I was surprised to find that some of my classmates had never heard of Rachel Carson, but I had my own ignorance to contend with, as I’d never read Silent Spring and had thought for many years that it referred to spring in the sense of water, rather than the season. Reading the piece excerpted in Available Means quickly disabused me of that notion, and, of course, by reading about her in class, that classmate now knows well who Rachel Carson was.
I find that the hypothetical story that she tells in her “A Fable for Tomorrow” is a feminine kind of rhetoric. It does not accuse, but rather reveals and questions. Although the information is scientific, it is not presented as a formal academic paper, but rather as a kind of story, accessible and open to a wider audience. An audience that is complicit in the damage being done to the environment, but that would react badly to being baldly accused.
By observing the posited effects of chemicals on the environment, the silencing of birds, the disappearance of bees and the browning of vegetation, before coming to a cause, she invites the readers to vividly imagine the poisoned landscape before coming to the punch in the gut. “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves” (261). In our class discussion, that last line was often misquoted as “The people had done it to themselves.” I think that the distinction is important. Carson is writing about the effects that people, as subjects, have on Nature, as object. While we would suffer the consequences for our actions against nature, the object of our depredations is still not ourselves directly. It is Carson’s effect, if not intent, to highlight the fact that we cannot harm the environment in which we live with impunity and without consequence.