What does "a feeling of shame" mean in "The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams is a short story about a doctor's visit to a sick child, back in a period when rural doctors made house calls. It is written in the first person, from the point of view of the doctor. During the course of the visit, the doctor needs to examine the child's throat to see if she has diphtheria, a disease now very rare in the United States because children are routinely vaccinated against it, but a common, and sometimes deadly infectious disease (especially for children) in the period in which Williams was writing.

The narrator is portrayed as a basically thinking of himself (and actually being) a decent man, dedicated to the welfare of his patients. The child, however, resists all his gentle attempts to examine her, and eventually, and reluctantly, he is compelled to force her mouth open so that he can examine her. He describes how the act of using force transforms him from his normal, patient self into someone who temporarily feels almost a sense of exhilaration in bullying a terrified young girl. He feels a sense of shame (i.e. is ashamed) because he does not think it right to take pleasure in struggling with or causing pain to a child, and even though it was necessary to find out if the child had diphtheria, he considered the use of force and his reaction to it morally distasteful.

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