Author: E.B. White
Plot Summary: Charlotte’s Web opens at the Arable family farm. A sow has just given birth to piglets and Mr. Arable is preparing to slaughter the runt. His daughter, Fern, pleads for her father to let the small piglet live. She claims it would be an injustice to kill him simply for being small. Mr. Arable relents, and Fern takes charge of the piglet, Wilbur’s, care.
Posted In: Animal Rights, Ethics, Philosophy of Childhood

Discussion Questions
  • Fern asks her father if he would have killed her if she had been born small. He replies that there is a difference between a human child and a pig. Is he right? Is it a difference that makes it right to kill pigs but wrong to kill humans?
  • Why are some lives considered more valuable than others?
  • Are all small beings weak? Are all large beings strong?
  • Are animals property? Should farmers be able to do whatever they want to the animals on their farms? Should people who have pets be able to do whatever they want with their animals?
  • Fern says it is an injustice to kill the piglet. What is an injustice? How do we know when one is occurring?
  • In the book version of this story, the conversation about the runt takes place at the breakfast table where there is bacon sizzling in the kitchen. Why does Fern care so much about the piglet, but not make the connection to the pigs raised on the farm and killed for eating?
  • Would Fern’s parents take her arguments more seriously if she were older? Does being a child make it less likely adults will listen to you?

This lesson can be used either in a classroom or online.

The lesson can begin with either reading the first chapter of Charlotte’s Web aloud or with this clip from the movie based on the book