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Silent Spring: Summary and Analysis

rachel carson

Silent Spring (1962) is a path-breaking narrative by Rachel Carson taken from her book of the same name. She had studied Creative Writing at Pennsylvania College for women but changed her field of study to marine biology because of her enduring love of science and nature. Silent Spring was an eye opener for the human community which went on fighting with nature recklessly.

Silent Spring deals with the challenges all living beings in general and birds in special have to face due to the long term indiscriminate use of pesticides. In the first two paragraphs of this lesson, Carson gives a picture of a town in the heart of America which was surrounded by prosperous farms and countrysides full of animal and plant life.  The roadsides were places of beauty and countrysides were famous for its abundance of bird life. The greenery and birds attracted hundreds of migrants and bird watchers from great distances. 

From the third paragraph onwards, the reader is led to the changes that happened due to the spraying of pesticides in the place. Everything in the area turned topsy-turvy. New diseases haunted people, plants and animals. Doctors in the area were utterly confused. Birds stopped singing.  There was an uneasy disturbing silence everywhere. The spring was a horrible silent time.

The animals too were affected.  The hens brooded, but no chicks hatched and the young ones of pigs died soon after birth. Absence of bees hindered pollination of apple trees.  The area now seemed as if it were swept by fire and the vegetation looked diseased. No fishes were left in the streams.

Carson concludes the account explaining the source of all these chaos.  People had done it themselves.  The white granular powder Carson refers to was the source of all havoc.  It was pesticide dust accumulated due to aerial sprayings.  The people in the town and suburbs did not know the connection between the white dust and the death of the region. Carson, then in the final paragraph, admits that the town talked about was an imaginary town, but many real towns faced the same situation.  The recent developments in Kasaragod, Kerala due to the spraying of the killer pesticide Endosulfan is undoubtedly a similar case.  Therefore, this article is an eye-opener.

Carson’s style of writing needs to be examined.  She narrates the history of the death of the town in the framework of a story.  The first two paragraphs are lyrical and romantic in language but realistic in spirit.  The moribund condition is described with a punch: Even the streams turn lifeless. The mention of the pesticide dust is a passing one without any elaboration and only a careful reader will be able to connect the powder to the devastation.  The aerial spray is not directly mentioned. It is only suggested with the words ‘eaves’ and ‘shingles’.  

Although  the book Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy which led to a nation wide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grass roots environmental movement that led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. 

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