Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Spinning the word

Charlotte's Web

The American author, Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985) wrote his Modernist text, Charlotte's Web in 1952, during the post-war period when there was an overarching mood of uncertainty derived from the aftermath of the Second World War. In Charlotte's Web, White explores the individual's relationship to the great uncertainties of life and death, friendship and love, whilst also providing an unsentimentalised sense of comfort in a dark world. This is achieved through the relationships between the genres of realism and fantasy employed in the text, and also White's interplay between Romanticism, Modernism and Existentialism.

Charlotte's Web draws on Romanticism in the focus on the importance of childhood, the notion of innocence, and the powerful use of landscape and setting. The influence of Modernism is clearly to be seen in the fractured notion of this text, as White shifts between realism and fantasy, and clearly critiques the materialist value system of the adult world. The philosophical position of existentialism per se, places emphasis on the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a world which is seen as hostile or indifferent. Human existence is inexplicable to the existentialists, and stresses freedom of choice and the individual taking responsibility for the consequences of their own acts. White's Modernist sensibility and orientation towards existentialism enable him to engage the reader with a sense of uncertainty, and to explore the inexplicable and ever present tensions between life and death.

White expressed his 'innate' orientation towards existentialism as follows:

Intuitively, I've always been aware of the vitally important pact which a man has with himself, to be all things to himself, and

-122-

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