Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileCoffey On The Mile Chapters 1 3 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | Coffey on the Mile, Chapters 1–3 | Summary



Chapter 1

Paul Edgecombe falls asleep at a table in the solarium while writing about Melinda Moores's miraculous recovery at the hands of John Coffey. He wakes a little after 8 a.m. and decides to forgo his usual morning walk to finish his story. His writing is soon interrupted by orderly Brad Dolan, who tries to take Paul's manuscript. They are interrupted by Elaine Connelly, who threatens to have Dolan fired. It's not an empty threat—her grandson is the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. Dolan storms out of the room.

Paul gives Elaine all the pages he's written so far. He'll be finished with the rest of the story by the time she's done reading. Then he'll show her where he goes on his walks. He picks up his pen and embarks on "[o]ne last mile. A green one."

Chapter 2

Paul Edgecombe, Brutus "Brutal" Howell, and Harry Terwilliger help John Coffey through the underground tunnel and into the prison. Coffey looks terrible. He's having trouble breathing. The right side of his mouth is pulled down in a frown, just as Melinda Moores's was when they first saw her earlier.

Dean Stanton says despite a few outbursts in the beginning, Percy Wetmore has been mostly quiet in the restraint room. William Wharton hasn't woken up since Coffey and the guards left, nor has anyone come down to E Block to visit. Dean asks about Melinda and Harry says Coffey "[b]rought her back from her damn grave." It was a miracle.

With Coffey safely in his cell, Paul and the other guards go to get Percy out of the restraint room. Percy is covered in sweat, which Paul thinks was mostly caused by fear. Percy starts yelling at Paul as soon as the tape comes off his mouth. Paul slaps him, then tells him he got what he deserved for "sabotaging" Eduard Delacroix's execution. He threatens to tell everyone about that, as well as about Percy's inaction when Wharton strangled Dean. Paul then alludes to the beating Percy will get from guys on the "inside" who would "be happy to amputate the nose or the penis of shitheels" like him. As long as Percy stays quiet and transfers to Briar Ridge, nobody has to know any of this happened. Brutal makes some crude threats of his own, but both he and Paul know Percy won't be able to keep quiet for long.

Harry releases the buckles on the straightjacket and Paul hands Percy his gun and baton. Percy tells them he's going home. He's so agitated as he walks down the Green Mile that he doesn't realize how close he is to the cells on the right. John Coffey reaches out both arms and grabs him and draws him up to the bars of the cell. They are face to face. Percy bashes his club against Coffey's forehead, but Coffey doesn't notice. He presses his mouth to Percy's and exhales. Percy manages to squirm away for a moment and Paul sees a "black, swirling tide" flowing from Coffey to Percy. Percy drops the baton. The floor shakes as Paul reaches for his gun. Before he can loosen the safety, Coffey lets go of Percy, whose eyes are "wide and blank—double zeroes."

Paul and Brutal try to get Percy's attention, but he's completely dazed. He moves toward the duty desk, then stops outside William Wharton's cell, grabs his gun, and fires all six shots into the sleeping teenager. After dropping the gun he messes himself on both sides of his pants. As far as Paul knows, Percy's eyes "never saw anything in this real world of ours again." He does make it to Briar Ridge, but as a patient, not an employee.

The other guards are certain they're going to get caught, but Paul doesn't think so. Just as he's about to lay out his plan, Percy coughs up a swirling black cloud of bugs. It turns white, then disappears.

Chapter 3

Paul Edgecombe tells his wife, Janice, the entire story of the previous night's events, ending with the black cloud coughed up by Percy Wetmore. He and the other guards aren't as forthcoming with assistant warden Curtis Anderson, who is the first on the scene after Percy shoots William Wharton. In fact, Paul, Brutus "Brutal" Howell, Harry Terwilliger, and Dean Stanton don't have to explain anything at all. To Anderson it looks like Percy went crazy and killed Wharton. And that's technically true.

Warden Hal Moores arrives on E Block at 8:00 a.m. He asks Paul if the incident had anything to do with John Coffey's activities earlier in the night. Paul says no and indicates Percy may have had a grudge against Wharton for groping him a few weeks before.

Back in the Edgecombe's kitchen Paul and Janice mull over why Coffey would want to kill Wharton. Janice also wants to know how Paul can execute Coffey if he's innocent. The pieces slide together and Paul figures out the answer to all their questions.


Coffey on the Mile is the sixth and final installment of the original publication of The Green Mile. Author Stephen King has been steadily ratcheting up the tension with each installment, and it peaks when Percy kills Wharton. This plot point changes everything for the guards on E Block. In addition to worrying about getting caught taking Coffey off prison property, they have to figure out how to explain what happened to Percy and Wharton without implicating Coffey or themselves. Again Paul is forced to evaluate which choice best matches his morals. And again he flaunts protocol to do what he thinks is right, which is to lie. His main concern is protecting Harry, Brutal, and Dean. If that means keeping part of the truth to himself, that's fine by him. It's important to note Paul's decision doesn't have anything to do with John Coffey. He likes Coffey, yes, but he doesn't feel as protective of him as he does of his three best guards. Even if they don't get caught Coffey is still going to end up in the electric chair. Paul is more concerned about saving those with futures ahead of them than those who are already as good as dead.

There's no doubt Paul despises Percy, which makes the way he reacts to Coffey's transfer of Melinda Moores's illness to him so odd. Instead of pulling Percy away from Coffey or shouting at Coffey to stop, he draws his gun. Paul's target isn't Percy, who's the victim in this situation, but Coffey. This complicates the reader's understanding of Paul's character. Paul always does what's morally right even if it goes against the accepted way of doing things. In this situation he believes the right thing to do is to shoot Coffey to save Percy. Paul hates Percy. Percy is a cruel, vindictive, bullying rat. He has gone out of his way to make Paul's job difficult and has threatened his job every step of the way. Paul owes Percy nothing. But he owes Coffey everything. Coffey not only cured Paul's painful illness but he saved the life of Paul's wife's best friend. Paul knows Coffey didn't kill the Detterick twins. Shouldn't his life be the one worth saving? According to Paul's subconscious, it's not. He reaches for his gun the same way he reached for it when Wharton was strangling Dean, albeit much more clumsily. Part of him understands pulling his weapon could harm a friend—that's why his hands are shaking and he isn't able to loosen the safety. But an even bigger part of him isn't able to see past the situation in front of him: a prisoner attacking a guard. Like the jury that wrongly convicted Coffey, there are times Paul is also unable to look past Coffey's appearance.

The reader's concept of Coffey as a character is also altered by the story's climax. Up until this point he has been completely nonviolent. Though he was accused of a violent crime in the first book of The Green Mile, there were questions about his guilt from the start. His mild and often timid demeanor did not fit the profile of a killer. Then in one breath Coffey becomes a stone-cold killer. Though he wasn't the one who pulled the trigger, he exhaled the directive into Percy's body. As Janice says, Coffey used Percy "on Wharton like a gun." There's no clear indication why—King is withholding that information for subsequent chapters—but it has something to do with the moment Wharton touched Coffey's arm. Whatever passed between them was enough for Coffey to want to kill.

John Coffey's story has reached its climax, but present-day Paul's story is still getting there. This is smart on King's part. In suspense and thriller stories like this there's usually some big twist or reveal at the end. Whatever that turns out to be happens at Georgia Pines. Paul says as much when he promises Elaine he will show her what's in the shed after she finishes reading his story. She—and the reader—will finally learn about the secret Paul has been keeping through the entire book.

The Percy Wetmores and Brad Dolans of the world don't like secrets. Paul's situation at Georgia Pines is at its most dire in Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 1, when Dolan tries to take his manuscript from him. Although he's been writing for only a few weeks, this story feels like the culmination of Paul's life's work. To lose it would be like losing a part of himself. In a twist of coincidence the person who saves Paul (and his papers) does so by the very same means Paul once loathed. Elaine's big reveal that her grandson is the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives isn't irony. There's no contradiction between what the characters or audience expect to happen and what really happens. But it is a remarkable twist of fate. Where once Paul abhorred the use of name-dropping to get one's way, he's relieved to have it done in his favor. Sixty-four years may have passed since he first encountered the power of political connections, but their impact hasn't lessened at all.

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