In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson uses the apocalypse trope, logos, and ethos to grab the general public’s attention and to inspire the necessity for changing the way the environment is treated by mankind.
The apocalypse trope is implored right from the beginning before Carson even starts writing. She dedicates the book to Albert Schweitzer who said, “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” This quote gets the reader thinking before they have even turned to page one. In Ecocriticism, Thompson writes that in the apocalypse trope “violent and grotesque images are juxtaposed with glimpses of a world transformed” (Garrard 86). Silent Spring fits into this definition. Carson starts by writing about a picturesque farming town in the middle of America with a beautiful landscape filled with foxes, deer, trout, healthy farm animals, and a variety of birds. She then compares this to the same town in which “everywhere was a shadow of death” and there was a “strange stillness” that had fallen (Carson 2). Garrard writes “apocalypticism is inevitably bound up with imagination, because it has yet to come into being (86). Carson writes about a town that “does not actually exist” but “this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know” (3).
Carson uses logos many times throughout the Silent Spring excerpt. In Part 2: The Obligation to Endure, many evolutionary and scientific facts are given to the reader in order to display the impacts of mankind on the environment. Carson writes “it took hundreds of millions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth” and that “time is the essential ingredient” needed in order to achieve balance on the earth, but “in the modern world there is no time” (6). Carson writes so the general public can understand what is happening to the earth and that the only way to stop the damaging of the earth is for us to stop asking Mother Nature to adjust to the “synthetic creations of man’s inventive mind” (7). She plays on the logic of anthropogenic changes being made to the environment. Instead of praising agricultural innovation as many people do, she paints the large-scale agriculture as something that should be obviously known to not work in terms of insect devastation. When discussing the single-crop farming of immense acreage of wheat, she writes “obviously then, an insect that lives on wheat can build up its population to much higher levels on a farm devoted to wheat than on one win which wheat is intermingled with other crops to which that insect is not adapted” (Caron 10).
Carson implores the use of ethos in Silent Spring by painting the treatment of the environment in the light of right and wrong. Carson writes in Part I: A Fable for Tomorrow about an “evil spell” ruined the beautiful town in the middle of America (2). She then goes on to write “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves” (Carson 3). In this passage she is describing the way that the people of this town had treated their land and by writing that it was not witchcraft or enemy action that had caused the devastation, she is showing that it is wrong and evil to abuse the land.
Carson, R. Silent Spring. Boston: Mariner, 2002. Print.
Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
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We have spent a lot of time this year doing rhetorical analysis of pieces, so to up the ante a bit, I want to really work on students’ identifying rhetorical strategies and devices while reading rather than considering the questions or assignment after reading. This is an important skill to work on as they head into the AP Exam; because it is a timed test, the students will have to be evaluating while reading to really show what they know in an efficient way (to finish!).
To do this, I will ask the students to read the piece to themselves and annotate, noting any language, organizational moves, etc., that they feel would appeal to a “popular” audience (even though the piece is in the textbook, I found a copy of “A Fable for Tomorrow” on line to print out for the students so they could annotate: RachelCarsonFableforTomorrow.docx). After they’ve done this, they will form groups of three and share what they saw, specifically considering the rhetorical appeal on a broad audience, and what appeals (ethos, logos, pathos) dominate. My hope is that all the groups come to the conclusion that the opening narrative almost exclusively, and powerfully, appeals to emotions through their discussion. They will talk as a small group for about fifteen minutes (this allows everyone to be more involved in the discourse) before sharing out with the whole group. Once in the whole group, I will also ask some probing questions regarding the initial question of why this book became so broadly appealing—specifically, what about the language of “A Fable for Tomorrow” makes it both specific and generalized to appeal to such a wide audience?