In "The Use of Force," did the girl actually have diphtheria?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams in narrated in the first person by a doctor making a house call to a poor rural family whose daughter is sick. We find out early in the story that there has been a diphtheria outbreak nearby and the doctor is concerned the child may have it. There are two main reasons for the concern. Diphtheria is highly contagious and thus it is important to diagnose and contain individual cases quickly. Second, it is a potentially deadly disease, especially for children. In the period in which he was writing, an average of 13,000 to 15,000 people died every year from this disease.

An important element in diagnosis is examining the patient's throat. The doctor confirms that the child indeed does have diphtheria when he finally manages to force the child's mouth open and observes:

And there it was - both tonsils covered with membrane.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial