What are the examples of symbolism in "The Use of Force?"

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William’s story takes a mundane interaction—a doctor trying to look at a girl’s tonsils—and turns it into a very dark story of domination. So in a sense, the entire story can be seen as symbolic of a kind of rape. The tongue depressor, which the child bites in two, and...

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William’s story takes a mundane interaction—a doctor trying to look at a girl’s tonsils—and turns it into a very dark story of domination. So in a sense, the entire story can be seen as symbolic of a kind of rape. The tongue depressor, which the child bites in two, and the spoon with which the doctor finally pries open her mouth, are pretty obviously phallic symbols, in that that are objects used by the doctor to penetrate her body and discover the “secret” of her tonsils. As the narrator puts it, “It was a pleasure to attack her.” His will to dominate her gets the better of him, and for the girl, it is all the more humiliating because her own father participates in the attack. In fact, after the doctor discovers that her tonsils are indeed infected, he says, with a certain exaltation, “She had fought valiantly to keep me from knowing her secret.”

I don’t think we need to think about these things symbolically, however, to get Williams’ point, which is that young girls are violated in countless ways, even by (apparently) well-meaning doctors, and that the social conditions that lead to parents calling in a stranger to find out “what the matter is” with their child are expressions of power and domination that even children (particularly children) cannot escape. For the child, avoiding subjugation is more important than a possible case of diphtheria.

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I would say that one particular example of symbolism in the story is the tongue depressor.  It is an instrument of good, symbolic of the healing powers of the medical profession.  Yet, as it splinters into pieces inside the girl's mouth, it is a tool of destruction, used to inflict power from one over another.  The spoon is a symbol of this force, an instrument that is symbolic of nourishment and replenishment is an extension of the doctor's savage need to control.  The very image of a spoon prying open the mouth of a child is a symbolic representation of how far the doctor is willing to go to inflict his will on the girl.  Money is a symbolic element in the story.  The doctor makes it clear that the parents are eager to cure their child because of "the money" that they are willing to spend.  In this case, the money symbolizes a sense of power or control that the parents are willing to display in the face of the intense means the doctor employs.  In an odd way, I see the girl as symbolic of something more than a girl or even as the patient.  The doctor's initial description of her is reflective of this symbolic representation:

...an unusually attractive little thing, and as strong as a heifer in appearance. But her face was flushed, she was breathing rapidly, and I realized that she had a high fever. She had magnificent blonde hair, in profusion. One of those picture children often reproduced in advertising leaflets and the photogravure sections of the Sunday papers.

The girl being symbolic of the media's reflection of what it means to be a girl, as well as the fact that the doctor takes such strong physical note lends the symbolic representation that there is an assault, a type of control based subjugation of the older man over the younger girl.  This sexual dynamic seems to be another symbol in the story.

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