Silent Spring, Rachel Carson

By Olivia Zoolalian

Core Text 

Carson, R., Lear, L., & Wilson, E. O. (2002). Silent Spring (Anniversary ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 



“The classic that launched the environmental movement”. Carson’s Silent Spring paved a new way for environmental issues to be heard. Carson combined science and fiction into her writing to create an opportunity to change the way people think about and treat the environment. She uses her platform to highlight the negative effect of chemicals that were apart of US agriculture. Carson used this book to bring environmental consciousness into people’s minds. Within just the first chapter Carson uses a science fiction approach, to bring awareness to the birds no longer chirping, and the roadsides being no longer beautiful. Although this place she speaks of is not real, she preaches that it will become a reality if there isn’t a change made. This first chapter serves as a call to action, only making the rest of her book where she focuses on insecticides and waste, more impactful. Carson wastes no time to make her intentions clear behind this book, which makes her words more meaningful throughout the rest of her work. 


Literary Devices 

Throughout Carson’s “Silent Spring” readers are able to get a feel for her work and really imagine living in the town that she describes in the beginning of her book. Carson allows us to not only see what the town would be like, but she also brings deeper meaning into it, by relating it to what we citizens could live through if no one takes action. She uses the reader’s attention, gained from the first fictional chapter, to inform the world on why this may happen and what we can do to prevent it.


Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing can be seen in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, most importantly in the first chapter. Carson used this by creating a fictional town and describing its changes in environment, and how it looks and feels. Because this is not a real town she is speaking of, her whole idea is to send a message that is foreshadowing our real future planet. She uses this in order to grab readers attention and want them to keep reading to find out why this could happen.

Imagery: Carson uses imagery when painting a clear picture of this made up town she speaks of. The way she describes the scenery of this town makes it easy to picture it visually in our minds. For example, “The roadsides, once so attractive, were now lined with browned and 249 withered vegetation as though swept by fire.” Descriptions like that excerpt, make it easy for any reader to clearly see what she is describing.

Conflict: This story is created with intentions on highlighting the conflicts between humans and nature. The town in the beginning of the story is destroyed by humans. Humans are blamed for destroying land, trees, even the air. This story reflects on a deeper conflict that is a real-life conflict still occurring now, which is climate change, pollution, and deforestation. Carson allows us to see a fictional conflict, arise to reality.



 Lear, L. (1993). Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Environmental History Review, 17(2), 23-48. doi:10.2307/3984849. 

  • Within this journal article, Lear puts an emphasis on Rachel Carson’s intelligence. She highlights Carson’s achievement on inspiring a cultural revolution, something she definitely did not expect. Lear goes through Carson’s whole timeline briefly, and mentions her time spent outdoors when she was young, leading to her work at Fish and Wildlife Service, which is a bit foreshadowing to what she had later become. Lear labels her work of Silent Spring, an “overnight sensation” after stating in her book, “every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death”. He emphasized Carson’s accusations flowing all across the world, where she would get love and hate, to where Time Magazine charged the book an “emotional and inaccurate outburst”. Despite many complaints and hatred surrounding this book, Lear emphasizes his love for this book and what it had done historically. 

Pollock, C. (2001). Silent Spring Revisited: A 21st-Century Look at the Effect of Pesticides on Wildlife. Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, 15(1), 50-53. Retrieved August 6, 2021, from 

  • In this article, Christal Pollock, takes a look at Carson’s Silent Spring in a 21st Century stand point. Although Carson was not the first to take awareness to the use of pesticides, Pollock, as well as others, surely agree that Carson’s approach was definitely more heard with all the discredit Carson received, Pollock makes it a point that it only gave her and Silent Spring more public awareness. Pollock takes a look at what these dangerous chemicals have done within the later years, and highlights that he feels it would have been worse if Carson hadn’t written Silent Spring. Pollock emphasizes Carson’s idea of the birds no longer chirping, to where birds’ eggs are growing thinner now, resulting to hatching failure. Pollock preaches that she hopes people these days will raise their voices like Carson and take action when toxicity can be diagnosed. She wishes to keep the public aware, following in the footsteps of Rachel Carson. 

Smith, M. (2001). “Silence, Miss Carson!” Science, Gender, and the Reception of “Silent Spring”. Feminist Studies, 27(3), 733-752. doi:10.2307/3178817

  • In this article, the author, Michael Smith, states his stand point on Carson’s controversial work of Silent Spring. Unlike most, Smith sees her as a threat because she is a woman. He argues that Carson received these threats because she was a woman, “an independent scholar whose sex and lack of institutional ties placed her outside the nexus pf the production and application of conventional scientific knowledge” (Smith, 2001). Smith highlights that with all the controversy surrounding Carson’s bold accusations about the environment, no one has yet to scrutinized the gendered nature of the criticism received. Smith believes that not only is the conflict of her work between human and nature, it is also male versus female. Michael Smith also goes as far to examine the criticism Carson has receive. He highlights that they are all written by men who call her emotional and an amateur. This article is different from the others that are out there because Smith focuses on a different outlook.

Discussion Questions 

 How can you see gender as a contributing factor to the hate and discredit Carson received from writing Silent Spring?  

 In your opinion, what does a “Silent Spring” mean to Carson, and secondly, what does it mean to you? 

 Do you think Carson’s use of a fictional approach in the first chapter made her book more effective or less effective? Explain why. 


#pesticides, #climatechange, #science, #environmentalism, #insecticide