton climb into Wilbur's crate, hidden from sight. When the Arables and the Zuckermans arrive to take Wilbur, they admire how wonderful he is looking. Mr Arable comments 'You'll get some extra good ham and bacon, Homer, when it comes time to kill that pig.' Hearing this, Wilbur passes out. He comes to when Lurvy throws water on him and once Wilbur has been shoved into the crate, they all set off to the fair.
When they get to the fair ground, the children are keen to explore but the adults are concerned about Wilbur. The children are sent off with strict instructions not to get lost, not spend all their money at once and not to cross the race-track when the horses are coming. Once Wilbur is settled in his new home, the adults go off to explore - Mr Zuckerman wants to look at tractors and Lurvy wants to have some fun on the midway.
Charlotte is disheartened to see a much bigger pig in the pen next door. She swings over and hangs just in front of his snout. He tells her his name - 'Uncle' - cracks a bad joke and insists that, despite his size, he too is a spring pig. Charlotte tells Wilbur he will need her help in order to beat him. She says she'll start work on a web in the late afternoon if she doesn't feel too tired. Wilbur is a bit worried about Charlotte - she looks swollen and doesn't have the energy she used to. All day people come to admire Wilbur but he feels terribly worried to hear the compliments about Uncle next door. He hopes Charlotte will have the energy to help him one last time.
There is a lot of emphasis on the way everybody looks before they set off to the fair. ‘Fern lugged a pail of hot water to her room and took a sponge bath. Then she put on her prettiest dress because she knew she would see boys at the Fair’, ‘Mrs Arable scrubbed the back of Avery’s neck’ and Mrs Zuckerman insists on giving Wilbur a butternut bath. In a world where first impressions are key and there doesn’t seem to be time for uncovering hidden depths, appearance is everything.
Up until now, we have essentially been dealing with two communities: the human and the animal. Fern has been a part of both these worlds but here, everyone comes together to go on a journey to the fair. This signals change as the two communities merge and, for the first time, journey away from the Zuckerman/Arable grounds. The fair is also an appropriate setting where young and old enjoy the excitement of rides and displays set well apart from the everyday – it is almost like Shakespeare’s where the characters journey to a place away from their usual surroundings and experience (often magical) changes which mean that they are quite different people when they return home.
The first image we are given when the group arrives at the fair is of the Ferris wheel: ‘When they pulled into the Fair Grounds, they could hear music and see the Ferris wheel turning in the sky.’ Surely this constantly moving wheel is symbolic of change. Soon after, Fern says ‘I’m going to win a doll by spinning a wheel and it will stop at the right number.’ If the fair is a place of change and transformation, Fern’s wheel here suggests her own transformation: she will spin her own wheel, take her life into her own hands and we shall observe the outcome. Mr Arable allows the children to go off by themselves and gives them money to spend, saying ‘remember, the money has to last all day. Here he is teaching them the value of money and of managing wealth in capitalist society – we can see that the children are growing up and this is the first vital lessons they are taught in order to survive in America in the twentieth century - after this warning they are told not to get lost or dirty or overheated: the priority given to money here is clear.
The description of the fairground is magical: ‘The children grabbed each other by the hand and danced off in the direction of the merry-go-round, towards the wonderful music and the wonderful adventure and the wonderful excitement, into the wonderful midway where there would be no parents to guard them and guide them, and where they could be happy and free and do as they pleased.’ The repetition of ‘wonderful’ goes far enough to suggest that this is a slightly teasing description by White. It is a hyperbolic description and full of energy as it is clearly written from the point of view of the children. Any adult reading this is well away of the ironic wink that comes with such an overblown and tirelessly listing description – we know that this freedom will soon become commonplace and the wonder of independence will transform into responsibility and with that we acknowledge the beginning of Avery and Fern’s loss of childhood innocence. Mrs Arable is aware of them growing up but she: ‘stood quietly and watched them go. Then she sighed. Then she blew her nose.’ Again White brilliant captures the mood here – it is a very delicate and poignant moment when Mrs Arable watches her children run off but he refuses to sentimentalize the situation and switches back to the commonplace activity of blowing her nose – although change is taking place, life must go on.
Uncle is a hefty pig and Charlotte acknowledges that he will be ‘a hard pig to beat’. However, Charlotte also promises that ‘with me helping you, it can be done.’ As we have already seen, appearances are very important and in order to win the prize, the pig must be of impressive stature – after all, this is a capitalist society where bigger means better and Wilbur the runt was going to be slaughtered because he was small. However, Charlotte believes she can combat this vicious capitalist circle with art. According to Charlotte, Uncle is ‘too familiar, too noisy and he cracks weak jokes.’ Altogether, he seems unrefined and dense and could be seen to represent the unrefined nature of capitalism and capitalist success – Uncle is a threat because he is bigger than Wilbur, not because of his personality or his intelligence, just because of his appearance. Charlotte believes that she can combat this with creativity. Bearing in mind that his novel is directed at children, this is a powerful statement from White: always search for what is underneath and direct your energies to things below the surface because although many people may be seduced by appearance and wealth, those people are probably not worth spending time with.
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