Silent Spring | Study Guide

Rachel Carson

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Silent Spring | Chapter 2 : The Obligation to Endure | Summary



The chapter begins with the claim the history of the earth has been one of interaction between living things and the environment. Only recently has humankind begun to "mold" nature, rather than vice versa, resulting in the contamination of natural resources. Carson argues with time, nature adjusts and changes as needed (evolution), but "in the modern world there is no time."

Pesticides have been developed at an alarming rate and used nonselectively, i.e., good and bad insects have been killed without consideration of the long-term impact. Carson argues insects need to be controlled, but not indiscriminately, in ways that destroy all insects and harm people in the process. Even worse, people should not be placed at risk without their knowledge. Carson argues the public does not need to passively accept this as inevitable.


Humanity's ability to control the environment and make changes to suit our needs is a recent development in the very long history of the world. Carson argues humankind's "assaults" have put into motion an ill-considered, short-sighted, and irreversible chain of events. She contrasts the slow pace of the course of nature with the instant solutions sought by modern humans.

Carson personifies chemicals, describing them as "the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world—the very nature of life." In this statement she also links chemicals to radiation, a destroyer of life with which her readers would likely be familiar.

Words like alarming, lethal, and assault suggest danger, death, and destruction, as well as an urgency to the message. Carson likens chemical use to "man's war against nature," and she uses the language of war as she makes her case. She argues this war will result in casualties on both sides.

Carson assumes responsibility for informing the public about the risks they are being exposed to and calling them to action. "The public must decide," she argues. She connects with her readers by tacitly expressing confidence in them. She believes the public simply needs the information, a need she is qualified to fill. She makes no apology for the passion of her plea because she sees the future of the species at stake.

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