The History of Literature Podcast

176 William Carlos Williams (“The Use of Force”)

Today, the American modernist poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) is famous among poetry fans for his vivid, economical poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.” But for most of his lifetime, he struggled to achieve success comparable to those of his contemporaries Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Toiling away as a physician in working-class neighborhoods in New Jersey, Williams tried to write poems and short stories whenever he could, often typing for a few minutes in between patient visits. In this episode of The History of Literature, Jacke and Mike take a look at Williams’s incredible short story “The Use of Force,” in which a physician wrestles with a young patient determined to preserve her secret at all costs.

NOTE: This is another self-contained episode of The History of Literature! We read the story for you – no need to read it yourself first (unless you want to!).

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One thought on “176 William Carlos Williams (“The Use of Force”)”

  1. Thank you so much for introducing me to William Carlos Williams! I loved the story, “The Use of Force” as well as your discussion of it! As a parent who has had physical struggles with my children, I identified so much with the doctor in this story so I had to laugh a little when Mike said this incident would not happen in this day. During vaccinations, I’ve had to hold my sons still while screaming at the frantic nurse to just hurry up already and stick them! We all have wills of our own, kids included, and sometimes decisions have to be made. I also think it is true that some small guilty part of adults may like the feeling of “winning” over that little creature.

    Also, I wanted to point out diphtheria then and is still now a deadly disease with very limited treatments. I’m no expert, but even now if a non-vaccinated person gets the illness to the point where there is a visible membrane, survival is slim and it’s really contagious. Knowing that, the doctor’s statement to the mother that he is “not a nice man – I’m here to tell her she’s going to die” was even more poignant. This adds a layer of hopelessness to the doctor’s character. He has to do this and it’s going to be bad and the will of this little person is fighting for survival. To her, he represents pain and he knows he cannot be otherwise. Thank God for mass vaccinations!

    Anyway, had to get my thought out. Thank you again for your beautiful podcast and introducing this author. I’m looking up more of his work right now!

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