William Penn once wrote No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne, no gall, no glory; no cross, and no crown. This quote strongly relates to Etheridge Knight s Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane, for the main character of Knight s Hard Rock too is faced with the struggle between his desire for elevated status among his admirers and defiance of the norms of the society. During the era of 1950 s and the 1960 s, our country was overcome by the struggle for humanity and human suffrage. In 1955, Dr.
Martin Luther King led the charge against the government for unfair treatment of African Americans by accepting leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States. His leadership and rebellious force was the first great wave of the Civil Rights Movement to sweep the country. Etheridge Knight boldly parallels the life of Hard Rock and that of Dr. Martin Luther King by illustrating the obvious differences and obscure similarities. The title of the poem itself is an important element in understanding the parallelism that is formed between the two individuals. In 1963, Dr.
Martin Luther King set his nonviolent tactics in full swing in Birmingham, Alabama for which he was later arrested and imprisoned. It is interesting to note how both, Hard Rock and Dr. King, begin their struggle for freedom in prison and confinement. With this idea in mind, one could successfully argue that in Knight s title, Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane, Hospital for the Criminal Insane is implied as referring to the society s African American members who insanely believe that their struggle would result in change for better. Webster s dictionary defines the word insane as mentally ill, mad, crazy, lunatic and senseless; all too many words that clearly depicts the African American community through the eyes of White America.
Hard Rock struggle is illustrated in the first stanza, when the author uses explicit imagery and metaphor to describe the physical and mental characteristics of Hard Rock. He had scars, split purple lips, lumped ears, welts above his yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut across his temple and plowed through a thick canopy of kinky hair, reinforces the author s description of Hard Rock as being an individual solid in his beliefs who was known not to take no shit from nobody. These scars and injuries that have been inflicted upon him are evidence of his struggle to break free of the unmerited norms of the culture at the time. Similarly to Hard Rock, Dr.
Martin Luther King was a figure that had defied all authority and resistance to stand for what he believed in and confront the sinful world to surrender itself before him. Though he did not have any visible scars on his face, as did Hard Rock, to prove his fight for justice, he had broken spirits and admiration's that were only visible through his melting eyes. The second stanza of Etheridge Knight s Hard Rock allows the reader a unique opportunity to witness the consequences bestowed upon Hard Rock for his clash against the society that did not wish to accept him. Etheridge Knight in her second stanza brings reader s attention to the WORD by capitalizing the text for its significance.
The word WORD symbolizes the gossip and speculations that had been creeping throughout the prison from ear to ear like a snake through night hunting for its prey. The rumors glittering through the prison cells adopted that the doctors had finally cured him and consequently caused Hard Rock to no longer hold the honor of a mean nigger. It is in fact quite enthralling to note the author s use of diction in associating Hard Rock as a disease infecting the society and not as a human being demanding fair justice. Etheridge Knight audaciously correlates doctors, the curers of disease and infection, with eliminating a disease, which in this case happens to be Hard Rock himself.
Likewise, during 1960 s, Dr. Martin Luther King too was viewed upon as an infectious disease disturbing the normal flow of culture and tradition that had to be eliminated to preserve the tradition that America was build upon. The third stanza contains the conversation of two prisoners reminiscing Hard Rock s exploits for which he was denounced the dreaded sentence that robbed him of his true nature. This stanza is unique in a way that it provides a reader with not only an account of what had occurred prior to his torture, but also goes on to emphasize the idea of Hard Rock as being a concrete character defying all authority without alarm of the consequences that might await him. The dialogue, Ol Hard Rock! Man, that s one crazy nigger, is significant in manner that it solidifies the parallelism between the life of Hard Rock and that of Martin Luther King. Like Hard Rock, Dr.
King, too regardless of fear of any harm, continued upon his journey to fight for the justice he believed was inevitable. The fourth and the last paragraph tie in together, for they both depict Hard Rock s test after the surgery and relay the disappointment of the prisoners for the shortcoming of their hero. Prisoners in this poem signify the African American community that too desired the goals of freedom, as did Hard Rock and Martin Luther King, but lacked the courage to retaliate against the society. Hard Rock s lack of response to the racial taunting of the hillbilly was the first evidence of his failure, which related to the assassination of Martin Luther King. As in the disappointment and denial of the prisoners upon the lack of action on part of Hard Rock, the African American community upon Martin Luther King s assassination was engulfed in war between finding another strong leader to replace Dr. King s vision and courage or loosing their hopes and desires for eternity.
Etheridge Knight s Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane is an outstanding poem for it focuses on the life of one of the America s greatest leaders to ever live. Knight forms an interesting and appealing parallel between Hard Rock, an individual with great merit and history of insane violence, to that of Martin Luther King who cherished the idea of nonviolent demonstrations. Both individuals are caught up in a society that rejects their freewill of thought and desires, but are driven by the will to succeed in their goal for freedom.