What is the overall purpose of Silent Spring, and which literary devices does the author use to accomplish this?

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Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was written to show the way that pesticides hurt the environment. Carson shows how the toxins in pesticides can travel through the food chain to kill animals who don’t linger near them such as birds, including eagles. She explains that toxins can cause cancer in...

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Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was written to show the way that pesticides hurt the environment. Carson shows how the toxins in pesticides can travel through the food chain to kill animals who don’t linger near them such as birds, including eagles. She explains that toxins can cause cancer in humans by hanging out in fat cells where they break down and affect other cells in the body. Carson closes the book by offering natural alternatives to pesticides that will allow for safer food and air.

Throughout the book, Carson uses a number of literary devices to further drive home her message.

Fable: The first chapter of the book explores the juxtaposition of two worlds. In one, nature is healthy and thriving and in the other it is diseased and dead. The fable that Carson creates forces the reader to consider how to avoid the diseased world in favor of a safe and happy existence. Carson herself ends the story by asking, “What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America?”

Metaphor: Writers use metaphors to compare scenarios and things to well-understood concepts to further drive home the image. In the first chapter, Carson writes:

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.

Pairing this with the title of the work, Silent Spring, Carson is hammering the point that the very objects that make nature “sing” will be replaced with silence if pesticides are allowed to reign.

Imagery: Carson uses imagery throughout the book to show, rather than simply tell, how important and beautiful nature can be and to encourage readers to preserve it. She writes, “In autumn, oak, and maple, and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines.” The reader can picture the nature she describes.

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Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was first published in September 1962. Carson was a scientist who became increasingly convinced of the negative effects of pesticides on the environment in the 1950s. She realized that indiscriminate use of pesticides on farms and even private lawns could harm birds and insects. In her studies, she was one of the pioneers in understanding how ecosystems work and the way that any disruption to one part of an ecosystem harmed the system as a whole. Her purpose in writing was to persuade the government to ban or limit use of pesticides and to make people aware of their dangers. Her main target was DDT, which was banned in a large part due to the influence of the book and of Carson herself.

While Carson uses many different types of literary devices, perhaps the most striking is the fictional narrative at the start of the book when she describes an eerily quiet town without birds. This combines imaginative narrative with "ekphrasis" or vivid description in a way that makes the factual scientific evidence of subsequent chapters come alive to the readers.

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Rachel Carson's purpose in writing Silent Spring was to show the harmful effects of using pesticides on the natural world and on human health. She also wanted to expose the false claims of the chemical industry that their pesticides were not harmful. The literary device she uses in the first chapter is to present a fable about an ideal and beautiful town in America that is destroyed by a blight. This town is fictitious, but Carson's presentation of a fable helps the reader understand the metaphor of a blight--which is in reality the use of pesticides--affecting the country and its wildlife. Then, before presenting information about the harmful effects of pesticides, she presents an overview of the interconnectedness of the ecosystem and the story of its evolution in layperson's terms. She presents scientific information in a narrative format and only includes scientific citations at the end of the book in an appendix. The literary device of using a narrative helps her convey scientific information to non-scientists.

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