The Green Mile Themes
by Stephen King

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The Green Mile Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although King depicts the moral issues surrounding the death penalty in black and white, The Green Mile's depiction of God's role in human affairs is extraordinarily ambivalent. Unfailingly ethical in his response to events, Paul Edgecomb, was raised in what he jokingly calls the "Church of Praise Jesus, the Lord is Mighty." While, by 1932, his descriptions of the religious fervor of his childhood have an ironic edge, he has retained the habit of interpreting events in scriptural terms. Witnessing the healing of a dying woman was, Paul says, akin to seeing "the scales fall from Saul's eyes on the Road to Damascus . . ." (Coffey on the Mile). Paul (and, with him, the reader) believe that Coffey's healing both of Paul's urinary infection and of Melinda's brain tumor are miracles.

Yet Paul moves from traditional Christianity to anger at a God whose acts of mercy are arbitrarily parceled out. In 1932, Paul's healing makes him wonder what God wants of him: "to meditate on God's will, and the extraordinary lengths to which God has gone to realize His will" (Coffey's Hands). Yet, toward the end of his life, Paul is furious with God for permitting injustice, hideous suffering, and unavenged evil.

Thus, The Green Mile progresses spiritually in the opposite direction from Desperation, published the same year (see separate entry). Manipulated by God into battling a demon, Desperation's David Carver reiterates that "God is cruel," only to learn, at the end, that God is really love. In The Green Mile, God had, in 1932, sent the mouse, Mr. Jingles, to comfort Del in his last weeks. In the same year, God's "suffering servant," Coffey, had healed the sick and (sometimes) raised the dead. Yet, as an old man, Paul feels betrayed by that same God, who had permitted Paul's beloved wife, Janet, to die in a bus accident. Of human suffering, Paul concludes: "If it happens, God lets it happen, and when we say "I don't understand," God replies, "I don't care" (Coffey on the Mile). Paul's progressively more angry and ambivalent spiritual questioning keeps The Green Mile from simplistic moralism.