Professional Writing: Process and Practice
EN 1700 – Fall/Winter 2009/2010 – Jan Rehner
Lecture 11 – Carson – Nov 30
Carson’s Call to Action
- First manifesto.
- Brought environmental issues on the map.
- Was first seen in the New Yorker.
- Published as a book in 1962.
- Led to government inquiries, court cases, beginning political protests – ‘Green
- Environmental protection agency in the US.
- Banning of the most dangerous pesticide DDT.
- If you read it narrowly, it’s about pesticides and its effect on people and wildlife.
- It is a radical critique, quite subversive-challenge the status quo.
- It is critique’s the world’s blind face of technology.
- The first to take on the corporation and especially corporate greed.
- Part of the nature writing tradition.
- Is not a romantic narrative, or solitude.
- Carson is one of the 1 writers to blend science writing and literature. Writes
scientific evidence in an understandable way to ordinary readers. She is able to
write narrative way.
- Fables teach you a moral lesson.
- The moral that Carson says in the beginning of the text: is a call to action – ‘no
witchcraft, no enemy action… in this stricken world the people have done it to
themselves.’ She points out that we have done it to ourselves.
- This plea to attention and call to action, 45 years later, that it was not so small
and not so obvious after.
- Pesticide use, nuclear, acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer… etc.
Carson’s Rhetoric and Style
- Kind of strategies helps to explain the impact of this book and its wide appeal.
- Its readability – lots of research put into simple reading.
- Scientific part is strong.
- She has one chapter in the book ‘Elixirs of Death’ – how pesticides work. Making
science accessible, targets the average person rather than science experts.
- Throughout this text, juxtaposes housewives and their experience with pesticides
against science and business. They speak in length and straightforward
language. Identified by their hometown or their actual name.
- In contrast, the ‘controllers’ – chemical salesman, scientist, grey, faceless,
unquoted and nameless. She is putting the personal against the impersonal. It
persuades you as a reader.
- Usually only the experts are quoted, people of power. - She inverted the power structure. You want people to believe that they have
power; they have expertise because they use it. There is a type of lived expertise
that is important for Carson to tap into.
- Carson has made unlikely heroes in the book: the Songbird (Robin), and the
- Robin is a common songbird.
- She describes in detail, a songbird dying.
- American eagle was already an endangered species. It is the national symbol of
the US. Symbol of freedom, American frontier. Appears on money.
- As Carson points out, pesticides result to American eagle not being able to
- National Audubon Society – protection lands and specifically in birds. Carson
was able to have them back her up.
- Her language shifted the way people thought about human beings and nature.
- Patterns of imagery:
o The nuclear mushroom cloud: Hostility between the superpower, made
people believes nuclear attacks. Feared radioactive fallout due to its
invisibility. Silent spring enlightens pollution to radioactive fallout.
o Invisible poisons.
o Lethal laws.
o Chapter titles.
o Metaphors of nature – she does this with 2 repeated phrases: ‘The Web of
Life’ and ‘The Balance of Nature’. To Carson nature was not a passive
object. It was organic living whole. Complex web of interconnections.