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journal

"Some Spider"

Several books have had an impact on my life, but nothing has moved me as deeply as reading E. B. White's Charlotte's Web. When I finished that novel, I was hooked on the pleasure of emotion stirred up by fiction. I knew that my life would be centered on reading books. The fictional world glowed more brightly and more intensely than the real world.

I learned to read early and slogged my way through some books that I see now as silly as well as some "classics" recommended by my older brother in a sadistic effort to undermine my pleasure and emphasize my incompetence. Left to my own taste, I preferred stories about animals, particularly cute mammals. Although I began Charlotte's Web with little love of either pigs or spiders, I immediately relished being in the company of both Wilbur and Charlotte. I enjoyed White's use of language, including his vocabulary building efforts in using such words as "salutations" and his comparison of Charlotte's web to the Queensborough Bridge. I was amazed by Charlotte's efforts to save Wilbur; indeed, I agreed completely with those who considered her "some spider." But at the end of the novel, I felt my heart ripped open. For here, Charlotte, having given birth to a new generation of spiders, dies.

I was astounded. I had heard of death. The boy across the street from me had died of leukemia and I had once gone with his family to visit his grave. It was an experience that left me confused and cold. I still had not comprehended that everyone dies – that I would die. But here was Charlotte, dead, dead, dead. This heroic creature, who had changed the course of Wilbur's life, was gone forever from the world. Her children might sweeten Wilbur's life, but they were not Charlotte. She was gone, never to come back. I sobbed and sobbed and could find no solace. Charlotte had died and I knew that I would die also.

The churning emotions of love and loss and knowledge of life going on filled me with a sense of comprehension of life itself. My feelings were private and yet I desired to share the experience with someone else. I ran to my mother and told her that Charlotte had died and tears came to her eyes as she said, "But she had children who will live after her." For a moment we hugged, both feeling the truth of the world tugging at our hearts. I began to see redemption in Charlotte's death, that something of Charlotte might live after her, whether it was her descendents or the knowledge of how she lived her life.

In that moment of mutual understanding and emotion, I became a devoted sharer of my reading experiences. I found comfort in the knowledge that someone else felt as I did. I have cried over the ends of other books – most notably the death of Natty Bumpo (actually it was the death of his dog that got to me). I also enjoy many pleasures other than emotional shock from literature. But like Charlotte's Web, the works I love employ another way of looking at life that takes me outside of the reality of my own life. They provide a window that somehow changes my vision and my way of seeing the world.

Looking back now on Charlotte's Web, I realize that the novel has influenced me in more ways than the immediate emotional experience and knowledge of death. Every time I start to kill a spider or a bug, I remember that this critter is such a one as Charlotte.

 

 


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