The Green Mile is a serialized novel in six installments: The Two Dead Girls, The Mouse on the Mile, Coffey's Hands, The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix, Night Journey, and Coffey on the Mile. In his "Foreword" to the first installment, The Two Dead Girls, King explains his decision to serialize The Green Mile. An admirer of Charles Dickens, King planned a series of chapbooks, modeled on the nineteenth-century practice. King believed that his "constant readers" would, thereby, experience the story more intensely. They could neither "gulp" the story at a single sitting nor cheat by peeking at the ending. The installments of The Green Mile were issued monthly, beginning with The Two Dead Girls (March 1996) and ending with Coffey on the Mile (August 1996). The first installment, King stated, appeared before he knew how the story would end. While the experiment was successful in terms of sales, King admits in his "Afterword" that the book shows signs of haste and that some of the details of the 1930s milieu were anachronistic. Were The Green Mile to be published in a single volume, it would need revision.
In The Green Mile, King uses the literary device of the "frame story." The story of the executions and healings at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary is framed by glimpses of narrator and protagonist Paul Edgecombe at 104 years of age, writing his story in a nursing home....
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Each successive chapbook ends with an invitation to "Enter The Green Mile Contest!" Contestants were asked to write a fifty-word response to a question pertaining to that particular volume. King's questions provide a good starting point for discussion of each volume. Both the serial format and the discussion questions reflect King's desire to engage in an ongoing dialog with his "constant readers."
The Two Dead Girls: "Why does the mouse, Mr. Jingles, choose Delacroix as its special friend?"
The Mouse on the Mile: "It is said in the book that the guards have no real power over the prisoners on the Green Mile. What does this mean?"
Coffey's hands: "King constantly portrays Percy much less sympathetically than Delacroix or Coffey. What is he trying to say?"
The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix: "Brad Dolan, the orderly at Georgia Pines, reminds the narrator of Percy Wetmore. What similarities do the two of them share?"
Night Journey: "The narrator, Paul Edgecombe, has a strange dream on the way back from Warden Moore's house. What do you think the dream means?"
Coffey on the Mile: "Would you like to have John Coffey's 'Gift'? Why or why not?"
The Green Mile might fruitfully be discussed in conjunction with books, fiction and non-fiction, that provide in-depth looks at prisoners, especially those facing execution. Percy Wetmore brings John Coffey onto E Block shouting: "Dead man walking! Dead man walking here!" (The Two Dead Girls). The allusion is to the book by Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States (1993), or to the film based upon it. Other works with a prison milieu are Brendan Beham's play, The Quart Fellow, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song (1979; see separate entry); Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1965; see separate entry); Jack Henry Abbott's In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison (1981); and Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice (1967).
1. Discuss what Paul has to say about his own writing process and the effect that reliving events in 1932 have on him in the present. Why is he compelled to relive events that are so painful for him?
2. What parallels do you...
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One of the trademarks of Stephen King's writing is the moral earnestness with which he approaches a wide range of social issues. The Green Mile is, however, the most overtly didactic of his works. Its purpose is to kindle the reader's outrage at the inhumanity and capriciousness of the death penalty. Victims of the death penalty are, King suggests, overwhelmingly, the poor, social or racial minorities, or the mentally impaired. The three men executed during the course of the novel are a Native American, a lowlife French Canadian, and a man who is both black and retarded. In contrast, "the President," a well-connected white man who had killed his father, stays on E Block only briefly before his sentence is commuted to life in prison. The Green Mile's descriptions of "routine" executions are merely heartbreaking; Delacroix's slow death during an execution deliberately sabotaged by a sadistic guard is one of the most harrowing scenes in King's entire corpus.
Among the powerful rhetorical strategies used to arouse the reader's repugnance toward capital punishment is King's choice of narrator. Paul Edgecombe, the self-described "bull-goose screw" of Cold Mountain Prison's E Block (death row), combines a powerful empathy with the condemned men with a tendency to ponder the ethical and spiritual implications of events. He and the essentially decent (with one exception) men he supervises keep the prisoners closely warehoused, prepare them for...
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Stephen King is one of the most allusive of all contemporary fiction writers. Because he is a voracious, eclectic reader and motion picture viewer, references to an amazingly wide range of sources crop up in his works. Part of the fun of reading The Green Mile is being one of the insiders who recognizes echoes, not only of Poe, Lovecraft, and other horror writers, but of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1937; see separate entry); the noir films White Heat (1949) and Kiss of Death (1947); and the Bible.
Readers may wish to explore The Green Mile's many biblical references. In John Coffey, King alludes both to the Isaiah's servant and to Jesus. Coffey is burdened with such an empathy for suffering humanity that he weeps continually, recalling Isaiah's description of the suffering servant: "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: . . . and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53: 4-5). In Paul's dream about the crucifixion, Coffey stands in for Christ. Paul and the guards, "Brutal," Harry, and Dean, are Centurions crucifying John Coffey, flanked by Percy Wetmore (the bad thief) and Eduard Delacroix (the good thief). Like Isaiah's servant and Christ, Coffey suffers violence and scorn from those he came to help.
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In The Green Mile's frame story, Paul Edgecomb enjoys a "special friendship" with Elaine Connelly. Their twilight years romance is reminiscent of the courtship of self-described "Old Crock," Ralph Roberts, and Lois Chasse in King's Insomnia (1994). At sixty-eight, Lois is hounded by grown children trying to put her in a nursing home. In both books, King shows his profound sympathy with senior citizens in danger of losing their personal autonomy. Even the best nursing homes are, King suggests, another kind of death row.
Old age is one of many kinds of imprisonment, literal and figurative, found in King's fiction. The younger Paul Edgecombe has been forced to participate in the deaths of more than seventy human beings because he is a prisoner of Depression economics. The warden's wife, Melinda Moore, is imprisoned by a terminal illness. Melinda, Paul, and, of course, the prisoners on E Block join the many other prisoners in King's novels: e.g., Jessie Burlingame handcuffed to her bed in Gerald's Game (1992; see separate entry); Paul Sheldon in a deserted Colorado farmhouse, a captive of his "number one fan" (Misery, 1987; see separate entry); Stu Redman locked in the secret government medical facility in The Stand (1978).
"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" (Different Seasons, 1982) and The Green Mile are the King works set in a penitentiary. Both question society's arbitrariness of labeling some persons worthy of incarceration and even execution, while others, sometimes more evil than they, exercise power over them. Andy Dufresne, an innocent man, has been sentenced...
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Audiobooks were issued simultaneously with each chapbook. The entire unabridged version of The Green Mile takes up twelve sound cassettes and runs for eighteen hours. All are read by Frank Muller, whose folksy delivery provides a splendid recreation of King's hard-working, decent, Southern Protestant narrator, Paul Edgecombe. Muller has narrated other Audiobooks based on King's works: Different Seasons, Skeleton Crew (1985), The Mist (1985), and The Regulators.
The Green Mile has appeared in Hebrew (Tel Aviv: Modan, 1996) and in Spanish (Barcelona: Plaza & Janes, 1996).
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