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The Use of Rhetorical Techniques in The Silent Spring

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As humans attempt to control nature, their very actions lead to immense consequences for themselves and the environment. Rachel Carson, an American author and scientist, details the harm of pesticides and the impact of humans on the environment in her nonfiction novel Silent Spring. Her purpose is to persuade her readers to learn about the problems of insecticides and to be more environmentally aware. Carson effectively presents her purpose through an appeal to emotion and diction in the first two chapters of Silent Spring.

Carson begins the first chapter by describing a fictional, picturesque town in America that is suddenly afflicted by a mysterious sickness. The town deteriorates from its former self, with people sick and animals dying. The author reveals that the “people had done it themselves” and that the same situation is already occurring in many places across the country. The second chapter shifts to explaining that the changes in the environment have “been relatively slight” and that only humans have the power to drastically alter their surroundings. Carson points out that mankind’s advancement over the past few centuries has led to “the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials”. She then provides reasons why pesticides are ineffective, such as “destructive insects often undergo a ‘flareback,’ or resurgence, after spraying, in numbers greater than before”. The author explains various factors that prevent alternate solutions from being effective at controlling insects. The chapter ends with Carson addressing her audience to educate themselves on the environment and to seek out information to preserve Earth’s future.

The author utilizes emotional appeal to achieve her purpose in Silent Spring that insecticides are problematic. Carson describes the chemicals as powerful enough “to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish into streams”. Her description of what pesticides threaten highlights how much harm the chemicals bring. By pointing out that even “good” and “bad” things are affected, the author’s words appeal to the audience’s integrity as humans often avoid harming organisms that are beneficial to them. She states that solutions must be found so that the chemicals “do not destroy us along with the insects”. Her exaggeration of being “destroyed” by the pesticides fuels fear in the audience as her statement suggests that the pesticides may bring humans to their demise.

Carson employs selective word choice to urge her readers to care about the Earth’s environment. She states that the governments subject people to the chemicals without their “consent” and “knowledge” and feed the public “little tranquilizing pills of half truth”. The lack of attention and care over the public’s health suggests that the government feels that the people do not need to know if they are being impacted by insecticides. These words infuriate the readers as no one likes being kept away from the truth, increasing the audience’s desire to understand more about the situation. She also includes the pronouns “we” and “us” when discussing the government’s attitude towards citizens. By referring to “we” and “us”, the words create a sense of unity and make the topic more personal to the readers as everyone is being affected. The author’s use of words makes the situation of the environment appear much more significant.

The author’s writing is successful at convincing readers to agree with her topic. Carson acknowledges that chemical insecticides are advantageous and should still be used. By acknowledging the counterargument for insecticides, Carson appears more credible and convincing as she displays that she has considered both sides of the argument before making her claim. She also provides clear reasons for why people started using pesticides and accepts that pesticides were necessary to achieve the current level of advancement humans have. As the author admits that a variety of factors led to the current state of the environment, her argument appears more understanding, making the writing more appealing to the audience.

Altogether, Carson’s rhetorical techniques effectively present her purpose to the readers. Her use of emotional appeal and word choice helps to convey to the audience issues with pesticides and the value of being informed on nature’s state. The author’s inclusion of the counterargument strengthens her purpose and makes it more credible. Carson’s novel Silent Spring reminds the audience to care for the future of planet Earth and to take a stand for better treatment of the environment. 

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