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. There are intriguing parallels between the two eras. The older Paul is harassed by the brutal aide Brad Dolan, a double of Percy Wetmore. At Georgia Pines, Brad Dolan displays the same all-consuming, motiveless malice for the aging Paul that Wetmore had displayed for the inmate, Delacroix. The threat of exploiting political connections figures in both the frame and the story proper. Wetmore is protected from the consequences of his outrageous cruelty because he is related to the governor. At Georgia Pines, the shoe is on the other foot. Paul's friend, Elaine Connelly, protects Paul by threatening that she will report Brad's brutal conduct to her grandson, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Even within the 1932 period, events come in twos. Coffey performs two healings. There are two sets of twins, both victims of a senseless attack by a being their family had trusted. The little Detterick girls had been murdered by a man who had shared the family's meals for several days while painting their barn. Investigating the girls' murders, Paul meets the twin son of newspaper reporter Hammersmith; the boy had been mangled by the beloved family dog who had been gentle and loving with the children up to the time of his unprovoked attack.
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:...
(The entire section is 2,851 words.)