The following article is a critical analysis of an essay from the second chapter from the famous book “Silent Springs” by Rachel Carson, a famous Marine biologist of her time. The chapter titles “The Obligation to Endure” discusses about the use of synthetic chemicals by human beings and their adverse effect on eco-systems and human beings themselves, raising questions against this unsustainable practice and why it continues without any thought.
Analysis: The Obligation to Endure
Environmental deterioration is probably the most heated debate of present day. Every day thousands speculate the damage human deeds do to the environment, the flora and fauna and to humans as an end result. With the rise in civilizations, human population has grown by many folds. The face of the Earth has never seen the spread of any other species at this level. And the most unique aspect of human beings is that humans modify the surroundings they live in, often times to the disadvantage of the ecosystems that once existed where human beings encroach. Synthetic chemicals are the boon of the industrial age they say, but this boon comes at a heavy cost. Even practices in agriculture, no matter how close to nature it may seem, is one of those activities that employs synthetic chemicals, destroys eco-systems and causes contamination of the air, water and soil. Humans cut down trees, and cultivate farmlands; spray toxic fertilizers, insecticides and other chemicals to increase production of food resources. Even with the awareness of the adverse effects of synthetic chemicals, new lots of chemicals get added to the arsenal of the industrial toolkit each year. We contaminate our own surroundings as we go about repeating this again and again, sometimes on the same land, sometimes on new ones. Many articles are written on the subject to spread awareness about this phenomenon. “The Obligation to Endure” is an essay taken from the book Silent Spring written by Rachel Carson, and addresses the subject of intoxication of the surroundings and living beings due to use of chemical substances by human beings. This article discusses the essay and the arguments presented by the author critically to find out more about the phenomenon of chemical intoxication by humans.
“The Obligation to Endure” by Rachel Carson is an essay discussing the use of synthetic chemicals by human beings in their day to day activities and how it has a long lasting adverse effect on their surroundings, the living beings that live in these surroundings, and as a consequence on human beings themselves. The essay describes how synthetic chemicals enter the surroundings humans live in and continues to exist there for many years to come. Carson uses different examples to help the reader understand how such chemicals and their harmful effects continue to damage the delicate ecology that has existed before the human race first appeared on Earth. The essay is an appeal for awareness to the reader irrespective of who he or she may be, from the ordinary to the not so ordinary individual.
The essay is written in a very simple language, using terminology that can be easily understood by anyone who can read English. Carson begins her argument with a brief description of the background of the Earth’s history and continues to explain how the appearance of human race changed the course of how life existed on Earth. Carson first uses the example of how background radiations affected life before human beings began using chemicals both naturally occurring and synthetic. The essay quotes how these radiations would affect life, and how it would find place in the biological systems stay there till the organism that houses these radiating chemicals dies. With the establishment of the idea that chemicals continue to remain inside the biological systems of living beings, Carson begins to explain how synthetic chemicals behave in the similar manner. She explains that the biological body is not habituated to such chemicals and has difficulty in coping with them as they enter the body. Carson gradually develops the idea of the harmful effects of such chemicals and how nature is unable to cope with these effects leading to the serious damage it causes to nature itself.
Carson then takes the example of DDT and explains how chemicals like these continue to be dished out of laboratories each year on a large scale. Carson (p. 5) directly says, “The figure is staggering and its implications are not easily grasped - 500 new chemicals to which the bodies of men and animals are required somehow to adapt each year, chemicals totally outside the limits of biologic experience.” to describe the intensity with which these chemicals get added each year to the already toxic list. The essay then goes on discuss the adverse effects and the intensity to which it affects nature. Examples of such effects come from different statements Carson uses one of which is, “Since DDT was released for civilian use, a process of escalation has been going on in which ever more toxic materials must be found. This has happened because insects, in a triumphant vindication of Darwin's principle of the survival of the fittest, have evolved super races immune to the particular insecticide used, hence a deadlier one has always to be developed and then a deadlier one than that.” (p. 8)
Carson talks about the future events that may happen due to the present trends and predicts that these trends may even lead to the extinction of mankind (p. 9). Carson asks, “All this has been risked-for what? 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?” in a successful attempt at solidifying her efforts to provoke thought in the reader so that they may question their actions related to the environment. These questions strengthen her argument to a level that her conclusion becomes even more effective at making the reader think of the responsibility human beings hold for the destruction of environment through the use of toxic material. Carson uses facts and a detail in simple manner to build the essay to a conclusion that mankind needs to control the use of synthetic chemicals form a realistic perspective and not for short term selfish gains.
Carson uses simple language and references from notable people like the one from Albert Schweitzer (p. 2) to enforce her argument, delivering facts without the jargons that come along with it. The essay successfully seems to solve its purpose, to inform the layman of the gravity of the use of synthetic chemicals and their life altering harmful effects. The essay however has a loose intensity and lacks persuasion. This, however, is advantageous as the reader is carried off to think and contemplate onto themselves the information they have about the harmful effects synthetics have on nature and mankind. The essay is written to allow the reader to develop their own perspective and it manages to do that without losing its own identity and conclusion.
The essay acknowledges that the problem discussed is very intense but fails to provide any argument against it, making it unclear as to how substantially established Carson’s argument in the essay is. There is no mention of a different perspective to the problem or any statement that may develop the argument as a debate. It develops as a narrative essay and the reader is left to absorb all the information delivered to him or her in an appealing tone. This leaves the reader to wonder if this is the only point of view there is and whether all the information given in the essay is completely established and un-debatable. However, the thought always persists in the reader that synthetic chemicals are not good and there use can yield disastrous results.
The essay “The Obligation to Endure” is definitely a unique write up. It is very thought provoking and at a few places persuasive about the argument the essay wishes to follow. Although it does set the reader’s mind to thinking and very successfully solves its purpose. The essay falters at the place where it needs to assert facts to the reader, though it gives the essay a mild advantage and the reader a respite from a write up that bombards the mind with facts and details and leaves no room for thinking. However, the essay gives a lot of leverage at this front that is; the reader gets distracted at times because it lacks an argument from the other side of the camp. The essay as a whole is written in simple English making contemplation and understanding easier, while delivering ideas that make the reader aware of the effects of problem discussed.
Carson, R. (1962). The Obligation to Endure. In R. Carson. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin Publications. USA