Literature Annotations


Williams, William Carlos
The Use of Force


Genre Short Story (4 pp.)
KeywordsChild Abuse, Children, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Illness and the Family, Infectious Disease, Medical Ethics, Physician Experience, Power Relations
SummaryA doctor is called to the home of a poor, immigrant family. A beautiful little girl is quite ill. As diphtheria has been going around, the doctor attempts to examine her throat. The girl, however, won't open her mouth. She fights him off and all attempts to cajole her into compliance fail. Yet, the doctor is resolved to see that throat. He forces the girl's father to hold her down, while he manages to wrest open her mouth after a long battle. She does, in fact, have diphtheria.
Commentary

In this story the doctor seems initially to be compassionate, albeit blunt and prejudiced. He is an acute observer of human nature. He knows what he has to do to achieve his goal. When he is frustrated by the patient, he becomes angry and reveals an odd but perhaps necessary attraction to violence. In a sense, he enjoys forcing and injuring the girl. He did the "right" thing technically, perhaps his patient benefited, but did he do the right thing? Were his actions ethical or perverted?

Editor's Note: For those reading Williams in a literature and medicine context, Hugh Crawford's book, Modernism, Medicine, & William Carlos Williams (annotated in this database), may be of interest. Also of interest is Brian A. Bremen's chapter (3), "Modern Medicine," in his book, William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Bremen argues that "The Use of Force" illustrates Williams's insistence on incorporating "occult" knowledge into his (empathic) "diagnostics" and contrasts it with the (self-deceptive) scientific objectivism of the neurologist-writer, S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell.

SourceThe Doctor Stories
PublisherNew Directions
Edition1984
EditorsRobert Coles
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Moore, Pamela and Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 10/12/94
Last Revised 05/03/01