Silent Spring A Needless Havoc
Rachel Carson’s writing style in Silent Spring is seemingly redundant. However, it is the reason the book was able to reach so many people and have the success it did. It ultimately resulted in a call to action for readers to acknowledge the reckless destruction caused by chemical pesticides, and defined alternate ways of controlling nature. Carson utilized two main rhetorical strategies including; an ethical and a logical appeal to effectively convey her message to her audience. Her beliefs both ethical and logical were evident throughout the text as she offered both rhetorical tools in each example.
Carson’s personal ethical beliefs in the matter are expressed blatantly throughout her writing. She conducts herself with a very confident, annoyed and satirical attitude towards the obvious problems that revolve around pesticide use. The first time that I noticed her frustration with the human race was when she wrote;
“How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the treat of disease and death even to their own kind? Yes this is precisely what we have done. We have done it, moreover, for reasons that collapse the moment we examine them.” (Carson 8)
It is obvious that she sees the human mindset regarding pest control as ignorant and close minded. Her main message is not, however, that humans are stupid for what we have done; rather to encourage us to learn from our mistakes and look into other applications that cause less harm to the environment.
Carson’s ethical appeal greatly impacted my emotional stance on the issue of chemical alterations of the environment. She targets the readers’ emotions by accompanying facts with anecdotes that can relate to the non-scientific readers. One of the many examples that were most effective with my own emotions was the story of the birds that were negatively impacted by the spraying for Dutch elm disease. The impending doom for the birds occurred because once the trees were sprayed, the earthworms mulched the fallen leaves causing their systems to be full of DDT, and the birds then ate the worms and most would die (Carson 106-117). When the idea was brought to my attention that the bird population is diminishing, I was saddened. Carson uses emotional tactics like this to remind the readers of how much the victims of our race’s destructive action mean to us.
By using the ethical appeal, Carson causes the reader to evaluate their beliefs on what is wrong and what is right regarding pesticide use. She uses each example or incident to build a sense of ethical responsibility to the Earth. She tactfully wrote to portray the environment as an essential part of human life, not something we are to control as if we have total superiority over other life forms. I, the reader, was forced to ask myself if any civilization can cause such destruction of life while maintaining the right to be called civilized.
Silent Spring was a very well researched book. Carson strived to back all of her beliefs with sound scientific facts that could be found in her countless resource materials that she included at the end of the text. The amount of research and factual backing for each claim she made caused the information to be very believable. Carson effectively pieced together a series of events displaying the urgent need for change in human interaction with nature. She went into extreme detail to inform the reader of the fragile balance of nature attempting to create respect in the hearts and minds for the Earth and it’s creatures.
A specific example of one of the many logical appeals is when Carson provides many examples of direct relationships between things that come in contact with certain carcinogens and cancer. She starts out by talking about the pesticides and chemicals themselves that are believed to cause cancer; detailing instances where animal and plant life were affected in regions where spraying occurred. Her claims are proven as fact in that she has information from a Dr. Hargraves from the Mayo Clinic department of Hematology. The specialists at the clinic concluded that hundreds of their patients that have died have had direct exposure to certain chemical agents from sprays (DDT, chlordane, benzene, lindane, petroleum distillates). They have numerous detailed cases from the patients treated for leukemia, aplastic anemias, Hodgkin’s disease and other disorders of the blood and blood-forming tissues that “had all been exposed to these environmental agents, with a fair amount of exposure.” (Carson 222-242)
This kind of logical appeal was effective to me personally because I was more quickly apt to put my faith in what she was saying because all of the evidence she gathered from a wide variety of sources. She uses this method various locations in the book. The reader is initially bombarded with complicated scientific research, and finally in understanding once Carson applies that research to a specific story or example. The amount of research that Carson incorporated into the book allowed me to understand that she had a genuine interest in the subject. It made me respect her because the effort that she made in her research made her knowledgeable on the subject and influenced my of her opinion and of her writing. She became a more believable and effective writer.
At the beginning of the class, before reading Silent Spring, I was a very different person than I am now. Carson’s writings have influenced me in ways that I never would have thought. The book starts out slow, and seems overly complicated. Eventually I realized that I was truly grasping the information, and because of the many anecdotes I was able to see the information in action. Silent Spring’s success in the environmental movement is a direct result of Carson’s ability for writing a highly complicated subject matter in simple, easy to understand terms. I respect her as a person for risking so much in writing Silent Spring, her beliefs, and her highly effective writing style.
Looking back through the text, the passage I thought was most significant was, “A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals – eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power (Carson 17).” I will carry this with me forever, it reminds me about the myopic way most humans go through life. I need to realize that every piece of life is part of the circle, and any change in that circle affects the whole thing. So if we are going continue using pesticides and other chemicals, it would be a good idea to know everything we can about them first. Life isn’t about quick fixes.
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962.