The Green Mile Summary

Stephen King

The Green Mile

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The Green Mile Summary

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At Cold Mountain Penitentiary in Georgia, no one on death row has heard of evil crimes the likes of John Correy’s; Correy was convicted of raping and murdering two little girls, who happened to be twin sisters. In The Green Mile, a novel by Steven King originally published as a serial novel in six parts, guards and inmates share all the heights and depths of human possibility: from demonic depravity to apparently angelic, miracle healings.

When Correy arrives on death row, called the Green Mile for the color of its linoleum, captain of the guards Paul Edgecombe already watches over the depraved psychopath “Billy the Kid” Wharton and the possessed Eduard “Del” Delacroix, as well as the sadistic guard Percy Wetmore. It is 1932, and the electric chair, “Old Sparky,” awaits the prisoners’ final, earthly judgment. Paul tells the story in first person, relating events that happened in 1932 to Elaine Connelly in 1996, while they are both living in Georgia Pines, a nursing home.

The guards deal with the truly depraved among the inmates, who are certainly guilty of their murderous crimes, including Wharton, who attempted to strangle a guard and causes as much trouble as he can, including urinating on those who must pass by his cell. However, John Correy puzzles them all: a gentle, quiet, simple-minded, powerfully-built black man, standing 6’ 8” tall, who barely knows his own name, weeps constantly and is afraid of the dark, but who was convicted of planning a detailed crime that involved evading a guard dog to lure two young, white girls out of their house at night. Is he a demon or something else altogether?

Percy Wetmore, who enjoys tormenting both the other guards and the prisoners, must be endured because he is the nephew of the Governor’s wife. When Percy receives a transfer to another facility, he refuses to leave until he is able to witness an execution. Reluctantly, Paul allows Percy to run Del’s execution. Predictably, Percy deliberately botches the execution, omitting to soak the sponge in brine that is used inside the helmet of the electric chair to ensure a quick death, causing Del to catch on fire and to die in an excruciating, prolonged fashion.

John, who is extremely empathetic to the feelings and pain of others, heals Paul of a urinary tract infection, amazing all on the mile. One night, the guards drug Wharton and put a straightjacket on Percy and imprison him in a padded holding cell, to smuggle Coffey out of the prison, secretly, to heal the inoperable brain tumor of the Warden’s wife, Melinda Moores. Coffey heals Melinda, but on his return to the prison, he “puts” the disease into Percy. Percy goes mad, shooting and killing Wharton. Thereafter, Percy falls into a catatonic state and is committed to the insane asylum, Briar Ridge.

As Paul long suspected, he discovers that John is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. John learned, when Wharton grabbed his arm one time, that Wharton himself committed the crimes for which John was convicted. However, John will not allow Paul to do anything about it: John is ready to die, to escape this cruel world. John’s execution is the last that Paul supervises at the prison.

The significant, but ambiguous, theme of the novel explores the sadistic depravity and the selfless goodness of which people are capable: beyond good versus evil, the theme reveals that both the evil and the good frequently fail to receive justice in this world. At times, King suggests, the good must use their powers to wreak vengeance on the evil, as when John afflicts Percy with madness. However, John, in turn, chooses to die, wrongly convicted, rather than exist in this hateful world. Now 104 years old, Paul ends his days alone, his wife having died in a tragic bus accident in 1956, his life ironically prolonged by John’s healing.

There are no happy endings and no satisfactory explanations in this novel: evil and good both exist and seem to operate independently of one another—the only check upon evil seems to be the earthly actions of the good to hold evil accountable. However, there are also no certain rewards for the good, any more than there is certain justice for the wicked. Moral ambiguity rules the day and the world that King creates.