Imagery, describing using the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and/or smell, is one of the most emotionally persuasive forms of writing. For example, saying that 80,000 children are starving due to a drought is far less persuasive than describing one listless, emaciated child held in his mother's arms with his ribs sticking out, unable to hold up his head. We are moved by what we can experience through the senses.
Carson deliberately uses this rhetorical strategy in titling her book. She had long been concerned about the cumulative effects of the use of pesticides on the environment. Her book gathers research, cutting edge at the time, although commonplace now, to show that once pesticides get into the food chain, they can have a harmful effect on the ecosystem as a whole, even to the point of leading to cancer in humans. However, she knew that just stating statistics was unlikely to persuade people to support environmental legislation.
The image of a silent spring, a spring in which no songbirds sing, is, however, more than any statistic, chilling to the human heart. It helps make the effects of pesticides real to people in an every day, ordinary way. More subtly, and Carson mentions this openly in her book, it suggests the silence that fell after the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Carson is attempting to link the possibility of environmental devastation to that of atomic devastation, much on people's minds at the time. The title is powerful and memorable.
Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was a landmark in the history of the environmental movement, not only for the quality of its scientific research but for the poignancy of its writing.
The book opens with a striking image of a typical American town, pictured as a visually appealing place with a classic small town feel. There is, however, something wrong with the town. It is silent, in so far as the normal natural sounds are not present. In the spring, one should hear insects buzzing and birds singing. Instead, this spring is ominously silent, with none of the normal sounds of natural life. In Carson's words:
There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example— where had they gone? ... The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. ... It was a spring without voices.
With this striking image, Carson then moves on to analysis of the effects of pesticides and insecticides, especially DDT, on birds and other wildlife. Her far-ranging analysis shows that to understand their effects, one must study ecosystems as a whole. Her book eventually led to a ban on DDT, and thus saved the towns of the sort she described from the fate of having silent springs.
"Silent Spring" gives an effective image of a lifeless body of water. It is meant to be a commentary on the effects of pesticides on our natural resources. Quite literally, fish will be poisoned, the water contaminated, therefore contaminating animals drinking from it as well. The term silent, therefore , is another way to say lifeless.
It is called "Silent Spring" because pesticides and other chemically altering substances could very well kill all the insects and other life forms hat bring songs of life to the planet. In Carson's vision, if the rate of chemical contamination continues, we would be faced with a silent world.