Rory: Charlotte’s Web is one of my favorite books.
Lorelai: Spiders talking to pigs—what could be better than that?
—Season 7, Episode 3
Early in season seven, Rory wakes up one morning to find Lorelai staring at a plate of broken poptart pieces. She’s taste-testing them to figure out whether she likes them for themselves or because, when she was a teen, they represented everything her mother disapproved of and, as a result, “tasted like freedom.”
That moment is the culmination of a night spent questioning every decision she has ever made, prompted by her parents’ bland, non-reaction to Lorelai announcing that she and Luke have broken up.
The previous evening, stalling on her parents’ front doorstep, Lorelai had been dreading telling them about the break-up. She had expected them to be negative and critical. She had steeled herself for harsh judgment. But when she finally blurts it out, they have an “oh, that’s too bad” moment before quickly moving on to the next topic. Lorelai is so thrown that she tries to pick a fight with them, to find something offensive in their formulaic expression of sympathy.
Their lack of negative criticism plunges Lorelai into confusion about what she wants and what she believes about herself and her taste. She realizes that she has been measuring her decisions based on annoying or going against her parents. Maybe she likes what she likes because she likes it. But maybe not.
That's how it is, isn't it? We’re never acting as independently as we think we are. What we do and who we are exists in conversation with the community around us, whether we’re working with or against it.
“Charlotte’s Web” explores this idea in all its beautiful, maddening complexity, with interwoven plots that speak to any and all ages. There’s Fern’s journey within the story—from a little girl who can’t bear to see the runt of the litter killed to a young women interested in the world beyond the farm. There’s Mrs. Arable’s anxiety about what she sees as her daughter’s unhealthy preoccupation with the farm animals. There are her family doctor’s comforting words that acknowledge the unknown and that we need not fear it.
And of course, at the center of the story are Wilbur the pig and the farm animals who rally around him, even if they do sometimes tease and snipe at him. Even self-serving Templeton the rat has a role to serve. Even the flies, drawn by Wilbur’s trough and caught by Charlotte—ruthless spider and devoted friend—to meet a grim end, show us how everything is interdependent in a perfect cycle of needs met.
Appropriately, “Charlotte’s Web” makes a cameo in the episode discussed above. Emily has a special guest at that fateful Friday night dinner: a 10-year old called Charlotte who Emily is grooming for a “manners” class (evoking another talking pig—Dick King-Smith's "Babe, the Gallant Pig," who achieves his dream of becoming a sheep-pig by having the best manners going). Charlotte politely introduces herself to Lorelai and Rory, prompting the latter to share that “Charlotte’s Web” is her favorite book.
Though the characters’ journeys in the show and the book are vastly different, they’re connected by a shared truth: We can’t escape that complex ecosystem called community. We’re not made by our communities, necessarily. Wilbur is sweet and determined, and Charlotte finds these qualities in him endearing, so she becomes his friend. Emily does her level best to “make” Lorelai, and then Rory, into Emily’s perfect vision for them and only succeeds at failing spectacularly, especially where Lorelai is concerned.
But we can’t really do without each other. Like it or not, we carry the people who have influenced us always. For Wilbur, it means believing what Charlotte sees in him: a “terrific” and “radiant” pig. It also means honoring the memory of the spider who contrived to save his hide from the butchery, and succeeded. For Lorelai, it means coming to terms with who she wants to be, and not be. It means striving for a healthy relationship with the parents whose lifestyle she rejects, even when it's really hard.
Both the book and the series are about embracing the world, even the painful bits, and enriching our lives by loving each other despite our inevitable faults and limitations.
I’ll let Charlotte’s last words to Wilbur serve as the last words here as well:
"After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."