Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As Williams’s title indicates, the narrative is a study of the use of force and of its effects on the individual who uses it. As the story progresses, the doctor degenerates from a reasonable professional concerned with his patient’s welfare to an irrational being who takes pleasure in the pure muscular release of forcing the child to submit. The doctor remains well aware of the reasonableness of his ultimate goal—the girl’s throat must be examined—but even as he persists in pursuing that goal he knows that he is no longer concerned with what is best for the child: “The worst of it was that I too had got beyond reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning with it.” His sense of logic tells him that it is a social necessity to protect the child and others against her idiocy in refusing the examination. Even as he acknowledges the truth in this line of reasoning, however, he knows that it has little if anything to do with the motivation behind his ruthless determination to force the child to do as he wishes: “A blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing for muscular release are the operatives. One goes on to the end.”

With a “final unreasoning assault,” the doctor overpowers the child. Then it is the child’s turn to react in a blind fury, her turn to attack. She tries unsuccessfully to escape from her father’s arms and fly at the doctor,...

(The entire section is 504 words.)