The Use of force – Question Answers

by William Carlos Williams

‘The Use of Force’ is a short story that depicts the conflict between an unnamed doctor and his patient, a sick little girl. The story is written in a first person narrative and does not use any quotation marks, making the dialogues inseparable from narrator’s own words. The story presents an important question of whether using force on someone, even for a good purpose is moral or not.

General Questions:

What is the nature of the conflict in the story?

The nature of the conflict in the story is both physical and emotional. We see the conflict that occurs in the story to be the conflict that happens between the doctor and Mathilda, however, there is another form of conflict presented; that is the conflict that arises inside the doctor as he debates within himself whether using force on the child is justifiable or not.

Why does the doctor respect the child but find the parents “contemptible”?

The doctor respects the child and infact he has taken a liking to her, as he says ‘I had already fallen in love with the savage brat’. He liked Mathilda so much as she was a beautiful child, she had magnificent blonde hair, which made the doctor think about picture-children that appeared in advertising leaflets and photogravure sections of the Sunday papers, then, he also respected her so much since he was impressed by her determination to defend herself from him. Though, he found the parents to be contemptible because although they were eager to cooperate they were also distrustful of him. His contempt escalates from being implied to plain obvious when they started coaxing the child, calling the doctor a ‘nice man’, their efforts were useless, and rather than helping they hindered the doctor’s efforts.

What does the story tell us about the use of force? How is the doctor affected by resorting to the use of force? How is the child affected by being forced to open her mouth against her will?

The story tells us that although the use of force on something or someone may be justifiable, what compels it makes people have difficulty in separating their emotions and the standards they have set for themselves. The doctor, at first seems very professional and decides to take a more standard way of approaching the child. He smiled in his ‘best professional manner’, he then attempted to coax her, but as she was reluctant and as she started becoming more and more defensive, he could not control his emotions, which in turn made him mad with fury and use force on the child. Here, the wooden tongue depressor is a kind of metaphor for the doctor’s tolerance. As it breaks, the doctor’s tolerance also breaks, and he shuns rationality and uses force on the child, even though it was for a good purpose.

Describe the relationship of the parents with the child.

The Olsons had a fairly good relationship with their daughter. Yet, they were not fully aware of her feelings, they were stuck in conflicting emotions themselves, and they were unsure whether they should hurt their daughter in order to save her, or let her have independence. The parents cared for Mathilda, they wanted her to get better, they wanted her to live, but since they were facing conflict within themselves they could not react properly. The father provides a good example of their weakness, when he tried to hold down his daughter he failed because of the fact that she was his daughter, he was ashamed at her behaviour, and he feared he might hurt her.

Write a paragraph about the reaction of the child during the crisis.

It is obvious that Mathilda was afraid of the doctor, her behaviours change from being indifferent to violently defensive. She was not aware of the fact that he was going to save her life; he even justifies ‘the damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy’. Everyone saw her reaction as shameful, but no one actually cared enough to understand her feelings and how hurt she was. She reacts negatively to the force being used on her; she shrieked hysterically, ‘Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing me!’ She even hurt herself while breaking the tongue depressor with her mouth.

Do you think a doctor’s use of force like this on a patient is justifiable? Give reasons for your answer.

The use of force on a sick child by a doctor is not very justifiable, even if it is justifiable; the reason why it was done would not be ethical. The doctor explains that he used force on the child because he was saving her from her own idiocy; he was merely trying to save her life. But still, we cannot take his actions as justifiable, since there was another way, the doctor says himself that he could have come back in an hour and tried later. His use of force on the patient cannot be condoned as he was compelled by his emotions, and that is not what a doctor does, he failed to maintain his composure. He broke his own standards, followed his emotions and hurt the child, even though he was saving her life.

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