ENG 211-711


DO NOT PUT IN ESSAY FORMAT: Answer each question with a sentence or two unless it asks you to explain your answer. Be sure to indicate the number that corresponds to each question.

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William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force” On Doctoring, pp. 73-76.

Answer the following questions:

For this reading, the most apparent protagonist is the narrator, a doctor.

Be careful not to associate the narrator (or speaker) with the author. It may seem the narrator must be the author since its written in first person, but the point of view is a device (that is, a tool) that an author will use to suit his or her purpose. First person allows the author to provide us with the narrator’s thoughts and motivations, allowing us to sympathize with the narrator even if that narrator has a different perspective than we do or commits actions we would normally not accept. It also helps create suspense by hiding the motivations of the other characters.

Note: Williams’ “doctor stories” may reflect his own life and career as a doctor during the Great Depression, which upended the lives of his patients and thus his own as a doctor whose patients could often not afford to pay him much, if at all. But the stories also reflect the lives and practices of many doctors, and we know that Williams used his own experiences and those of his fellow doctors as teaching tools for his students. Thus, in these stories, the “I” may be Williams or it may be any doctor in those circumstances. Robert Coles, who assembled the stories, referred to them as “doctor fictions,” though in this case, the term fiction likely means that the stories are distillations of the experience of being a doctor at that time and place, and thus Williams’ narrator speaks for not only himself but also for his colleagues who were practicing during the Depression.


1. Why does the doctor visit the family?
2. The story begins with the line “They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson.” What is the relationship between the family and the doctor? How do the parents treat the doctor? How does the child treat the doctor? How does the doctor treat the parents?
3. Many scholars have speculated the family are poor immigrants. What clues are we given about the family? Does this explain their reactions to the doctor?

Inciting Incident:
4. What illness has been spreading at the school? If the child has the illness, what could be the outcome?
5. What is the conflict in the story? What “must” the doctor do? How do the parent exacerbate the problem?

6. What revelation does the doctor learn about himself? Look at the paragraph that begins, “Get me a smooth handled spoon of some sort.”

7. What is the climax? How does he solve the problem? (Think about the title of the story.)


To generalize the plot structure above, the theme would be “Sometimes doctors have to hurt a patient to help them.” If you believe there is another theme than the one stated here, state it before you argue the truth value.

Truth Value:
8. Does the theme represent a truth in life? Explain why or why it doesn’t. (Remember truth values are opinion, so be sure to always support your answer with a brief explanation.)

Further Inquiries:

9. Was the doctor justified in his actions in “the use of force”? Explain your answer either way.

10. Does the doctor question his own actions? (Be sure to read the entire story before answering.)

Answer each question with a sentence or two unless it asks you to explain your answer. Be sure to indicate the number that corresponds to each question.

Finally, upload a document (pdf) with the answers to this assignment.

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