The Green Mile

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"This happened in 1932, when the state penitentiary was still at Cold Mountain. And the electric chair was there too, of course."
Paul Edgecombe

1996 dramatic novel by Stephen King. Originally released as a Serial Novel in six installments.

The year was 1932 (1935 in the movie). John Coffey, a Gentle Giant black man, has been condemned to die by the electric chair for the raping and killing of two young girls. What follows is a supernatural journey that not only reveals Coffey's wondrous powers and proves he didn't do the crime: but still does the time, but changes the lead guard's life forever.

Eventually made into a movie in 1999, directed by Frank Darabont, who also directed The Shawshank Redemption, and starring Tom Hanks. And like Shawshank, it was an Oscar charmer, if not a winner.


Tropes used in The Green Mile include:
  • Anachronism Stew: Neither Allen's Alley nor Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge had premiered in 1932. King acknowledges this in the afterword.
    • Though a Popeye Tijuana Bible was plausible, and the mouse could've been named Steamboat Willy after either the Mickey Mouse short or the Buster Keaton film it parodied.
  • Angel Unaware: Mr. Jingles may or may not be a angel.
  • Ask a Stupid Question: Warder Moores' wife, Melinda, has a brain tumor, which causes her to swear uncontrollably. When Paul is on the phone with Moores and asks him if he'll be home at the evening, he answers: "No, I'm taking Melinda out squaredancing. We're going to do-si-do, allemand left, and then tell the fiddler he's a rooster-dick motherfucker." Paul has to force himself not to laugh.
  • Attention Deficit Creator Disorder: Turning the novel into a serial helped make things more bearable for King.
  • Axe Crazy: William "Wild Bill" Wharton.
  • Benevolent Boss: Warden Hal Moores, while somewhat gruff and authoritative, nonetheless cares for the men under his charge, treats the prisoners decently enough, and is a devoted family man. Especially when placed in contrast with a certain other warden from a different Stephen King story.
    • Paul Edgecombe as well.
    • Authority Equals Asskicking: To show how tough he is, Edgecomb tells a story of how Moores faced down a prisoner with a shank. It ended with the prisoner on the ground with a broken wrist, calling for his mommy. Moores replies, "I'm not her, but if I were, I'd hike up my skirts and piss on you from the loins that gave you birth."
  • Berserk Button: Wharton likes his nickname to be Billy the Kid, not Wild Bill. Wharton earns himself some time in solitary by abusing a guard. Paul Edgecombe calls him Wild Bill while applying a straitjacket, and gets back a writhing, agonized lecture about the difference between the two names. "Brutal" Howell proceeds to lean in to the restrained Wharton and push that red, shiny, jolly candy-like button with both hands.
  • Big Electric Switch: Labeled "Mabel's Hair Drier (sic)".
  • Blatant Lies: "I didn't know the sponge was supposed to be wet."
  • Blessed with Suck: Coffey. "It's like pieces of glass in my head. All the time."
    • Edgecombe's long life. "Sometimes there is absolutely no difference at all between salvation and damnation."
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Wharton. When Coffey calls him "a bad man" he responds: "That's right, nigger. Bad as you'd want."
    • But you also have to remember that this was the South in the '30s, where the N-word was thrown about like it was nothing. However, none of the good guys say it without filtering it through another voice or shaming someone else.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Delacroix's botched execution. Its not called "The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix" for nothing.
  • Deadly Distant Finale: In each character's last appearance, Paul describes their eventual fate. Pretty much every major character in the book is covered.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Paul mentions that during his time, there was only one woman in the death row, who put up with years of her husband beating her, but when she found out that he's having an affair, she killed him right away.
  • December-December Romance: Paul and Elaine.
  • Deep South
  • Dirty Coward: Percy. Emphasis on dirty.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: See the Nightmare Fuel entry in the YMMV section? Percy did that because Delacroix laughed at him for pissing himself when Wharton grabbed him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?
  • Downer Ending: Edgecombe is spiritually broken after executing Coffey, and is still alive sixty years later, hoping he'll die before any more of his friends do.
  • Dramatic Wind
  • Electric Torture: ...Sort of.
  • Empathic Healer
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The installment/chapter titled "The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix".
  • Fate Worse Than Death: One can say Coffey inflicted this on Percy. And Paul. The former intentionally, the latter not.
  • Fiery Coverup: Part of the crime that put Delacroix on the Mile.
  • Flying Dutchman: Paul, at least to some degree.
  • Framing Device: Georgia Pines nursing home.
  • Full-Name Basis: Most of the guards called John Coffey by his full name. Most of the other prisoners got nicknames like The Chief and The President.
  • Gentle Giant: John Coffey and Brutal Howell.
  • Healing Hands: Coffey's powers require him to be able to touch his patients, as close to the injury as possible. Thus is he mistaken for a murderer: when the posse finds a Scary Black Man with a mangled white girl under each arm, bloody hands pressing their crushed skulls, who would believe he had found them that way and was trying to heal them using magic? Also creates an awkward situation when Coffey heals Edgecombe's groin infection.
  • Irony: Percy ends up insane and is committed, as a patient, to the very same hospital he'd wanted to transfer into. Basically a Karmic Death without the death.
    • Similarly, Dean Stanton, whom the other guards had protected on account of his kids, is the first of the four main guards to die.
  • Jerkass: Percy Wetmore.
  • Karmic Death: Delacroix, on Death Row for rape and murder by arson, basically burns to death during his botched execution.
  • Kick the Dog: Two by Percy; when he stomps Mr. Jingles and what he says to Delcroix about Mousfield not existing before executing him.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The prison guards do this to Percy a lot.
  • The Lancer: "Brutal" (although he also qualifies as a Big Guy).
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: Subverted; Edgcomb makes it a point to say the governor's line next to Old Sparky never rang. Both commutations (to a black woman who killed her womanizing husband and an insurance salesman who killed his father to collect the insurance money) were well before they were scheduled to be executed.
  • Let Them Die Happy: A basic rule of the care of the condemned, and another reason Percy's a Jerkass is that he broke the rule with a condemned in the chair...
  • Long Lived: Paul and Mr. Jingles, as a result of being cured by John Coffey, wind up "cured" of everything for the rest of their lives. Functionally, this means they keep aging but are immune to everything that would eventually kill them. When Paul is telling the story, he's over 100, and Mr. Jingles - a freaking mouse, - is over 60. Paul considers it his punishment for allowing Coffey to be executed. However, Mr. Jingles does finally die, so the punishment will end someday.
  • Magical Negro: Literally.
  • Magical Realism: A textbook example.
  • Meaningful Name: John Coffey - King even joked about how blatant it was in On Writing.
  • Nobody Poops: Heavily subverted, as Edgecombe's urinary infection became a plot point.
    • Wharton pisses on a passing guard: promising "I'm also cooking up some turds to go with it, nice soft ones!", and scares Percy into soiling himself with threat of buggery.
    • Percy soils himself again (out both ends) when Coffey infects him with the disease he took from Melinda, and then he goes catatonic.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Dramatic example. Coffey is found with the bodies of the raped and murdered girls in his arms. When he's asked what happened, he says: "I couldn't help it. I tried to take it back, but it was too late!" Everybody assumes that he killed the girls, and was talking about his own murderous impulses. Actually, he found them and tried to heal them, but it was too late for that.
  • Offscreen Villainy: Used deliberately to allow audience sympathy. Remember, the men on death row are there because they were convicted of murder. Yet because we never witness the crimes of Delacroix or Bitterbuck, only their last days, we get to know them as people and not just criminals.
  • The Rainman: Coffey, as well as being a Magical Negro.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Everyone throws one at Percy after what he does to Del.

Paul: You son of a bitch, you stand there and watch!

  • Scary Black Man: Subverted. Coffey is big and scary looking, but gentle and childlike.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections: Percy.
    • Later defied when the rest of the guards warn him not to tell anyone that they straitjacketed him and locked him in solitary confinement, reminding him that he's not the only one who knows people.
    • Elaine pulls this as well.
  • Serial Novel: A very rare latter 20th-century example.
  • Shout-Out: Paul and his wife dance to "Cheek To Cheek".
  • Significant Monogram: John Coffey.
  • A Simple Plan: The entire scheme to heal the Warden's wife, and the cover-up afterward.
  • Sissy Villain: Percy.
  • Stupidity-Inducing Attack: John Coffey does this to Percy, not through evil intentions but to remove the threat to his friends, resulting in the guard ending up in an insane asylum.
  • Survivors Guilt: Paul Edgecombe.
  • Team Pet: Steamboat Willy a.k.a Mr.Jingles.
  • This Is Reality: Elaine guesses correctly that Coffey was executed, because "Providence-with-a-capital-P is greatly overrated in the lives of ordinary humans".
    • Similarly, Paul comments on how, in the movies, the governor's line to the execution room always rang right before the switch was pulled, and the contrast was that it never did ring in any of the 78 executions he took part in.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Percy, Percy, Percy.
  • Coffey is Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Literally; King's wife asked the question and it led to the Framing Device.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Paul Edgecombe, at the end, wishes for death.
    • Also, John Coffey, when Edgecombe offers to let him escape. "I'm tired, Boss."
  • Younger Than They Look: By the time Coffey's execution rolls around, the 30-something parents of the two dead girls turned basically into an elderly couple from grief.