How effective and accurate is Carson's concluding paragraph, specifically the italicized section, in "The Obligation to Endure"?

There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, "The obligation to endure gives us the right to know."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout Silent Spring, Carson marshals persuasive rhetoric to argue for studying and regulating the use of pesticides lest they do permanent damage to the environment and, hence, human life. Writing long before the creation of the EPA and in a time period with very little government regulation of pesticides,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Throughout Silent Spring, Carson marshals persuasive rhetoric to argue for studying and regulating the use of pesticides lest they do permanent damage to the environment and, hence, human life. Writing long before the creation of the EPA and in a time period with very little government regulation of pesticides, she conveys her strong anxiety that the public needs to act quickly lest toxins move up the food chain and potentially poison human beings In the book, she plays on emotions by asking people to imagine the "silent spring" of a world where birds no longer sing because pesticide use has killed them off. She also likens the invisible effects of pesticides to the radiation that left many Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims with cancer years later, a potent issue in the early 1960s.

In this final section, she balances reason (logos) in such lines as soberly asking for the "full possession of the facts" and more emotional lines such as the one that avers that the public "is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth." Comparing the lack of information the pesticide companies provide to being drugged and tranquilized is likely to work on people emotionally and stir them to ask for more information. Nobody likes to feel that they are being duped and manipulated.

Carson's rhetoric was very effective and accurate to the extent that chemical companies did have a strong financial incentive to downplay the negative side of pesticide use. Her book became a bestseller and a landmark moment in the environmental movement.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To evaluate this paragraph from Silent Spring, it would be useful to separate the two parts of the question and analyze the “accurate” and “effective” aspects separately. Because the paragraph is the last part of the book’s conclusion, the author is trying to pull together the main points that she made throughout the book.

While Rachel Carson was a scientist and used scientific evidence to support her claims, her overall purpose was to persuade her readers. The accuracy of the information summarized in the concluding paragraph will have been established earlier in the book. In this paragraph, the author uses generalities rather than citing factual evidence. One example is her reference to such evidence: the public is “confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications.” Because the evidence does not appear here, it is not possible to evaluate the accuracy of the information as presented at this point.

In terms of effectiveness, Carson uses rhetoric to persuade the reader to agree with her positions. Each reader will determine whether her strategy and methods have helped convince them that her arguments are valid. One method she employs is to present opinions in simple declarative sentences, which make the opinions appear factual. She does this in the first three sentences: “There is ... limited awareness, ” “It is an era,” and “It is also an era.” She then begins introducing language linked to advocacy while using similar syntax: “the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.” This structure is deployed in the italicized clause, which makes a strong opinion seem like a fact: “it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.” In the next sentence, Carson changes from neutral third person to first-person plural and begins to use persuasive language: “We urgently need ...” This inclusiveness is cemented by “us” in the final, quoted sentence. The idea of collective public action to make a change is also emphasized in the last sentence: “The public must decide.”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The concluding paragraph proved to be a very effective call to arms in that it helped raise public awareness of the enormous damage caused by DDT. Thanks to Rachel Carson's groundbreaking work, many Americans became aware for the first time of the threat posed to the environment by the use of insecticides in the food production process. Most people had no idea just how much danger to public health the use of DDT represented and were horrified to discover what kind of consequences could follow.

One reason why the public was so shocked was because the manufacturers of DDT, and those agribusinesses that sprayed their crops with the chemical, fed the American people a diet of what Carson calls "little tranquilizing pills of half-truth." By keeping the American public in ignorance, the agricultural industry and its chemical suppliers hoped to able to continue using DDT in order to make food production more efficient.

What's particularly effective about the italicized line in the above excerpt is that it has general application. It speaks to the relationship between the elite—be it in politics, business, or science—and the people as a whole.

In far too many cases, this relationship has been characterized by a certain degree of cynicism on the part of elites, who have often deliberately withheld vital information from the general public in order to retain their power. Knowledge is power, as they say, and the deliberate suppression of the truth about DDT is just one of many examples where an elite group has sought to keep the general public in ignorance, thus depriving them of the power to make informed choices.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Rachel Carson's work was enormously influential in her period, and led to the banning of DDT. Her point about large corporations trying to cover up inconvenient truths is accurate and a rather natural outcome of of the unadulterated profit motive. Cigarette companies for many decades invested huge amounts of money in covering up the fact that they were selling a deadly and addictive product. More recently, the Fukishama disaster showed a series of cover-uos, with the power company minimizing the danger and extent of contamination.

Often it is only the courage and unrelenting search for truth of people like Carson who have saved us from such futures as the "silent spring."

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team