What literary and rhetorical devices are there in the first chapter of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her short opening chapter, Carson relies almost entirely on pathos, the rhetorical device of emotional appeal, to move her audience. Later, she will use logos, the logical appeal, to provide a convincing array of scientific fact and expert opinion to argue the importance of regulating the environment. For now, however, she works to engage the emotions.

Story and sensory details envelop us in a world and once in that world, our emotions come into play. Carson uses the literary device of juxtaposition to tell two different stories and paint two different scenes side by side. In one story, the land is alive with life, brimming with fecundity, sound, sight, and beauty:

Along the roads, laurel, viburnum and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted the traveler’s eye through much of the year. Even in winter the roadsides were places of beauty, where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow. The countryside was, in fact, famous for the abundance and variety of its bird life, and when the flood of migrants was pouring through in spring and fall people traveled from great distances to observe them. Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear and cold out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. So it had been from the days many years ago when the first settlers raised their houses, sank their wells, and built their barns.

In the second story, the world is silent and diseased:

There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example—where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.

On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs—the litters were small and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

By juxtaposing and heightening the contrasts between the two stories, Carson engages our emotions in a choice: what world do we want to live in? She uses the metaphor of disease to paint a contrast between a healthy, fertile world and one sick and dying.

Finally, Carson ends with the literary device of a cliffhanger, posing a question that will keep the reader turning the pages of her book:

What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some literary/rhetorical devices in Chapter 1 of Silent Spring are:

1) Consonance:

This is the repetition of consonant sounds in successive words. Unlike alliteration, consonance can be found in the beginning, middle, or end of words. Example from A Fable For Tomorrow:

...mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died.

2) Alliteration:

This is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Examples from Chapter 1 include "mysterious maladies," "strange stillness," "suffered a substantial..."

3) Asyndeton:

This is the deliberate omission of conjunctions. The example below highlights the immediacy and the impact of the author's statement by omitting a conjunction ("and"), which speeds up the rhythm of Carson's diction. A comma separates the clauses.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world.

4) Imagery:

This can appeal to each of our senses, including our sense of smell, taste, touch (tactile), sight (visual), or hearing (auditory). For example:

In autumn, oak, and maple, and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines. (this is visual imagery).

Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear and cold out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. (this is tactile imagery- the waters of the streams are cold to the touch).

On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds... (this is auditory imagery).