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THE USE OF FORCE - William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)



Mathilda (Daughter)

Father (Mr Olson)

Mother (Mrs Olson)

The story The Use of Force written by William Carlos Williams is presented as a struggle of will between the two main characters: an adult doctor, who finds himself increasingly unable to maintain his professional attitude, and a sick girl who fights throughout her examination. The simplistic saying “Violence is never the answer”, is disproved by the action of this story. 

The story shows a conflict between the doctor and a determined child patient who has been suffering from fever (diphtheria, a fatal illness if left untreated) for three days. The narrator of this story is a doctor who is called to check on a new patient Mathilda by her mother Mrs Olson.

Mrs Olson, the patient's mother, takes him into the kitchen where the fully-dressed child is sitting on her father's lap (the sick child is being kept in the kitchen by the stove, to keep her warm). The doctor looks things over and finds that all of them are very nervous and looking at him doubtfully. They expect him to tell everything because they are spending three dollars on him.

The child is extraordinarily pretty, like the young models in the magazine in the Sunday newspaper, but is expressionless. Her face is red. She is breathing rapidly and has a high fever. Her hair is blonde. She has had a fever for three days. Her parents gave her some medicine. It did not do any good, so they called him. Then the doctor asks them if she has a sore throat. They reply that their child says her throat does not hurt her. The mother tried to look, but could not see. The doctor believes she has a high fever. The father confirms she has had one for three days. Their home remedies haven't helped.

They have had a number of cases of diphtheria in the child's school. So the doctor wants to take a look at her throat first. He smiles and asks the child to open her mouth, but the child; Mathilda, does not respond. He shows her his empty hands and says that he just wants to take a look. When the mother tells her that the doctor will not hurt her, he begins to hate her. He does not like the word 'hurt'. But slowly he goes near the child. The child suddenly attacks his eyes with her nails. His glasses fly and fall on the floor, but they are unbroken. Both the parents feel sorry and abuse the child. When the mother calls him "a nice man", he does not like it. He just wants to look at her throat because she may have diphtheria and die of it. The child is old enough to understand what the doctor says. So the doctor warns that if she does not open it by herself, he will have to open it forcefully for her. She does not move at all. Her breaths are faster. He has to have a throat culture for her own protection. The mother scolds her severely and threatens that she will have to go to the hospital.

The doctor has fallen in love with the child, but he hates the parents. The father could not hold her. He releases her when the doctor is about to look into the throat because he thinks that the doctor may hurt his daughter. But he asks the doctor to examine the throat fearing that she might die of diphtheria. The mother also is restless thinking that her daughter might not stand the force.

Then the doctor orders him to put her on his lap and hold both her wrists. The child begins to cry uncontrollably. She says that they are killing her. The mother does not like the use of force. The father holds her still but consistently releases her at the last second, afraid of hurting her. When her wrists are held, she cries out hysterically. The doctor is furious with the child. He holds her head and forces a wooden spatula into her mouth.

The doctor then grasps the child's head and tries to get the wooden spatula (tongue depressor) into her mouth. She closes her teeth tightly. The doctor becomes angry and can't control himself. He gets the depressor into the mouth, but before he can see anything she bites down, breaking it apart, and cuts her tongue. Next, he asks for a spoon. The spoon represents the doctor's loss of control. In the beginning, when he's behaving professionally, he shows Mathilda that his hands are empty. 

The child's mouth is already bleeding. If he stopped now and came back in an hour or more, it would be better, but such neglect might cause her death. Also, he himself is more uncontrollable. He wants to tear the child and enjoy it. He enjoys attacking her. His face looks happy. Moreover, the child must be protected, although she is stupid. It is his social responsibility. Therefore, his anger, his shame and his desire to use force inspire him to attack her unreasonably. He forces the spoon back of her teeth and throat. He finds that she has a sore throat with both tonsils covered with a membrane (tissue). She has fought bravely to keep it secret and she has been lying to her parents for three days because she does not like to be examined by a doctor. Now she feels that she is defeated and is more furious. Facing her defeat, Mathilda tries to escape from her father to attack the doctor.

Now truly she was furious. She had been on the defensive before but now she attacked. Tried to get off her father's lap and fly at me while tears of defeat blinded her eyes.


Williams, W. C. (2021). The Use of Force. In S. Lohani, Visions: (pp. 172-178). Kathmandu, Nepal: Vidhyarthi Pustak Bhandar.


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