William Carlos Williams’ “The Use of Force” is an allegorical short story published in 1938. The piece recounts the experience of a certain doctor with a new patient of his, a child named Mathilda, and her parents, surnamed Olson. Mathilda has fallen very ill, and her parents request the doctor’s assistance. The encounter between the doctor and Mathilda results in an assault on the child. “The Use of Force” parallels the concrete plot with an essentially occurring conflict illuminated through, and given depth by, Williams’ masterful use of characterization and structure in adherence to Jungian archetypal standards.
The structure of the piece, as it is written from the point of view of the doctor, follows the path of an archetypal Hero’s Journey. The story is conceived with the doctor’s, or Hero’s, departure to a place, or home, entirely unknown to him. The Hero is initiated by crossing a threshold of sorts, or literally, entering the Olson’s house. Mathilda and the fight she gives the doctor, plus the ignorance of her parents, are the trials he must overcome in order to reach the innermost cave, or Mathilda’s throat, from which he emerges anew with a diagnosis and the wisdom to restore health and order to the land (“Archetypes” 2). The characteristics of the doctor’s experience well catalog the characteristics of an archetypal journey, as well. The doctor has a loyal band of companions, engages in a contest of strength and shows pride in his excellence, is special or one of a kind, and struggles for something valuable and important, whether that is a diagnosis or domination (2).
The dichotomy between the doctor’s archetypal characterization and his concrete character is paramount. He assaults Mathilda and becomes aroused by it. He laments, “the worst of it was that I too had got beyond reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her.” (Williams 4). Despite his sadistic urge to harm the child, he very adamantly pursues diagnosis in order to save her life, or, perhaps, to purely exert control over her. The doctor fulfills the role of the Romantic, or Gothic, Hero as he is a savior in many ways, but his superficial benevolence is dwarfed by his decidedly sinister side. Mathilda, in the conjecture of her fear and distrust of the doctor, assumes the role of the archetypal Defiant Anti-Hero, or, “the opposer of society’s definition of heroism/goodness” (“Archetypes” 1). Her parents have “almost turned themselves inside out in embarrassment and apology” (Williams 1), and the mother assures her, “such a nice man…Look how kind he is to you. Come on, do what he tells you to. He won’t hurt you” (2). Appeasements that do nothing to ease Mathilda’s distrust of the doctor, and the doctor “[grinds his] teeth in disgust” (2) for even he is aware of his perversions. The only characters oblivious to the doctor’s debauchery are the parents, taking on the role of the Loyal Retainers who reflect the nobility of the Hero, or in this case, the supposed nobility. Mathilda’s mother, despite her objections to the doctor’s methods, retains his actions in hope of obtaining a diagnosis. They have the same exterior intention; however, the doctor has the essential intention to defeat Mathilda in their covert struggle for power.
The conflict, or “battle” as it is described by the doctor, between he and Mathilda is reminiscent of the Battle between Good and Evil, a battle between two primal forces in which “mankind shows eternal optimism in the continual portrayal of Good, himself triumphing over Evil despite great odds” (“Archetypes” 3). Deciding which character fulfills each role is subject to the readers’ interpretation. “Mankind” may be the parents, “Good” being the doctor, and “Evil” being their unruly child. This instance effectuates the standard of “Innate Wisdom versus Educated Stupidity”, in which Mathilda exhibits wisdom and understanding of the doctor’s violence as opposed to her parents, supposedly in charge. Loyal Retainers often exhibit said innate wisdom as they
accompany the hero on the journey, however it is the opposite in this case (6). On the other hand, “mankind” could very well be either the doctor or Mathilda, and “Good and Evil” could be represented by themselves and the other, respectively. Moreover, Mathilda’s eventual defeat can be categorized as her archetypal Fall, or “the descent from a higher to a lower state of being usually as a punishment for transgression. It also involves the loss of innocence” (3). Mathilda tried very diligently transgress her circumstance as a child, or victim, and exert power over the situation. Her failure was a result of a stronger hand putting her back into her place. Ultimately, the doctor “overpowered the child’s neck and jaws. [Forced] the heavy silver spoon back of her teeth and down her throat till she gagged.” Mathilda, being overpowered physically and being penetrated by a symbolically phallic object, lost a piece of her innocence as well.
William Carlos Williams uses Jungian archetypes in “The Use of Force” as a tool to illuminate the innate nature of the conflict between Mathilda and the doctor. Such archetypes are well represented through characterization, the structure of the piece, and the conflict within itself. Recognizing the universality of literature as a part of the collective unconscious brings the patterns in which we all unconsciously respond to a conscious level, making “The Use of Force” more than mere fiction, but an allegory of the power dynamics that engulf humanity.
“Archetypes.” (2015): n. pag. Hccfl.edu. Hillsborough Community College, 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Williams, William Carlos. “The Use of Force–William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).” The Use of Force–William Carlos Williams (1883-1963). B&L Associates, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.