The Girl with a Pimply Face

Williams, William Carlos

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Woodcock, John
  • Date of entry: Jul-05-2001
  • Last revised: Jul-08-2009


In the time of house calls, the doctor-narrator is summoned to care for an ailing newborn. He discovers hospital-caused diarrhea and a severe congenital heart problem that can't be fixed. He also discovers the baby's fifteen-year-old sister, who has a bad case of acne and a direct, no-nonsense style that he finds very attractive.

The narrator's colleagues ridicule his interest in a family consisting of alcoholic and deceptive parents and a daughter who is not only chronically truant but notoriously promiscuous sexually. (To the narrator's enthusiasm about the young girl, his wife responds, "What! another?") In spite of these warnings, the narrator returns several times, probably without compensation, to check on the baby's diarrhea and feeding and to help the girl with her complexion.


The environment is a familiar one to Williams readers: a Depression-era economically marginal immigrant urban neighborhood. Of particular interest in this story are the narrator's stand against his medical colleagues, whose unsympathetic cynicism the story compares unfavorably to the narrator's arguable naiveté. Other familiar themes are Williams's love of straight-talking and his fascination with women, in this case combined in the adolescent daughter, whose physique the narrator observes in quasi-sexual ways that make some readers uncomfortable.

Whatever his thoughts, the narrator's actions bring only good. (As in Williams's "The Use of Force," the narrator's confession to us makes the story much more interesting than what an observer of the story's exterior action might see.) The baby gets better, at least superficially, the girl's complexion improves. And she goes back to school. "I had tuh," she explains to the narrator who is in love with her toughness, in the story's last words.


First published: 1938

Primary Source

The Doctor Stories


New Directions

Place Published

Norfolk, Conn.



Secondary Source

The Farmers' Daughters: The Collected Stories of William Carlos Williams