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In E. B White’s books Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, White writes about characters and the ways they adapt to changes in their lives, which can also be seen throughout the 1950s during a time of segregation and racism.
The purpose of this paper is to explain how living during a time of racism impacted E. B White’s books. I will show the connection between his work and the time period by describing the time period that his work was written and how his work was written at that time by citing lines from his books that reflect the hardships people were faced with during the 1950s.
At the time that White’s books, Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little were written was the 1950s. The 1950s was a time in history where people began speaking out against the inequality African Americans were facing in the U. S. This time in U. S history was called “The Civil Rights Movement”. Racial injustice in the 1950s was just a normal part of everyday life. People were confined to two categories, “black” or “white”, and if you did not go to your designated section, you could be at risk of being arrested. In the Brown v. Board of Education case, it was declared that “‘separate educational facilities’ for black children were ‘inherently unequal’”(history. com).
This time in history is reflected in many of E. B White’s works, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, to be specific. In Charlotte’s Web, the main character, Wilbur is faced with many challenges and hardships in the effort to not become the Arable’s family feast. This is shown in chapter five, “Wilbur didn’t know what to do or which way to run. It seemed as though everybody was after him…”(Charlotte’s Web). It is not until Wilbur meets his friend Charlotte he finally feels like he has a purpose.
In Stuart Little, Stuart is a mouse who lives with his human family in New York City. Stuart’s family treats him just like any child should be treated with love and kindness. Even though Stuart is loved, he is still a mouse and faces problems that humans may never have to deal with. Stuart says something very important, and that is to “live and learn”(Stuart Little). Stuart means that life may be difficult sometimes, but there is a lesson behind everything. Both books relate to the 1950s because they both have characters who deal with hardships because they are different, this can also be seen during this time when African Americans were treated unfairly because of their skin color.
E. B White found a way to incorporate real life situations into his work. Many of his work was writing children’s novels. His novels included funny animals that had human-like characteristics, the main character dealt with challenges that can relate to just about anyone. White wrote his books in a way that touched the hearts of many people and still does to this day. He not only wrote children’s novels but also published collection of poetry named, The Lady Is Cold and also wrote The Trumpet of the Swan. White became one of the most influential American authors of his time and is still remembered to this day. Some of his awards include, John Newbery Medal in 1953, the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Just like any famous author, White faced quite a bit of criticism, both positive and negative. White was born Elwyn Brooks White, and was born on July 11, 1899 in Mount Vernon, New York. His father was the general manager and vice-president of a business that sold musical instruments. His father had a small setback when he was charged with “fraud in connection with a stock transaction”(Commentary). White acquired a love of the natural world from his father and precision and order, from his mother he acquired a respect of art. White’s biographer goes to say, “White was born lucky, as he has often said, but he was also born scared…”(Commentary). White was rather shy when he was a child and that continued into adulthood.
In Charlotte’s Web, many issues involving gender are clearly seen throughout the book. To begin with, Charlotte gets no credit for any of the work she has done for Wilbur to save his life. Mrs. Arable and Fern both make the decision to send Wilbur to a farm instead of him being killed. Mrs. Zuckerman goes to say “it seems to me that you're a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider”(Charlotte’s Web). Her idea is rejected by her husband and he continues to believe that Charlotte is just an average spider. These situations in the book reflects how women were treated in the 1950s, women back then did not have the same respect that women have today.
In Stuart Little, critics have more positive things to say than negative. Malcolm Cowley goes to say, “His dialogue is good from beginning to end. Each of the separate episodes is entertaining, and one at least is uproarious. . . ”(Nytimes). Stuart little is an adventure for any child no matter the age. There are also some negatives to the novel, and that is “the book doesn’t hold to the same mood or move in a straight line”(Nytimes). Critics also go to say that the book was “‘bad for children’”(infoplease) and the story itself was too open-ended. Another issue in the novel was how could a mouse be part of a human family? The question was answered by Stuart being adopted from an orphanage. The topic of adoption was rather controversial during the time the book was published. Having or adopting a child who was different physically or mentally was considered taboo.
There are many themes in Charlotte’s Web, the most prominent are friendship and perseverance. Charlotte and Wilbur’s friendship is one like no other. For them, friendship means being loyal to one another and making sacrifices for each other. Wilbur was very lonely and sad before he met Charlotte, and the novel goes to say, “Wilbur didn't want food, he wanted love. He wanted a friend…”(Charlotte’s Web). Wilbur finally felt better once he had the love and support of Charlotte.
The second theme is perseverance, this can be seen by all the characters throughout the book. It is mostly shown by Wilbur and Charlotte, they both do whatever it takes to save Wilbur’s life. They work hard even when times are tough. Wilbur even says, “I could spin a web, if I tried”(Charlotte’s Web). Wilbur shows that he is determined and wants to live a long happy life. Both themes can be related to the time period the book was written because the African Americans and anyone who was against racism supported one another and had to be strong. In Stuart Little, the main themes are acceptance and socialization. Stuart is accepted by his family from the very beginning, even though he is a mouse. His family could have treated him with very little respect because he is different, but they didn’t because they loved him the way that he is. They never showed much attention to the fact he was a mouse in the first place.
The second theme is socialization, Stuart lives life a little bit differently than the rest of his family because he is a mouse. His family makes sure that there are special accommodations to help Stuart live a rather normal life. Stuart has the most ideal parents and they love and accept him for who he is, even though he is a little different. Both themes relate to the time period because African Americans were seen as different and less than everyone else because they looked a certain way, this led them to be treated unfairly. During this time, African Americans wanted to be treated with respect and to be treated fairly. The work reflects what the critics said about it because in both books, the major themes had something to do with being treated equal or friendship and love. The critics go to say the problems that can be related to the time period which include, the roles of women in society, and the unfair treatment of someone solely based on their physical differences.
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