The Green Mile Characters
by Stephen King

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The Green Mile Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Because The Green Mile is an anti-capital punishment exemplum, characters are defined morally in the simplest terms. King emphasizes the fundamental humanity of the two men who are the first to be executed, Arlen Bitterbuck and Eduard Delacroix. While King tells the reader that the two men are murderers, he shows them speaking and acting with such dignity, love, and simple faith that one perceives their executions as evil, unnatural acts. Sentenced to die for crushing a man's head with a cement block in a drunken argument, Arlen Bitterbuck ("The Chief) fantasizes about a mountain lodge in Montana, where he hopes to return after death. Mass murderer Delacroix lovingly cares for his pet mouse and, before going to the electric chair, recites the "Hail Mary" in French.

The other characters in The Green Mile are polarized between totally evil and unequivocally decent. William "Billy the Kid" Wharton (a death row inmate), Percy Wetmore and Brad Dolan are sadists with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Like George Stark (The Dark Half), Wharton joys in inflicting pain and humiliation on others. Choking prison guard Dean Stanton with the chain on his handcuff, Wharton cries gleefully: "Whoooee, boys!. . . Ain't this a party, now?" (The Mouse on the Mile). In King's fictional universe, child abuse is the blackest crime of all. Therefore, when Wharton, the savage murderer-rapist of the Detterick twins, is shot by Percy, the reader is relieved and delighted.

Because Percy Wetmore (in 1932) and Brad Dolan (in 1996) are both motivated by a single-minded compulsion to bully the institutionalized people in their power, they become confused in the mind of the 104-year-old Paul Edgecombe. In contrast to Paul, who works in death row because the Depression offers him few employment options, Percy had used his relationship with the governor to become a prison guard because he wanted to view an electrocution up close. Brad inflicts pain on elderly residents, secure that the Georgia Pines administration will regard them as delusional if they complain. King, characteristically, uses the books and magazines that characters read to suggest their moral nature: Percy's fascination with executions has been fueled by Argosy and Men's Adventure; Brad reads (and searches for put-downs) Gross Jokes and Sick Jokes. In painting Percy and Brad so blackly, King suggests that prisons, nursing homes, and other institutions are magnets for sadists, who can, with impunity, inflict pain on a helpless or unresisting population.

Unlike Percy, Paul Edgecombe and the guards he supervises are committed to easing the suffering of the condemned criminals during their last days. The guard who is most fully developed as a character, Brutus Howell,...

(The entire section is 667 words.)