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A Rhetoric Analysis of: “The Obligation to Endure” By Rachel Carson

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The following involves the second chapter of Carson’s book, Silent Spring that was written in 1962. In this chapter Carson argues persuasively the adverse impacts of pesticides upon the environment and the risks on human health and the environment associated with these “genetic invaders” (Carson, 1962). Many of the extremely diverse people from Carson’s audience targeted were under the impression that chemicals like DDT, at that time in history, were safe for their health. Carson reconciles and attempts to persuade the public to consider the idea that DDT, which in the 1950s and 60s was one of the many chemical pesticides being manufactured and sold to individuals for use on their home lawns, were indeed unsafe for applications on lawns and around children.

Carson presents the argument suggesting perhaps human beings would not want to spray pesticides such as DDT around homes, children, and offices without ascertaining any adverse dangers and risks associated with these pesticides. Carson addresses these understandable concerns utilizing logical, emotional, and ethical appeal. Carson expresses her concerns in the thesis statement, “To a large extent, the physical form and the habits of the Earth’s vegetation and its animal life have been molded by the environment,” (Carson, 1962).

“Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life?” (Carson, 1962) Rachel Carson’s argumentative essay is written to enlighten humanity on the evil being bestowed upon the Earth’s microscopic worlds and biological systems via the invasions of harmful mutating chemicals that will potentially affect future generations and their health. Carson proposes insecticides initially made to function as bug repellants and aid in protecting valuable crops has become victim to Darwin’s principles. Insects adapt genetically and Carson feared that insects like mosquitos, among others types, may surpass us in their superior ability to overcome genetic challenges by bouncing back in more numerous quantities contributing to the ongoing survival of their species regardless of the genetic chemicals. If insects were suddenly able to adapt to chemicals this would mean they would also adapt to vaccines that protect us.

While appealing to “logos, ethos, and pathos” (Paull, 2013) Carson explains how the “… remaining harmful chemicals pass by underground streams… until they emerge… and work unknown harm on those who drink from once pure wells.” (Carson, 1962) Unless a solution can be organized into existence these conditions will persist ultimately threatening future generations and could presumably lead to disastrous events for humanity. Carson says our obligation of endurance is essentially paired with a specific need for a responsible and logical solution to “the matter-at-hand consisting of a contaminated Earth ingrained with the ongoing contamination of rivers, streams and seas via these dangerous and lethal man-made genetic materials that get into DNA segments and clog up our primal informative circuitry” (Carson, 1962). Carson describes the slippery slope when she compares chemicals sprayed on croplands or forests to Strontium 90. Carson appeals to our emotions (pathos) by arousing feelings towards the future generations and safety our children; the hardships they may endure unless a solution is accomplished.

Carson explains: “Strontium 90, released through nuclear explosions into the air… and in time takes up its abode in the bones of a human being, there to remain until his death… similarly, chemicals sprayed on croplands… entering into living organisms… they combine into new forms that kill vegetation, sicken cattle, and work unknown harm on those who drink from once pure wells” (Carson, 1962). Carson subtly conveys her writing in just the right writing technique so that it grabs the reader’s interest without biasing the whole article. Rachel criticizes opposing thoughts subtly by keeping it simple yet informative and persuasive; this makes it readable and proves effective in validating her point of view. Carson appeals to anyone that is concerned with the global environment and the future of humanity by focusing on what the world would be like in the absence of mutated creatures, and noticeably since it was written during the 1950s, I felt the subsequent statement made in Carson’s essay was very powerful. Carson states, “It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something as seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray” (Carson 1962).

An example of the severity of this issue is when Rachel Carson was allowed to address the Supreme Court on this issue. Perhaps this essay also was targeted towards certain companies at the time, such as DuPont. Carson’s essay foreshadows the environmental movement of the 60′s and was considered among scholars to be “one of the most influential essays since the writings of Henry David Thoreau in Walden Pond” (Trewayas, 2012). Carson appeals to the arousal of the basic emotions such as the arousal of fear in the public, but not in such a way that would overly scare someone and turn them off due to excessiveness. Carson also appeals to pathos, or the emotions, by morally questioning the “highly intelligent” creators of these pesticides. Carson believes illogical reasoning and poor decisions based on ‘collapsible evidence’ threaten the future existence of mankind (Carson, 1962). In psychology it is said that humans “behave based on feelings of arousal” (Smith, 1984).

Carson appeals to this concept of arousal in humans by stirring up emotions such as fear by suggesting these pesticides led to impure water wells, air pollution, and other negative environmental impacts that could lead to disastrous effects. Carson opens this argumentative essay with an analytical opening. Carson uses support for her thesis through-out the essay which includes one excerpt, “Along with the possibility of the extinction of mankind by nuclear war, the central problem of our age has therefore become the contamination of man’s total environment with such substances of incredible potential for harm-substances that accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals and even penetrate the germ cells to shatter or alter the very material of heredity upon which the shape of the future depends” (Carson, 1962). Furthermore, the preceding statement supports Carson’s intention to present an informative, persuasive, and logical point of view without shocking or confusing the reader.

Carson presents the problem calmly in the opening paragraph and states her claim as a practical approach to stop or decrease the amount of the spraying of DDT pesticides in combined efforts to stop the super races of insects like mosquitoes for example from becoming immune. Including this support for her thesis Carson argues mosquitoes becoming immune to the man-made vaccines presently available would inarguably have serious, detrimental and adverse negative impacts upon the effectiveness of the survival of our own species by rendering the adverse effects of malaria vaccines available as one negative impact resulting from spraying of DDT. Carson refers to mosquitoes as “unwanted species” and explains how “future historians” are presented with certain challenges (Carson, 1962). Some of these challenges will be caused from the inability of mankind to logically think on a wide scale level about the effects of using mass produced pesticides on our environment.

Carson suggests genetic level tampering of the codes of insects could render us humans very susceptible to certain types of unwanted diseases. Carson writes: “Future historians may well be amazed by our distorted sense of proportion. How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind? Yet this is exactly what we have done,” (Carson, 1962). Carson establishes a neutral ground with the opposition upon the concluding paragraphs of her essay explaining that she was not arguing the need for insect control, “control must be geared to realities, not to mythical situations, and that the methods employed must be such that they do not destroy us along with the insects” (Carson 1962). This is a great effort on Carson’s part and portrayed a positive image that represented a valid controversial issue asking for a logical solution.

In my opinion Rachel Carson wrote a very balanced essay that was easy to read, appealed to everyone such as men, patient readers, humans, and women as well that may have been interested. “The Obligation of Endurance” was a very influential piece and the world would be very different today without this essay. I especially admire Rachel Carson for her tenacity to speak publically on such a controversial topic at such a time during the 1950s. This showed enormous amounts of bravery and strength on her part as she was experiencing health problems of her own at the time of her speech to the Supreme Court in 1963.

I like that Carson kept a calm clean point of view and offered valid questions that were easy to read and understand and rendered these problems capable of being solved with some critical thinking and cooperation. She did not present any “low blows” and did not seek to offend the opposition blindly. Carson was very clear when stating her intentions pertaining to solving this issue and this is what aided her and contributed to her success in influencing the banning of pesticide DDT in the United States and other smaller African regions following this essay; she truly is a gifted writer.

Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. Chapter 2. How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement.

Paull, John (2013) “The Rachel Carson Letters and the Making of Silent Spring”

Smith & Hockenbury. Psychology. Worth Publishers, 1984.

Trewavas, T., Leaver, C., Ames, B., Lachmann, P., Tren, R., Meiners, R., Miller, H.I. (2012). “Environment: Carson no ‘beacon of reason’ on DDT”. Nature 486 (7404): 473.

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