Where is the foreshadowing in "The Use of Force"?

Expert Answers
liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Though the story is a very short one, we can find plenty of foreshadowing within the first few paragraphs. Let's take a look at each instance of foreshadowing in the order in which we encounter them:

"They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson."

In this opening line, the fact that the family tends to withhold information foreshadows the daughter's eventual revelation that she has been keeping her sore throat a secret.

"The child was fully dressed and sitting on her father's lap near the kitchen table."

If the child is very sick, then why is she dressed like it's a normal day? Wouldn't she wear pajamas, or something comfortable, if she's running a high fever? Wouldn't she be lying down instead of sitting up? Why is she trying to present herself as a normal, healthy child? What is she hiding? Well, by the end of the story, we of course find out.

The fact that she's sitting on her father's lap is also a bit of foreshadowing: she's too big to be doing that on a regular basis, so is she manipulating her father with her affections somehow? Yes. If she's sitting in her father's lap, does that mean that she's subservient to him? No. All this is foreshadowing and invites us to consider the child's relationship with her parents and where the power lies in those relationships. Let's keep moving through the first few paragraphs of the story:

"...they weren't telling me more than they had to, it was up to me to tell them..."

Above is some more foreshadowing for that idea that at least one person in the family is withholding information from the doctor.

"The child was fairly eating me up with her cold, steady eyes, and no expression to her face whatever."

In the description above, it's clear that the child is like a master poker player: she's got secrets, and she's not telling them. Plus, she's analyzing the doctor, figuring out how their power struggle might occur.

"...an unusually attractive little thing, and as strong as a heifer in appearance."

As that description above continues, the description of the girl's strength provides a hint about how she might exert it later in the story.

"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."

Here, when the narrator describes the child's physical beauty and compares her to a typical model child, we're invited to consider how and why she might diverge from the image of a "model" child. How will she misbehave? We'll see in a moment as she gets into the fight that makes up the story's conflict.

"No, she says her throat don't hurt her."

The parents say this in response to the doctor's questions. Why are they reporting what their daughter said instead of what their daughter felt? Do these parents know from experience that their daughter lies about her symptoms?

After that, the exam devolves into the fight, and we find out that Mathilda was hiding her sore throat that indicated she might have diphtheria.