Silent Spring Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

Rachel Carson

Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

Appearing eight years before the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, Silent Spring helped awaken many of its readers to a new realm of ecological awareness. Carson’s book helped define “ecology” and gave impetus to the “environmental movement.” For young adults, it has served to illustrate vital lessons about responsibility, consequences, and humility, and it has also served as a practical introduction to some of the fundamental concepts in biology and organic chemistry.

The book was initially attacked, as Carson had expected, by special-interest groups—among them, some chemical companies and agricultural trade journals. Yet, most of her opponents did not substantiate their claims and refused to cite specific instances of inaccuracy. The soundness of her arguments and her popularity as a world-renowned author combined to give Silent Spring a wide and attentive audience. Carson died of cancer only two years after the book’s publication, but she lived to see her findings supported by President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee and saw the beginnings of legislation to protect the earth against chemical assaults.

Although different in tone and purpose from her previous four books, Silent Spring is a culmination of Carson’s lifelong themes and passions. Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), and The Edge of the Sea (1955) illustrate in fascinating detail the mysteries and manners of the oceanic world. A Sense of Wonder (1965), based on her 1956 article “Help Your Child to Wonder,” promotes an abiding reverence for the natural world and humankind’s place in it. The themes of interconnectedness and cycles of life are at the heart of all these works. As Carson says in Silent Spring, “in nature nothing exists alone”; everything is connected to everything else in an intricate and reverberant web. Informed by the celebration of life so pervasive in her earlier books, Silent Spring shows how the magnificent web of life, when altered, can become a web of death.