, Research Paper
The Green Mile, March 1999
Stephen King, 1947-?
Summary: John Coffey is brought to Cold Mountain accused of rape and murder. It becomes known that he has a healing touch. Paul Edgecombe, the superintendent, has sympathy for Coffey and later finds out that Coffey is indeed innocent, but can find no way to stop the execution. Coffey proclaimed that he wanted to go and thus allowed Paul to accept Coffey s fate as he must, and go on with his life.
Central Characters: Paul Edgecombe, probably over 100, narrator, was the head of E block (death row) at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Paul faces an internal struggle between what his job wants him to do and what he sometimes knows is the right thing. Kind and gentle, he recounts this episode of his life from Georgia Pines, his retirement home. John Coffey is a huge, muscular black man but is very slow in the mental sense, brought into a situation where death surrounds him, yet he has the power to heal by his own touch.
Other Characters: Dean Stanton, Harry Terwilliger, Brutus Howell, and Percy Wetmore were all guards on E block. Percy was the most significant; he was a banty-rooster sort of guy. He liked to pick fights. He represented the fears of Paul Edgecombe. Though it is not obvious at the beginning, it becomes clearer as Paul ages. Toot-Toot was portrayed as a jester to lighten the mood of the story. His humor is what kept the other guards sane. Hal (Warden) Moores was the warden of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Melinda Moores, Hal s wife, is portrayed as a sick elderly woman. She is used in the story to demonstrate the miraculous healing power that John Coffey held. Janice Edgecombe was Paul s wife. She died in a bus accident, setting up the character of Elaine Connelly, who Paul met at the retirement center in his later years. Eduard Delacroix was a tiny, timid Frenchman sentenced to die in old sparky s lap. He was the owner of the mouse named Mr. Jingles and he was used through his execution to portray Percy s evil nature and to set up the death scene for John Coffey. William (Billy the Kid) Warton was a sadistic man who was sentenced to death at Cold Mountain also. He was the only person that Percy Wetmore was afraid of. William intimidated Percy just as Percy intimidated everyone else. It becomes later known that William was the one who committed the crime for which Coffey was being executed. Brad Dolan worked at Georgia Pines. He acted just like Percy once did and that scared Paul in his elderly years. Brad was cruel, heartless, and thrived on the pain of others.
Setting: Cold Mountain Penitentiary, particularly E block during the early 1930s. During the depression this was just about the only job the guards had to choose from. Paul writes this story from his room in the Georgia Pines Retirement Center.
Point of view: When describing events of E block Paul uses first person omniscient, while his life in the retirement center is told in first person limited.
Tone: Sympathy for Paul Edgecombe, sadness and remorse for John Coffey.
Irony: John Coffey, a healer, is executed for the murder of the two girls that he tried to save. Paul can t stand Percy Wetmore, yet when he grows old and is living in the retirement center he is pestered by Brad Dolan who reminds him of the heartless Percy in his days as E block superintendent. After years of being lonely, Paul finds a woman, Elaine Connelly, who reminds him in every way of his wife Janice, who was tragically killed in a bus accident.
Theme: Life itself is bittersweet.
Symbols: Mr. Jingles, Delacroix s mouse, was symbolic of everything good on the Green Mile. He was symbolic of the only joy that E block held. The mouse brought compassion to all the guards except for Percy Wetmore, who tried to kill the rodent . The Green Mile symbolized our journey through life, and the electric chair symbolized its end. The bugs that came out of Coffey s mouth following the healings were symbolic of the sickness leaving. He inhaled the sickness or ailment of each person (and the mouse) that he healed into himself. The bugs leaving his mouth signified that the sickness was cured, and that he had indeed helped .
Evaluation: Paul so perfectly put into words his own life, and even more so his burden of living. Paul is really the tragic character of the story. Paul is probably over 100 years old, and has come to the point where he doesn t want to live any longer. Where John Coffey was able to die when he came to the conclusion that the world didn t want him, Paul is trapped in a body that seems to fend off almost every illness due to Coffey s healing Paul s urinary tract infection. He has seen everyone close to him die, worst of all surviving a bus crash that took his beloved wife, while barely injuring him. The last part of the journey through Paul s life explains the hardships he has faced, and how he now wishes for death much like Coffey did. He learns that he has no control over his own destiny no matter how much he wishes that it could be different. Ending the story he explains: We each owe a death, there are no exceptions, I know that, but sometimes, oh God, the Green Mile is so long.