Muskrat News Legal Briefs

In Our Continuing Effort to Lower the Grading Curve, We present Yet Another EXAM ANSWER

"Law and Literature"  Final Exam

Q. 
Compare and contrast any text we discussed this semester with any other

A.  You omitted the modifier "which we discussed in class" from the end of the sentence, so I assume the second text does NOT need to be one we discussed in class.  I therefore choose to compare "In The Belly of the Beast" by Jack Abbott and "Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter.

In the Belly of the Beast is a searing poem of violence, limning the author's upbringing in the hands of a callous state machinery, turning him into both a feral killing machine and a writer of considerable, if amoral, power.  Peter Rabbit is the story of a young rabbit who enters Mr. Mcgregor's garden to steal produce and who nearly winds up in a pie.  In other words, they are essentially the same story.

Consider the similarities, starting with the main characters.  "Jack Abbott" is as transparent a pseudonym as can be, missing but one letter to be "Jack R. Abbot" or "Jack Rabbitt."  Yes, Mr. Abbott was a human and a convicted felon with a violent record whereas Peter is an adorable little bunny, but Abbott must have had his cute side - Norman Mailer clearly found him adorable.  Also, Abbott grew up a ward of the state.  Peter's father has died violently ("he was put into a pie"), and his mother leaves him and his brothers at the start of the story "to go to the baker's."  Clearly, that means "to get baked," i.e., to get high on marijuana.  Thus, Peter's mother is a drug addict who abandons her children to get high.

Both Abbott and Rabbit are reflexively transgressive.  Abbott records his habit of routinely attacking guards with little or no justification other than his overwhelming hatred of them.  Similarly, Peter (who is "very naughty") invades Mr. McGregor's garden with no provocation, even though currant buns are on the way.  The only characters Abbott has any use for are fellow prisoners; the only character that helps Peter is a mouse who is also stealing from the garden.  Abbott warns against killing a guard, and Peter backs off from a cat guarding the garden.  Abbott speaks of the punishment cells where he is not allowed to wear clothes; Peter loses both his shoes and his jacket in the garden.

Still, many will protest that Abbott's amoral and hyper-violent worldview should not be compared to a children's story about bunnies.  Leaving aside Beatrix Potter's long history of parsnip abuse and multiple convictions for bar brawls, for which she was known as "Brass Knuckles Beatrix" throughout the Lake Country, there are obvious parallels in structure between the two books.  The best-known, and most horrifying passage in Abbott's book is when he writes lyrically and even lovingly of the act of stabbing a man  for stealing a pack of cigarettes.  This closely parallels the fantasy sequence from Peter Rabbit (usually cut from expurgated children's versions) in which Peter uses a sharpened garden stake to terrorize Flopsy and Mopsy into selling him Cottontail for a pack of cigarettes. 

The final parallel cannot be omitted.  Shortly after his literary admirers helped get him parole, Jack Abbott killed a New York waiter and went back to prison for the rest of his life.  Similarly, on his first trip outside England, Peter, in Hollywood to negotiate  a movie deal, piddled on the carpet of Louis B. Mayer and was immediately put into a pie.




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