How does Toni Morrison categorize the perils of free speech and the human response to chaos in her essay “Peril”?

In “Peril,” Toni Morrison says that we as a society need to protect writers, as their peril is our peril. She notes there are three responses to chaos, which are naming, violence, and stillness. The writing that emerges from stillness is extremely important in resisting oppression, and therefore we should all aim to protect writers' freedoms.

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In her essay “Peril,” Toni Morrison writes about how writers have the power to disrupt society. With their words, they can confront social oppression and work to create positive social change. However, this often comes at a great cost. In response to such writers, oppressors often take action to control...

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In her essay “Peril,” Toni Morrison writes about how writers have the power to disrupt society. With their words, they can confront social oppression and work to create positive social change. However, this often comes at a great cost. In response to such writers, oppressors often take action to control speech. Morrison explains that:

These are regimes whose fear of unmonitored writing is justified because truth is trouble. It is trouble for the warmonger, the torturer, the corporate thief, the political hack, the corrupt justice system, and for a comatose public. ... The alarm, the disquiet, writers raise is instructive because it is open and vulnerable, because if unpoliced it is threatening. ... The history of persecuted writers is as long as the history of literature itself.

In a world full of oppression and corruption it has always been clear that those who speak out against oppressors do so at great personal risk. But Morrison does not just identify the risks for writers. She goes on to explain that the peril writers face is also our peril as people who read their work. She brings attention to the important role art plays in beautifying life and making it worth living. If we were to silence writers, we would be facing great peril ourselves.

Morrison then explains that the creation of art—such as great writing—is a response to chaos. She says people have come to understand that the main responses are naming and violence. When chaos arises, some people react by naming things to organize what seems uncontrollable. They map, chart, and assign names to things to try to rationalize what is occurring. Others turn to violence to try to confront the unknown head-on. But Morrison says that an often overlooked third response is stillness. She says:

Such stillness can be passivity and dumbfoundedness; it can be paralytic fear. But it can also be art. Those writers plying their craft near to or far from the throne of raw power, of military power, of empire building and countinghouses, writers who construct meaning in the face of chaos must be nurtured, protected.

Morrison aims to show readers that writing is an important response to chaos, one we all need to survive. Because it is so important, we must protect writers whose freedoms are threatened.

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