Rachel Carson begins her book Silent Spring with an allegory, explaining how a small American town with beautiful nature, one day is destroyed and all the birds stop singing.

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.

Obviously she tries to convey the message how pesticides harm nature and she uses an allegory to make non-scientist readers understand what she means. But is there another reason for such use of allegory, and if yes, then what is it?

1 Answer 1


There is a misapprehension in the question. An allegory is a fiction in which characters, places and events stand for real people and concepts. For example, in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, the characters represent virtues and vices, and in Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animals represent people from the Russian Revolution. Chapter 1 of Silent Spring is not an allegory in this sense: there is no scheme of representation. Carson calls it a ‘fable’, that is “a short story devised to convey some useful lesson” (OED).

Why did Carson include this chapter in Silent Spring? Because she wanted the book to be persuasive, to motivate the readers to action. A well-known passage from Aristotle describes three modes of persuasion:

Now the proofs furnished by the speech are of three kinds. The first depends upon the moral character of the speaker, the second upon putting the hearer into a certain frame of mind, the third upon the speech itself, in so far as it proves or seems to prove.

Aristotle. Rhetoric 1.2.3. Translated by J. H. Freese.

The three modes are often referred to as ethos (authority of the speaker), pathos (emotional appeal) and logos (facts and reasoning). Carson’s chapter 1 presents an emotional appeal to the readers, which the remainder of the book then backs up with facts and reasoning. Both are necessary for the work to be persuasive.

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