In the Hippocratic Oaths and the Nightingale Oath, doctors and nurses pledge to fulfill well-defined duties for their patients. The ethnical concept of “duties” is the only way to understand the doctor-patient relationship, however. Doctors are also authority figures who command considerable power. People look to them as authorities over matters of life and death. They know things about their patients–diagnosis, prognosis*–that patients themselves don’t fully understand. They hold important secrets about the lives of others, not just medical but any number of personal matters. The power of doctors also has a very physical side. Doctors touch and probe their patients’ bodies in a ways that would be unthinkable in other contexts. They cut open human bodies with knives (scalpels) and puncture small children with needles.
* prognosis=a physician’s forecast about the likely course of a disease
In William Carlos Williams’ short short “The Use of Force” (1938) we see these kinds of power dynamics play out in stark form. William Carlos Williams was a famous New Jersey poet and writer. He was also a physician who had a family practice in Rutherford for 40 years. He wrote a number of stories and poems that derived from his experience as a physician.
Read more about Williams’ life and medical career here: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(14)00184-0/fulltext
(Links to an external site.).
William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force” Actions
1. How do the Olsens react to the narrator-physician when he enters their home? Why are they hesitant to cooperate with the narrator during his examination of their daughter? In your response, don’t just state the obvious. Ask yourself i) what the suspected disease means to them and ii) how they are responding emotionally. (3-4 sentences ).
2. What disease is named several times in the story? Look up this disease on the internet. Explain briefly what causes this disease, what its symptoms are, and how it is now prevented. You can use point form. Provide a link to your source (for this assignment, don’t use Wikipedia).
3. Why does the daughter refuse to comply with the doctor’s orders? How does her noncompliance differ from her parents’? (2-3 sentences)
4. Throughout the story, and especially in the final paragraphs, the narrator repeatedly describes his physical examination through metaphors of violence. Write a list of at least 5 words that develop this metaphor. Hint: you can begin with the title.
5. In your view, why does the narrator tell the story? What the story’s purpose or moral? (3-4 sentences)
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