Supporting Children in Distress

Published 18 Apr 2017

In the short story, “The Use of Force,” William Carlos Williams depicts a doctor’s experience with a sick young girl and her parents. He was asked to visit the family’s home in order for the child’s sickness to be diagnosed, as she has been down with fever for the past three days. The doctor, however, believes that the child may be suffering not only from fever but from diphtheria. But the girl refuses to cooperate with him, with the pleas of both the parents and himself falling on deaf ears. In the end, he had to become physically aggressive with the child by forcefully opening the girl’s mouth and peering down her throat, which revealed that she was indeed inflicted with diphtheria.

Through the story, I found that the relationship between the young girl and her parents is more interesting than the interaction between the child and the doctor. This is because it holds the important key to understanding the dynamic interplay of the different characters in the story by showing the young girl’s unusual behaviors and the way her parents react to and behave towards her. I believe that she has actually been a different and unusual girl even before the doctor arrives to diagnose her, and that she did not suddenly become that type of a girl after the doctor arrived at her house. Through the action and behavior of both parents in the story, it can be shown that the cause of the child’s unusual behavior and aggression is linked to the environment that her parents have fostered within the family.

The environment here basically means the specific way her parents interact with her. Through different types of social interactions, both inside and outside the house, children are able to form their own individual selves, which consist of their personality, their behavior towards other people, and even their outward appearances. In the first appearance of the young girl in the story, she is immediately painted as being different as opposed to her parents who appear normal. The mother is “very clean and apologetic (80),” while her daughter looks up at the doctor with “her cold, steady eyes, and no expression to her face (80).” In the doctor’s eyes, she appears to be “as strong as a heifer” (80). From those descriptions of their appearances, both the young girl and the mother seem to be calm. Yet, the young girl is like a time bomb that will explode once she reaches her limit because the doctor feels that she is like “a heifer,” which implies that she would be very hard to handle once it become wild. Furthermore, her parents’ manner toward the doctor does not seem to be a lot different from how other people behave. When the doctor arrives at their home, the mother asks to be excused as she leads him to the kitchen where the child is staying warm. In addition, the parents do not speak more than they have to. Through the appearances and the interaction between the doctor and the parents, nothing is unusual and strange except the young girl looking like “a heifer.” We find out the causes that might have negatively affected the young girl in their subsequent interactions.

The interaction between the child and the parents begins with the doctor’s attempt to take a look at the daughter’s mouth. When he comes to close to her, she tries to claw at the doctor’s eyes, knocking his glasses to the ground in doing so. Both of her parents are embarrassed by that action, but only her mother takes an action, “You bad girl, said the mother, taking her and shaking her by one arm. Look what you’ve done. The nice man…” (81). I do not think that the child’s behavior is totally wrong because most children are all scared of doctors, especially the younger ones. The mother should have soothed her instead of scolding. Furthermore, when the mother admires him as “The nice man” in front of the child, it widens the gap between the girl and the doctor. Calling the doctor “The nice man” makes the child have hostility toward both her mother and the doctor since she is called “a bad girl.” Why did her mother make her seem so terrible in front of the stranger instead of defending her? Through this example of the mother’s action within the family, I can imagine one of the reasons why the child behaves in an unusual way, and this is because her mother has not interacted with her in a rational way.

The most mysterious example of their unusual relationship is the daughter lying and hiding her sore throat from her parents for days. Her parents says that “she says her throat don’t hurt her (80).” Why is it that she would not tell her parents about the sore throat? I also wonder if there has been any opportunity where the child and her parents freely communicate with each other before. I believe that the answer is no, for as her father says, “My wife has given her things, you know, like people do (80).” Based on his words, it seems that they really do not know what the child is suffering from. Every conversation between the parents and the doctor gives evidence that their weird relationship causes the child’s unusual and aggressive behavior. When the child acts insanely and harshly towards the doctor, her mother yells at her. We understand that, but her mother should not only be siding with the doctor. Also, the mother should not have called the doctor “The nice man” while she calls the child “a bad girl.” As we can already assume, everything the parents have done has negatively affected the child’s mind.

When people meet somebody for the first time, like the parents meeting the doctor in the story, they tend to show their admiration and their good sides to the other person so that they can make the other person comfortable with them. In the case of the family in the story, the child’s position seems to be too miserable because of her mother who never cares for her daughter. I assume that the mother has already been such a person since the child has been able to understand the world around her. As a result, the child has stopped communicating effectively with both her parents and started behaving in a hostile manner toward someone whom her parents seem to admire. I am not saying that respecting other people creates unhealthy relations within the family. However, taking somebody’s side at the expense of their own child has to be avoided. This is to ensure that the family members have well-established relationships and that their children will exhibit hostility toward anyone.

Works Cited

  • Williams, William Carlos. “The Use of Force.”
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