Silent Spring | Study Guide

Rachel Carson

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Silent Spring | Chapter 17 : The Other Road | Summary



Carson proposes humanity has two choices in its efforts to subdue nature. The first, easier choice is that of indiscriminate chemical use, which will result in disaster. The other choice, exploring alternatives to chemicals, is a slower process, but this choice is healthier for both the environment and humanity. Carson argues readers need to "assert our right to know" and not accept risks but rather to insist on the exploration of alternatives.

One such promising alternative is the "male sterilization" technique for insect control. Another is the use of lures or attractants. Sound is also being explored as a means of insect control. Insect pathogens and the use of an insect's natural enemies show promise as a means of impacting only a specific target. These means respect the web of life and the delicate balance in ways chemicals do not. "The 'control of nature' is a phrase conceived in arrogance ... when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man," states Carson in closing. She argues humanity's use of weapons against insects has turned into a war against the earth.


Humankind has a choice with regard to attempts to subdue nature. Carson refers to Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" (1915), which presents a road with two equal choices. However, Carson argues in the case of pesticide using one "road" is clearly preferable to the other. Much like a seasoned attorney presenting a case before a jury, Carson exhibits respect for readers. She assures them that, given the facts, they will make the right decisions. Carson has slowly and carefully built her case. She believes reasonable citizens will see the dangers of chemical use and not sit idly by. Rather, reasonable people would act. They would speak out against the known risks and argue for more study before further damage is done.

Throughout the book Carson has cited experts and research reports. She has also included the voices of the common housewife, the unsuspecting homeowner, the tourist who enjoys roadside beauty, and the concerned citizen. These are all people who have been ignored and have at times felt themselves to be unarmed for this fight. Carson has armed the reader with the ammunition of information.

Carson has also cast doubt on the strength of the opponents, as she has shown weaknesses in their "case." She invokes action against those who wield "as crude a weapon as the cave man's club, the chemical barrage ... hurled against the fabric of life." The educated citizen need not fear speaking out against uncivilized and immoral acts, Carson argues. If we fail to act, nature will take its course, "striking back in unexpected ways."

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