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February 2, 2012

The Girl with a Pimply Face by William Carlos Williams- Summary

The Girl with a Pimply Face by William Carlos Williams- Summary

Two doctors were sitting around having lunch when a druggist called and asked for a doctor to go and visit a sick baby that had just come home from the hospital. The doctor that had talked to the druggist asked the other doctor if he wanted to go, he begrudgingly obliged. The doctor was told to go to 50 Summer St.; apparently, they had had a doctor before, but they didn't like him.

The doctor arrived at the place around two-thirty in the afternoon and knocked on the glass door. The doctor knew this apartment well, because he had visited the fluctuating residents that had lived there over the years. A loud voice invited him. When he opened the door he saw a girl, who looked about fifteen, with black limp hair, pimply complexion, and a droopy eyelid sitting at the kitchen table. She asked him what he wanted with a tough, straight forward attitude that made him take an instant liking to her. He told her that he was the doctor, and she asked if he wanted to see the baby. He said yes, and then asked if her mother was in. She told the doctor that she didn't know where her mother was or when she was coming back, but she would permit him to see the baby. She let him to an unlit room in the front of the apartment. He saw a yellow skinned, emaciated baby tightly bundled up in a blue blanket. The girl, chewing her gum enthusiastically, seemed indifferent about her baby sister's health. He asked the girl again when she expected her mother to be home. She said that she might be back in about an hour, but he might want to wait until her father came home around five, because he speaks English. He began questioning the girl again about the baby. He asked her if the baby had a fever or diarrhea. She told him that the baby had been at the hospital, but it kept getting sicker so her father brought it home. He asked her what they were feeding the baby, and she pointed the bottle of milk lying next to the baby. The girl offered to let him examine the baby, but he said no.

The doctor had lost interest in the child, and was currently curious about this straight forward girl. "She had breasts you knew would be like small stones to the hand, good muscular arms and fine hard legs. Her bare feet were stuck into broken down leather sandals such as you see worn by children at the beach in summer. She was heavily tanned too, wherever her skin showed...A tough little nut finding her own way in the world" (312-3). He began to examine the girl. He asked her what was wrong with her legs, and she told them that it was poison ivy; he told her that it looked more like mosquitoes, but she was adamant that it was poison ivy. Next, he asked her about the brown spot on her foot. She guessed that it was dirt, and he asked her why she didn't wash it. She replied that she does, and quickly changed the subject to what she could do for her face. He told her that she should start by buying some good soap like Lux, and wash her face every day, and her acne will clear up in about a month. He also told her that there was a lotion that she could use along with the soap that would help; he told her to remind him about it later. He then asked her why she wasn't in school to which she replied that she didn't want to go. He asked her if she was going to get a job; she told him that she made three fifty a week helping the Jews across the hall. The doctor left, and said that he would come back around five o'clock when her father was home.

The doctor returned to the apartment around five thirty that evening, the mother answered the door. "She was impressive, a bulky woman, growing toward fifty, in a black dress, with lank graying hair and a long seamed face" (314). He said hello to the girl that he had met earlier, but she didn't respond. The mother begged the doctor in her broken English (they were foreigners (Russians most likely, and English was not her first language). The doctor asked the interpreter what had happened, and she said that the baby was sick so they took it to the hospital, but it got worse so that morning the father took the baby home. The mother overheard their conversation and agreed with the interpreter, she added that the baby was there for five days and it cost two dollars a day, which she couldn't afford. The doctor asked the interpreter what happened, and she told him that the baby had gotten diarrhea while at the hospital, and she was dirty. The mother added that she had a sore behind. She made a point to say that her baby was NEVER that way. The doctor asked the mom to take the baby's clothes off. He asked her if the baby vomits, and the mom said that she doesn't eat so how can she vomit. The other woman chimed in that the baby had been vomiting in the hospital. The doctor explained to them that there had been an epidemic of infectious diarrhea in the hospital lately, but the baby looked too lifeless for it to just have diarrhea. The mother tried to keep the baby covered with the blanket while she was undressing it, because the baby was skin and bones. The mom turned the baby over to let the doctor see the baby's red bottom. He found that the baby had a severe congenital heart defect; the mother began crying when she heard the news. She desperately pleaded with him to fix her baby, and she even promised him twenty dollars if he could fix her baby. He asked her what they were feeding the baby, and the formula was not very good so he instructed them on what they should be feeding her. The doctor said he would come back in three days to check on the baby. The mother thanked the doctor, but told him that she wouldn't be able to pay him that day because she had to pay ten dollars to the hospital and she didn't have any more money. The girl from earlier that day asked for the cream he had promised her, so he wrote her a prescription for lotio alba comp. He told them that he would be back on Friday to check on the baby.

The girl followed him down the stairs and asked him how much the lotion was going to cost. He told her to tell the pharmacist that it was only worth half a dollar, and no matter what don't pay more than that. She asked him if he had a half a dollar, and he gave it to her.

When the doctor got home his wife asked him about the case, and he told her all about them. She asked if they paid him, and he said no.

When the doctor went to the apartment on Friday the father was there. The father was a "thickset man in baggy working pants and a heavy cotton undershirt. He seemed to have the stability of a cube placed on one of its facets, a smooth, highly colored Slavic face, long black moustaches and widely separated, perfectly candid blue eyes. His black hair, glossy and profuse stood out carelessly all over his large round head" (319). The father asked him if he was the doctor. He also said that the baby wasn't any better. The doctor asked if the baby still had diarrhea and was vomiting; the father said no, and the doctor said that the baby must be better. Once the doctor had examined the baby he told them that the baby was indeed better, but the heart was still the same. The mother was still hysterical and kissed his hand through her tears. The doctor finally realized that the woman had been drinking. He looked to the father, who looked completely indifferent to the situation. The doctor was deeply upset by the circumstances that this baby was born into.

The next morning, a visiting doctor asked him if he knew anything about a couple of Russians that he had come to see the previous week. The doctor said yes. The visiting doctor told him that the family said they couldn't afford to pay him, so the doctor went to the courthouse to check it out. It turns out that the father was a road worker who made eighteen dollars a week. The mother has a "whiskey appetite" (320). The visiting doctor told him to make sure that they paid him. He asked about the girl, and the visiting doctor told him that she has about a dozen wise guys chasing her around every night.

The last time that he went over to check on the baby, the girl was wearing her gym outfit. He asked how the baby was, and she told him that she was fine and eating. Her face had definitely cleared up.


Williams, William Carlos. "The Girl with a Pimply Face." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 310-322.