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In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison Study Guide & Plot Summary

This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of In the Belly of the Beast.
This section contains 515 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison Study Guide

In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison Summary & Study Guide Description

In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison by Jack Abbott.

Plot Summary

In the Belly of the Beast is long-time inmate Jack Henry Abbott's personal account of his time in prison. He explains what goes on in prison and the devastating psychological effects he and others like him have suffered.

Abbott has been jailed from a very young age, having spent time in juvenile and then adult facilities since he was twelve. He was a foster child and initially jailed for "failure to adjust to foster homes." Later he was jailed for passing bad checks; his only serious crime while out of jail was armed robbery when he briefly escaped from prison in the early 1970s. He has spent more than twenty years in prison because of his belligerence and continued acts of defiance while in prison.

To Abbott, the American prison system is unjust, cruel, and oppressive. He cannot adjust to prison, and so he lashes out and ironically perpetuates his time in prison. He does not believe his prison sentence is his fault; on the contrary, he would like an apology from the prison system.

The prison system treats men like children and so creates "arrested adolescences" or emotionally stunted men. Abbott has been subjected to the worst prison has to offer, including blackout cells (sensory deprivation cells where no light shines), and "the hole," solitary confinement where he has been subjected to starvation diets and forced administering of psychiatric drugs, to the point of near-insanity and death.

"Pigs," as Abbott refers to the guards are universally violent and tyrannical. They are allowed to do any violence they like to prisoners, as there are no consequences. Abbott claims he has been accused of many acts of violence he was not guilty of by vindictive guards, which then leads to further punishment and prison time. Guards are evil because the state gives them absolute control over prisoners, and they become corrupted with this power.

Prisoners live by a code of violence and murder. The only thing that is respected is moral strength and the threat of violence. A long-term prisoner must be capable of murdering someone in order to survive. Abbott also describes the frequency of homosexual acts in prison, in which "punks" service their masters. These acts are not about sex or affection, but a display of power, and rare is the prisoner who actually thinks of such acts as homosexual.

Abbott has found comfort in the form of drugs, including heroin and marijuana, and philosophical reading. He is especially enamored of Marx and of Communism. He believes Communists are the only ones capable of honesty in describing the tyranny of America and its prison system. He considers himself somewhat of a revolutionary and is looking forward to the day that Communists spark a worldwide revolution, which would end (in Abbott's mind) the oppressive police state. Like Marx, Abbott believes history is a class struggle.

Abbott equates classism with racism. History has been an effort by whites to assert superiority over non-whites. Racism is rampant in prison, with guards stirring racial animosity and non-whites asserting the dominance that society has otherwise robbed from them.

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This section contains 515 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison Study Guide
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In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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