The Green Mile Questions and Answers
by Stephen King

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What are examples of postmodernism in The Green Mile?

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Nicholas Montfort eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Postmodernism in relationship to The Green Mile by Stephen King is an incredibly fascinating question. The Green Mile, first published as a series released in parts--similar to the way old Dickens novels would be released--is the perfect bridge in asking the question of how it differs from earlier, twentieth century modernistic literature. I believe the most important showing of how The Green Mile is a work of postmodernism, is in its major theme--that we each owe a death, and at the same time, have each earned one.

In modernism, the inner self takes precedence in the work. Modernistic literature is often reflective from a character standpoint, and beyond that, reflective of reality in a truer sense. One thinks of someone like Ernest Hemingway and his prose, that is very much true to life and does not deviate into ethereal devices to achieve thematic purpose. Meanwhile, in King’s novel, the spiritual and the things that we do not understand are very much at the forefront of the novel, as typical of postmodernism. John Coffey is a character that is essentially, a true child of God. With that, we are forced to suspend reality in a sense, but in another sense, Coffey’s character is a device to ask the question of atonement, and if we can overcome our sins to earn a death.

Paul Edgecomb, the protagonist of The Green Mile, is in almost all regards, a good man. However, his penance for having John Coffey walk the mile to the electric chair, is that he is forced to grow old. He is forced to watch his wife die, and his children die, and all of his friends. For the sin of allowing one of God’s true creations to die, he owes his life--his atonement is in not being granted a death.

The theme of The Green Mile does not necessitate it being defined as postmodernist, but the way in which we are forced to ask the question of atonement, death, and God’s role, is what makes The Green Mile a postmodern work of literature.

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