Silent Spring's Metaphors: Insights for 21st Century Environmental Discourse

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Virginia Tech


Metaphor as tool is a concept that has increasing analysis and support in the past several years. Long before the wealth of contemporary analysis, Rachel Carson produced Silent Spring, a book hailed as the motivation for a new environmental movement in the United States. The use of metaphor in Silent Spring is most apparent in the title. The title's focus, however poignant, even moving and motivating, is complemented by a rich set of metaphorical entailments and implications that reinforce and strengthen the title's metaphor and represent systemic forces and practices that lead to and prevent a spring of silence. Carson skillfully appropriated marketing metaphors used by chemical companies to sell insecticides and pesticides. She transformed these metaphors into powerful criticisms of indiscriminate chemical practices, forcefully undercutting industry arguments for chemicals as a means of guaranteeing "control." The effects of Carson's metaphors, built on a strong, complex foundation of scientific studies, invite reader participation and interaction as outlined by Lakoff and Johnson. The metaphors further entertain, educate, explain, describe in the sense of Wittgenstein's language games, and tightly integrate action and language. More fundamentally, her metaphors helped to establish a systems view and nature-oriented paradigm for analyzing, and resolving environmental issues and problems in the United States, creating a framework for debate and policy development and implementation, in the vein of Schon's and Rein's arguments for framing and policy design. The metaphors also set a stage for personal motivation by connecting individual human homes to nature and the global environment.



Metaphor, Paradigm, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, Environmental Discourse