In "The Use of Force," what is the conflict of the story?

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Use of Force" by Williams Carlos Williams, many conflicts are evident as the doctor arrives to examine the child. From the onset, the parents don't trust the doctor. The doctor believes the child may have diphtheria since it has been spreading at the girl's school, and he needs to look at the child's throat and get a culture. A conflict occurs when the doctor feels revulsion towards the parents. The parents tell the girl the doctor won't "hurt" her and that he is a "nice" man. The doctor feels the parents are only making his job harder, and the situation worsens as the girl continues to struggle against the examination.

The doctor also has conflict with the girl, his patient, as she physically struggles against the examination, refusing to open her mouth, and this becomes a battle between doctor and patient, both physical and emotional. The doctor finally becomes "furious" at her struggles and forces her mouth open.

The last conflict occurs because Mathilda, the girl, fights to keep her secret. When the doctor finally forces the spoon to the back of her mouth, her secret is revealed. She has lied to her parents about the sore throat, and membrane covers her tonsils, a symptom of diphtheria. The girl appears defeated in the end, but in the last line of the story, she still is on the attack as she attempts to "fly" at the doctor. This short story is centered on the ongoing conflict between doctor and patient and the girl's futile struggle to keep her illness secret.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Use of Force" we are presented with a narrator who is a doctor who is trying to take a throat culture from a young girl because he suspects she has diphtheria. However, for some unknown reason, the girl resists his attempts in every way possible, refusing to let him take a culture from her throat. It is clear that as she continues resisting, the doctor faces two conflicts: first, his need to take the culture as part of his job, and second, his own fury and desire to overpower her:

The child's mouth was already bleeding. Her tongue was cut and she was screaming in wild hysterical shrieks. Perhaps I should have desisted and come back in an hour or more. No doubt it would have been better. But I have seen at least two children lying dead in bed of neglect in such cases, and feeling that I must get a diagnosis now or never I went at it again. But 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.

Thus we can see that in a sense, the doctor faces an external conflict in trying to do his job and take a throat culture. But at the same time he faces an internal conflict as he threatens to be overwhelmed by his own fury and desire to dominate her.