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Defense of a Killer William Carlos Williams 1883-1963 was a Pulitzer Prize winning author whose works included poetry novels essays and plays In addition he was also a practicing physician and he sustained his medical practice in Rutherford New Jersey throughout his life The short story interpreted here is one based on his medical practice during Americas Great Depression The story Use of Force published in the 1938 collection Life along the Passaic River is about the relationship between a doctor and a patient who is terrified of him The doctors frustration over the deaths of at least two children drives his determination beyond reason in his desire to stop the disease and avert an epidemic The girls appearance in addition to his obvious affection and admiration for her fighting spirit masks the terrible disease that lies within and its epidemic potential Being fully aware of the possible dire consequences of not making the correct diagnosis the doctor resorts to behavior not uncommon when one encounters opposition to what is clearly against what is best for all concerned One element of the frustration that the doctor feels is that he has prior knowledge of the disease circulating through the little girls school having seen a number of cases of diphtheria in the school to which the child went during that month though no one had as yet spoken of the thing The disease being of a contagious nature would surely travel from child to child in an enclosed area such as a schoolroom He further illustrates his frustration when he relates to an experience he has had when he states I have seen at least two children lying dead in bed of neglect in such cases and again when he is venting the anger that he feels toward the mother who repeatedly refers to him as a nice man He clarifies it for her in pure and simple terms Im
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