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Overview of the Book Silent Spring

Question:

Discuss about the Literary Study of Silent Spring By Rachel Carson.

The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was first published on 27th September in the year 1962 focusing on the environmental issues of United States. The book composed by a brave woman presented a catastrophic view of the ecological deprivation for the first time in US and in a way started spreading awareness for the conservation of it [1].  The book was nominated under the category non-fiction for the National Book Award.

The book serialized in three parts became so famed that the then American president John F. Kennedy read it in the summer of 1962 and was sold like hot cakes in the market. The book was a smash hit and was the most talked about book in the era. The book took four years of study and investigation for private research in federal science before Carson published the book[2].

Although books may be a less celebrated medium than hostilities, rallies, insurrections, they at times become the most influential authority of societal change in the life of the Americans. Mentions can be made of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that aroused the spirit of revolution in the early days among the natives of the country and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin that stimulated the people of the North to resist against the slavery in the era that lead to the Civil War. Similarly, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson powerfully enquired the confidence of the humans on the advancement of the technology and called for a movement for the preservation of the ecological balance.

The book Silent Spring is based upon a true story and commences with a “fable for tomorrow” where Carson illustrates “a town in heart of America where all life seemed to live in a harmony with its surroundings…no witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world[3]. The people had done it themselves.” This fable draws instances from actual communities where the application of DDT had damaged the wildlife and the natural floras and faunas and even humans. Carson’s most important focus was on the prospect of life on Earth.

DDT, the most harmful and powerful pesticide known to the world exposed the vulnerability of nature came in hand of the civilians in the year 1945. Then only Edwin Way Teale and Carson objected about this newly invented miracle compound. Edwin warned, “A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upsets social economy. Ninety percent of all insects are good and if they are killed, things go out of kilter right away.”[4] Carson on the other hand, while living in Maryland, suggested the magazine Reader’s Digest to bring out an article demanding a series of tests on DDT as she had witnessed the appliance of the compound not far from where she resided. Unfortunately, the magazine rejected this proposal of Carson and the matter was dismissed.

The Impact of Silent Spring on the Environmental Movement

In the year 1958, thirteen years after the first application of DDT, Carson started writing about the risks of DDT after receiving a note from a companion in Massachussets who bemoaned about the death of large birds in Cape Cod due to spraying of DDT. Till then the use of pesticide had propagated greatly and Carson’s failure to manage a column in the magazine indicated how heterodox and controversial her analysis on the issue must have appeared. The book Silent Spring was one of the earliest books that urged the Americans to rise in revolt against the use of artificial insect repellent, particularly DDT.

 “Silent Spring” which became a best-seller by 1958 by promoting more than two million copies, made an influential case for the conception that if environment is poisoned by humankind, then nature in turn could destroy human race. Carson informed the subcommittee that “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the Earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.” It is through Carson’s observations we still witness the impacts of unregulated human intrusion as the notion of contemporary ecosystem had been popularized by her.

The superseding subject of Silent Spring is the injurious consequences of using pesticides on the environment as she notified that the outcomes of these are barely restricted to the besieged vermin as the accurate terms of the compound is “biocides”. Her book primarily points the finger at the chemical business for premeditated circulation of disinformation. She also blamed that the municipal bureaucrats for accepting the terms and conditions of the industry casually[5]. Carson also reported that according to the scientists of the Food and Drug Administration, these compounds are reasonable for considering them “low grade hepatic cell carcinomas” and according to the author of Occupational Tumors and Allied Diseases, Dr. Harper, DDT is a “chemical carcinogen”. Carson also focused on the increased penalties in the near future since the intended pests may build up a resistance to pesticides that may crop up due to overuse of DDT. This in turn will deteriorate ecosystems building victim to unexpected invasive varieties. The book although emphasized on the harmful effects of DDT, it never mentioned a banning of the product. Carson discussed that, “even if DDT and other insecticides had no environmental side effects, their indiscriminate overuse was counterproductive because it would create insect resistance to pesticides, making them useless in eliminating the target insect populations.” Silent Spring made public aware of the fact that DDT damaged their eggshells[6].

The Controversy Surrounding Silent Spring and its Aftermath

The response that Carson received from the chemical industry demonstrated more antagonistic than it has been expected. The private harassments against Carson were dramatics. She was charged of being a Marxist follower and sacked as a spinster with an empathy for cats[7]. The publication of an issue of Silent Spring on 27th September of 1962 was opposed vehemently by the chemical industry[8]. DuPont and Velsicol Chemical Industry, the two major chemical industries of America were the first who opposed the publication of the book. DuPont brought together a huge report against the book in the press release, while Velsicol threatened to expose The New Yorker, Houghton Miffin and Audubon Magazine if they do not cancel their intended features of Silent Spring[9]. Apart from that Biochemist Robert White-Stevens of American Cyanamid and Thomas Juke, former Cyanamid chemist most aggressively criticized the Carson’s analysis of DDT. White-Stevens named Carson “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of the nature” and commented, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the Earth.[10]”

Carson’s writing style in “Silent Spring” aimed at raising awareness among the public about the perils of using pesticides. Therefore, she intended to write the book in a simple language that would appeal to masses and hence she emphasized on the clarity of the book[11]. The approach taken by her was easily accessible for the common people to acknowledge the dangers of the chemical. Her attempt to begin the book with an allegory made the structure of the book like a story that helped in attracting more general readers. Carson’s intended inclusion of the citations of the research articles only in the appendix at the end of the book was planned for the general readers so that they do not face any difficulty while reading the book[12].

Thus to conclude it can be said that the book “Silent Spring” was one of the milestones of the 20th century. The note of Silent Spring reverberates deafeningly even today, several decades after its publication. Besides, the life of Carson and her image is itself equally inspiring as it illustrates how a woman struggles independently to overcome her difficulties and motivates the masses to fight against the establishment of righteousness. Carson well conscious of the bigger connotation of her work remarked “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself? [We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”

References

Carson, R. (1994). Silent spring. 1962.

Carson, Rachel. Silent spring. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.

Griswold, Eliza. "How ‘Silent Spring’ignited the environmental movement." The New York Times 21 (2012).

Heckel, David G. "Insecticide resistance after silent spring." Science 337.6102 (2012): 1612-1614.

Krebs, J. R., Wilson, J. D., Bradbury, R. B., & Siriwardena, G. M. (1999). The second silent spring?. Nature, 400(6745), 611-612.

Lutts, Ralph H. "Chemical fallout: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, radioactive fallout, and the environmental movement." Environmental Review: ER 9.3 (1985): 211-225.

Lytle, Mark Hamilton. The gentle subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the rise of the environmental movement. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Murphy, Priscilla Coit. What a book can do: The publication and reception of Silent Spring. Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2005.

Russell, E. (2001). War and nature: fighting humans and insects with chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring. Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Michael B. "Silence, Miss Carson!" Science, Gender, and the Reception of" Silent Spring." Feminist Studies 27.3 (2001): 733-752.

Van Emden, Helmut Fritz, and David B. Peakall. Beyond silent spring: integrated pest and chemical safety. Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1996.

Walker, K., & Walsh, L. (2012). “No One Yet Knows What the Ultimate Consequences May Be” How Rachel Carson Transformed Scientific Uncertainty Into a Site for Public Participation in Silent Spring. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(1), 3-34.

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