Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Point of view is critical in this story about force. The external facts of the story are fairly simple: The doctor does what is necessary to diagnose a potentially fatal disease. The fact that the story is told from the doctor’s point of view, however, makes it possible to see the changes that take place in his mind as he progresses from cool professional to animalistic assailant. He could have justified on the basis of logic alone his persistence in forcing the examination. What he cannot justify even to himself is his motivation for doing so. Still, the doctor is calm and controlled in telling the story. He exposes for analysis his mental state just as he exposes for examination the little girl’s throat.

There are clear sexual undertones to the act of violence that the doctor directs against the child. That element could have been avoided completely had the patient been a little boy. As it is, the doctor acknowledges early the physical attractiveness of the child and the fact that he loves her for her spirit. The doctor’s aggression toward Mathilda takes on characteristics of a rape as his anger builds up at her resistance and finally results in violence. The examination becomes an assault on her mouth cavity with the phallic tongue depressor, which she renders useless, and then with the spoon.

As her fear of the doctor increases, Mathilda’s breathing becomes more rapid. The doctor’s face burns with the pleasure he feels in attacking her. Mathilda resists as she would resist an actual sexual assault, and she bleeds as a result of his probes into her mouth. The story and the assault reach their climax when the doctor achieves a sense of physical release by forcing Mathilda’s mouth open and revealing the hidden membrane. Ironically, her parents let the assault take place and actually aid in it because they fear their child’s death more than they fear any other form of assault on her. Mathilda herself, however, is left with a sense of violation and defeat.

The Use of Force Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Axelrod, Steven Gould, and Helen Deese, eds. Critical Essays on William Carlos Williams. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995.

Beck, John. Writing the Radical Center: William Carlos Williams, John Dewey, and American Cultural Politics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Bremen, Brian A. William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Copestake, Ian D., ed. Rigor of Beauty: Essays in Commemoration of William Carlos Williams. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann W. William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.

Gish, Robert. William Carlos Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Laughlin, James. Remembering William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1995.

Lenhart, Gary, ed. The Teachers and Writers Guide to William Carlos Williams. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1998.

Lowney, John. The American Avant-Garde Tradition: William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry, and the Politics of Cultural Memory. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1997.

Mariani, Paul. William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked. 1981. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.

Vendler, Helen, ed. Voices and Visions: The Poet in America. New York: Random House, 1987.

Whitaker, Thomas R. William Carlos Williams. Boston: Twayne, 1989.