The main theme of Silent Spring is the destruction of the delicate balance of nature by the wholesale use of insecticides. Rachel Carson carefully explains what the balance of nature is. She describes the balance of nature of the soil, of the earth's waters, and of the organisms of the earth. Then she informs the reader of the ways chemical poisons upset that balance and thereby kill life.
The minor theme of Carson's book is the alternatives to chemical poisons for controlling insects. At every point at which Carson describes the destructiveness of chemical poisons on the ecosystem, she also informs the reader of alternative methods of accomplishing the same ends. The alternative methods work with nature's already existing balance and help it along. They are cheaper, safer, and longer lasting than insecticides.
The mood of Silent Spring is one of urgency. Carson employs the literary conventions and the language of melodrama to inspire the reader's admiration for the beauty and harmony of nature and also to inspire the reader's repugnance for the reckless destruction caused by chemical pesticides. Even though Carson uses melodramatic language, she also supplies the reader with exact and scientific evidence to back her claim that the earth is in desperate need of protection from chemical poisons.
Rachel Carson was born May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She was greatly influenced by her mother, Maria Carson, in her love of nature. She explored the woods close to her house.
She studied marine biology and graduated from the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1928 summa cum laude. Then she studied at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and earned her M.A. in zoology at John's Hopkins University in 1932.
After university, she was hired by the Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the Depression and she supplemented her income by writing feature articles on natural history for the Baltimore Sun. She as the first woman biologist hired by that agency. She began her career in the federal service as a scientist and editor in 1936. She eventually moved up to become chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She wrote pamphlets on conservation of natural resources and edited scientific articles.
Rachel Carson became famous as a naturalist and science writer as she began publishing books she wrote during her free time. These books include Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), The Edge of the Sea (1955), Silent Spring (1962), and The Sense of Wonder (published posthumously 1965). She also wrote many articles including "Help Your Child to Wonder" (1956) and "Our Ever Changing Shore" (1957).
By far her most famous book was Silent Spring. Carson began research when she got a letter from a woman who ran a private bird sanctuary in Massachusetts. The woman was horrified to find scores of birds dead and dying two days after DDT was sprayed. Carson began research that was to last for several years before she finished her book.
Rachel Carson stood up to all the criticism of her book with the staunch assurance that she was doing the right thing. Two years after the book was published, Carson died of breast cancer on April 14, 1964. She received many awards for her book while she still lived and awards continued to be granted to her posthumously. The most prestigious of these was the Presidential Medal of Freedom granted in 1980.
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Silent Spring was the most controversial of Rachel Carson's books. One half million copies of the book were sold in the first year of its publication. Biologists and other scientists praised it highly. Yet, it was attacked by the chemical industry. One manufacturer of Chlordane, for example, tried to prevent Houghton Mifflin from publishing it. Many government officials also attacked it. Both groups called it alarmist and its evidence unfounded. Carson was belittled as anti-humanitarian crank and a hysterical woman. Much of the criticism against her was riddled with this kind of sexist bias. One official of the Federal Pest Control Review Board said, "I thought she was a spinster. What's she so worried about genetics for?"
All the strident denunciations the chemical industry and its apologists couldn't change the fact that Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was to change history. President John F. Kennedy formed a special group to investigate Carson's claims about pesticides. Rachel Carson was called to testify before Congress in 1963.
In the same year, a president's report backed up Carson's claims. A new policy was instituted to protect the public health and the environment. The Environmental Protection Act went into effect in 1970. It remains under continual attach by the chemical industries and its procedures for monitoring the use of chemicals in the environment are seriously under funded and under-enforced.