He, along with all the other prisoners are hoping against hope that the lobotomy on Hard Rock, the man who could never be subdued, has not had the effect desired by those who sanctioned the operation. They are all awed by his complete defiance of the system, and as we see in the last few lines, they think of him as someone who managed to do things that they themselves wished they could have done against their jailers, but lacked the mettle to do.
Though the use of iambic pentameter cannot exactly be said to be the best choice for the subject, Knight's choice of words are telling: "known not to take no shit/From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:/Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above/His yellow eyes, and one long scar"--- in a few pithy words, Knight not only brings to life the picture of the "mean nigger", but the awestruck attitude of the speaker towards him.
The authentic voice of the prison also comes through the choice of ghetto terms like "screw", "hillybilly", "the Hole" and "nigger". One of the best example of this black ghetto speech pattern is where the prisoners recall incidents about Hard Rock and the strength he usually displayed: "Man, the last time, it took eight/Screws to put him in the Hole!" "Yeah, remember when he/Smacked the captain with his dinner tray He set/The record for time in the Hole - 67 straight days!/01 Hard Rock! Man, that's one crazy nigger."
Hard Rock is also made into a symbol of ...
nder violence and suppression and cannot stand up in defiance because of their prolonged fear, which is evoked through vivid imagery: "like a biting whip,/Had cut deep bloody grooves/Across our backs".
The imagery also carries into the mind of the prisoners: the "Hole" of solitary confinement is also an image of the terrorized isolation of the prisoners: it is terrorized isolation carried to a murderous extreme. Hard Rock had been able to withstand two months of it and had not broken under the strain, he was like a wild black stallion that could only be "gelded" by scooping out one part of his brain and electrocuting the rest, making him a living corpse, bodily alive, but dead in spirit with eyes that were "empty like knot holes in a fence".
The oppression of the physical kind could not break his spirit, so the powers that be resorted to another one: remote, invisible, and diabolically successful. And these powers had taken the help of doctors, who by their profession are bound to save every life they can, not make a mockery of it as they did in this case. The implicit statement by the poet is that Hard Rock and the other prison inmates are criminals, but those who sanctioned and executed this monstrous dehumanization of a man were no less criminal.
And it is also the cowardice of the rulers that comes into view: "A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch/And didn't lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock/ From before shook him down and barked in his face"---the oppressors only dare challenge Hard Rock with impunity once he has been brutally incapacitated. Knight has been able to highlight the weakness of the members of the ruling class who could not cope with a man in his full strength, but confronted him only when they knew him to be weakened by an agency