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Silent Spring | Quotes


The people had done it themselves.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Carson opens the book with a fable in which the spring is eerily silent, devoid of birdsong and the buzz of insects. It is a spring without rebirth. What is the mysterious source of this evil silencing of new life? The people of the fictional town were the cause. Carson steps out of the fictional world and speaks directly to the reader, warning this story is not completely fiction. The book is an attempt to explain how humans are bringing about the death and destruction alluded to in the fable.


We allow the chemical death rain to fall as though there were no alternative, whereas in fact there are many, and our ingenuity could soon discover many more if given opportunity.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Carson argues chemicals are being used indiscriminately and inappropriately in a war against nature. Carson suggests the chemical assault against insects is unwarranted for several reasons. First, many other forms of life, including "good" insects, are impacted in addition to the targeted pest. Second, the chemicals have potentially dangerous effects on humans, as well as other forms of life. Finally, there are alternatives, but these have been underexplored. She argues the public does not have to passively accept this "death rain."


Chemical control of insects seems to have proceeded on the assumption that the soil could and would sustain any amount of insult via the introduction of poisons without striking back.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Carson introduces the notion of soil as an integral part of the web of nature, essential to the sustenance of life. Humans arrogantly attempt to control nature, believing themselves immune to any effects their actions may have.


The earth's vegetation is part of a web of life ... Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Carson is careful not to advocate the elimination of all pesticides. Rather, she argues for responsible use after careful study of the impact on nature. All of life, including humans, is interconnected, each thing dependent on the others. Control of insects may be necessary under certain circumstances, but this should never be undertaken without seriously considering the impact on the environment.


Under the philosophy that now seems to guide our destinies, nothing must get in the way of the man with the spray gun. The incidental victims of his crusade against insects count as nothing.

Narrator, Chapter 7

Carson challenges the prevailing notion pests must be eradicated, no matter what the cost. She argues the costs are great, as well as unnecessary.


Incidents like the eastern Illinois spraying raise a question that is not only scientific but moral ... whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.

Narrator, Chapter 7

This quote refers to Illinois's failed attempt to eradicate the Japanese beetle by a massive spraying campaign. Carson argues pesticide use is often rationalized by invoking a call of "crisis," which is seldom the case. Indiscriminate spraying and the resulting impact on nature, including humanity, goes beyond science. Interfering with the web of life and upsetting the entire balance of nature speaks of arrogance and self-centeredness of humans. This is a moral rather than scientific issue.


In the name of progress are we to become victims of our own diabolical means of insect control to provide temporary comfort, only to lose out to destroying insects later on?

Narrator, Chapter 8

In the era of Carson's writing, progress was worshipped and science was viewed as the means toward the all-important end of progress. This led to a passive sense of trust on the part of the public. Carson challenges this passivity.


Although today's poisons are more dangerous than any known before, they have amazingly become something to be showered down indiscriminately from the skies.

Narrator, Chapter 10

Carson describes how the public's attitude toward poisons has shifted. Although medicines are generally treated with care and are respected for their potential danger when misused, complacency marks the attitude toward the poison of pesticides.


Like the constant dripping of water that in turn wears away the hardest stone, this birth-to-death contact with dangerous chemicals may in the end prove disastrous.

Narrator, Chapter 11

Carson raises the question of the long-term effects of chemical exposure. While many chemicals do not produce an immediate negative effect, the cumulative impact over a lifetime is unknown.


As matters stand now, we are in little better position than the guests of the Borgias.

Narrator, Chapter 11

The Borgia family of the Italian Renaissance period (15th and 16th centuries) was known for poisoning their guests for their own gain. Carson sounds the alarm the public is being poisoned in the name of progress.


Only when we bring our focus to bear, first on the individual cells of the body, then on the minute structures within the cells ... can we comprehend the most serious and far-reaching effects of the haphazard introduction of foreign chemicals into our internal environment.

Narrator, Chapter 13

Understanding the impact of chemicals at the level of the human cell is essential to understanding the potential hazards of pesticide use, particularly over time.


Yet genetic deterioration through man-made agents is the menace of our time, 'the last and greatest danger to our civilization.'

Narrator, Chapter 13

Carson makes the link between pesticide use and malignancy, as well as genetic mutations that threaten not just an individual human life but the survival of the human species.


The truth ... is that nature is not so easily molded and that the insects are finding ways to circumvent our chemical attacks on them.

Narrator, Chapter 15

Part of Carson's rationale for questioning the indiscriminate use of chemicals is the response of nature to such action was never adequately considered. Nature was viewed as something to be subdued by humanity. In spite of the claims to the contrary, pesticides do not accomplish the goal of eradicating pests. In fact, stronger strains of the target insect or unforeseen pests may emerge after spraying.


We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair.

Narrator, Chapter 17

Carson presents her closing argument as if to a jury. Humankind has two choices, she says: the "easy" choice of indiscriminate use of chemicals to control pests, or the choice of seeking alternatives.

The poem referenced is "The Road Not Taken" (1915) by the American poet Robert Frost. In it Frost uses forest paths as an allegory for important life choices.


If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our 'right to know,' and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals.

Narrator, Chapter 17

Carson urges readers to become informed and use their voice to speak out rather than passively accepting the risks of pesticide use.

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