Sacramento State News - California State University, Sacramento
Professor weaves web of knowledge on upcoming DVD
Though it wasn’t spelled out by a spider, Professor Lu Agosta knows a thing or two about E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The news apparently reached the producers of an upcoming DVD version of the new movie release of Charlotte’s Web—they’ve interviewed him about his expertise on the book for the “special features” portion of the DVD.
Agosta, an English professor who has written extensively about and taught children’s literature, was approached for commentary well in advance of the Charlotte’s Web nationwide theatrical release Dec. 15. His contributions will be spliced in with other speakers, including the director, the producer, and several actors.
While DVD technology may be relatively new, the story’s themes are timeless. “The story in Charlotte’s Web is really about maturation, which is very relevant for children ages 9 to 12, who are the target audience for the book” says Agosta. “We see the main characters in the book—Fern, the little girl who loves and cares for Wilbur the pig, as well as Wilbur himself—make a journey and become transformed into self-sufficient individuals by the end of the story.
“In the beginning of the book, Fern is very much a little girl, and Wilbur is very infantile. Wilbur was the runt of the litter and considered worthless. He eventually grew to become a pig that was valued and respected by the animals and people around him.”
Agosta also points to the reality/fantasy juxtaposition in the book. “The reality is present in Fern’s maturity, in Wilbur’s growth to self-sufficiency, and even in Charlotte’s death, which is very unsettling and presented in an unsentimental, sobering way,” he says. “Her death is solitary, in the dark on a fairground away from her home. E.B. White makes no accommodations and is unsparing in her death.
“The fantasy theme is prevalent also. In the beginning of the book, Wilbur’s life is spared, and by the end of the book, he continues to live in the barnyard indefinitely, implying immortality. In those instances, the wish fulfillment prevails. So White has it both ways.”
The importance of language is another recurring theme in the book, says Agosta, and the story shows how language makes us who we are. “One of Charlotte’s messages in her web says that Wilbur is ‘terrific,’ although he claims he’s not. Charlotte tells him that to her he is terrific, and Wilbur subsequently believes he is. The language creates reality because he believes it.
“It’s vital to recognize how powerful language is, because the language we use with children defines them if they buy into that,” he says. “I really highlight that fact when I’m instructing future teachers. Charlotte’s Web reminds us that language is a powerful tool in determining who we are as people and our place in the world.”
The title of the book also focuses on the web and how it becomes an emblem of successful living. “Charlotte constructs her web competently and capably, and it provides her with a home, food, stability and a place in the world,” says Agosta. “She also uses it to help others. It’s not all about her. It’s a reminder how gratifying it can be to lift our lives and become selfless. We want sufficiency, maturity, and altruism.
“In effect, Charlotte’s web becomes an emblem for a successful life.”
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