The Use of Force

By William Carlos Williams (1883–1963), @ 4 pages.

William Carlos Williams was both a doctor and a writer. Sadly, I only know him from his wheel barrow and chicken poem:

So much depends
on the red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens.

But it appears that he was a prolific writer with strong opinions. The Use of Force is a short story that describes a doctor’s battle to examine a young girl who he believed might have diphtheria, a disease which could be lethal. The only way he could know was by looking at her throat and getting a throat culture. Meanwhile, the young girl is terrified and not cooperating. With her parents’ permission, he uses force to open her mouth.

Williams very effectively conveys his feelings of frustration and blind determination so that the reader feels it as well. He lays out the stakes, has a ticking clock, explains his own motivations as all of this is going on, and has a force to contend with. It is also quite the picture to imagine a grown man, a doctor, struggling with a little girl and nearly being defeated. It seems she is a worthy adversary. While this might not be the greatest story ever told, it is a good study of technique.

I looked William Carlos Williams up on the Poetry Archive and found this quote from him:

“Forget all the rules, forget all restrictions, as to taste, as to what ought to be said, write for the pleasure of it.”

A little encouragement for the writer’s soul.

One thought on “The Use of Force”

  1. I read The use of force last year. I completely agree it is a great example of technique. Such powerful emotions packed in a small story. Williams is an author worth exploring.


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