Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane Questions and Answers
by Etheridge Knight

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How are ambiguity and precision used in the poem "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane"?

In "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane," the legend of Hard Rock is created by juxtaposing precise details of his exploits with ambiguity about how the stories of these exploits originated and who saw them happen.

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The main use of ambiguity and precision, continually juxtaposed in "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane," is to create the legend of Hard Rock and his exploits. This, after all, is how legends are made. The speaker can pinpoint precise details in his quest for artistic verisimilitude but can't say how he knows them or who told him the story.

This uncertainty is characterized in the second stanza of the poem as "the WORD." No one can say who originally spoke "the WORD," but what is says is undoubtedly precise:

... the doctors had bored a hole in his head,
Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity
Through the rest.
This method is repeated throughout the poem. The metaphor of Hard Rock's exploits as a cloak in which the other inmates can wrap themselves has all the vagueness of legend, while the detail that he spent exactly sixty-seven days in the hole has all its precision.
In the final stanza, the combination of vagueness and precision is used slightly differently. The vacant condition of Hard Rock is emphasized by the detail that it took "Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name," but there is no precision about what happened to Hard Rock in the hospital, and it seems that he will never be able to tell anyone. He has been effectively silenced and reduced to the same condition of slavery as the others, terminating the legend forever.

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