Silent Spring | Study Guide

Rachel Carson

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Silent Spring | Chapter 16 : The Rumblings of an Avalanche | Summary



Carson argues intensive use of chemical spraying results in "survival of the fittest," with many insects now resistant to pesticides, including many of medical or agricultural importance. The spraying destroys the weaker of a species, leaving the strongest to survive and reproduce. Because insects have short life spans and resistance develops over generations, not within individuals, the insects are much better equipped to become resistant than humans.

This phenomenon was already known in the age of mineral pesticides. Carson cites the example of scale insects that developed resistance to lime sulfur. Similarly, the codling moth became inured to lead arsenate. But DDT and other organic compounds have accelerated the process. Particularly the insects of medical importance have become resistant, including houseflies, body lice, malaria-spreading mosquitoes, and plague-carrying fleas.


Carson plants the seed of worry that the destruction thus far, resulting from humanity's efforts to control nature, may be simply the "rumblings of an avalanche." She proposes Darwin's "survival of the fittest" may be poised to play out on a grand scale, much to the detriment of humankind.

These fears may seem outlandish at first, but Carson presents a multitude of examples of insects developing resistance. Through expert testimony and sheer volume of evidence, Carson works to break through the reader's resistance to these horrible realities. She also seeks to break through the profit-motivated resistance seen in the chemical industry.

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