Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileCoffey On The Mile Chapters 4 6 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | Coffey on the Mile, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Chapter 4

It takes two weeks for the commotion following Percy Wetmore's shooting of William Wharton to die down. Nobody ever finds out about the trip to Warden Hal Moores's house, Percy being locked in the restraint room, or why William Wharton was asleep. Paul Edgecombe knows things are going back to normal when the DOE (date of execution) paperwork for John Coffey shows up on his desk.

Coffey is to be executed on November 20. On November 18 Paul calls in sick to work and drives to the Purdom County Courthouse, where he looks at a few records. That gets the attention of Sheriff Catlett, who tells Paul "something interesting." The next day Paul drives to Trapingus County to talk to Deputy Sheriff Rob McGee. McGee isn't interested in what Paul has to say, but he eventually agrees to talk to Klaus Detterick while Paul waits in a diner. Upon his return he insists the information Klaus gave him doesn't prove anything. There's no way John Coffey will get a new trial—he's black, "and in Trapingus County we're awful particular about giving new trials to Negroes."

Paul isn't sure what to do now. He goes home and makes love to his wife, then breaks down in tears. He's supposed to execute John Coffey in a few days for a crime William Wharton committed.

Chapter 5

Harry Terwilliger, Brutus "Brutal" Howell, Dean Stanton, and Paul Edgecombe are all lunching in the Edgecombes' kitchen once again. This time Janice Edgecombe joins them. At Janice's insistence, Paul tells the other guards about William Wharton killing the Detterick girls. They all agree John Coffey realized it was Wharton when Wharton touched him the night of Coffey's field trip to see Melinda Moores. That's why Coffey "used Percy [Wetmore] on Wharton like a gun."

Paul explains how he figured out it was Wharton who killed the girls. Among the evidence is Wharton's history of "rambl[ing] all over the state," and the Detterick dog's broken neck (reminiscent of the way Wharton strangled Dean). More to the point was Wharton's history of sexual relations with very young girls. The most damning evidence is Klaus Detterick's recollection of hiring a young man named Will Bonney to paint his barn prior to the twins' deaths. Will Bonney is the real name of Billy the Kid.

Janice is certain this is enough evidence to halt John Coffey's execution and get him a pardon. The men know better. Sheriff Homer Cribus, Deputy Rob McGee's boss, has to be the one to reopen the case. Brutal explains how, in the sheriff's mind it's better if the killer is "a nigger ... and not one of our'n." If McGee does stand up to the sheriff he'll lose his job. Janice says Paul should report Coffey's innocence to the authorities. He'll have to lie and say Wharton confessed the crime to him. But that won't work because nobody ever reported Wharton saying such a thing during his incarceration. To now say he did would be suspicious. There's also the fact Wharton was a known liar. Most people would just think he wanted credit for the most audacious murders in recent history.

Undeterred, Janice tells the men to break Coffey out of jail again, this time for good. But it would be nearly impossible to hide a "six-foot-eight-inch baldheaded black man with barely enough brains to feed himself." Janice is silent for a minute, then sweeps her arm across the table and pushes everything onto the floor. "Do you mean to kill him, you cowards?" she asks before kicking her chair into the wall. Paul reaches for her. She pulls away and says, "Next week this time you'll be a murderer ... so don't touch me." Janice goes to the back porch and sobs while the men clean up the mess.

Chapter 6

Janice Edgecombe apologizes to Paul Edgecombe later than evening. She knows he's in a no-win situation. They both agree it won't do any good to tell Warden Hal Moores about John Coffey's innocence, but Janice insists Paul and the rest of the guards be present for Coffey's execution. She also thinks Paul should ask Coffey what he wants out of all of this.

Present-day Paul thinks about Janice. "Old and tired of living" as he is, he often dreams of her walking into his room and telling him she wasn't in that bus crash after all.


Paul's visits to Purdom and Trapingus Counties verify what he has suspected for the past two weeks: William Wharton killed Cora and Kathe Detterick. He couldn't follow up on his hunch any earlier because of hubbub surrounding Wharton's death and Percy's sudden descent into madness. Paul had to lay low for his friends' sakes—doing anything out of the ordinary, like asking to meet with Klaus Detterick, would be cause for suspicion. He probably would have waited even longer if it weren't for the arrival of Coffey's DOE (Date of Execution notice). For the first time Coffey's impending execution seems real. If Paul's going to do anything to clear Coffey's name, he has to do it now.

A part of Paul has always known Coffey is innocent, but actually having evidence is more overwhelming than he imagined. As far as he knows, Paul hasn't ever executed an innocent man. In the past he was able to justify the particulars of his job because he felt those convicted of murder deserved to suffer for their sins. That's initially what he thinks of Coffey, who stares into the distance and cries in his cell day in and day out. In The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 6, he even considers calling the governor and asking for stay of execution for Coffey so the man could torture himself even more. "Let him go on doing to himself what we can't do to him," Paul thinks. But everything changes once Paul has concrete evidence Coffey is innocent. John Coffey deserves to go to the electric chair just as much as Brutal, Harry, or Dean, or even Paul himself. It can be argued he deserves it even less than anyone else in the book, even the good guys, because he, after all, is healing people through God's will. Paul's tearful breakdown at the end of Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 4, is about the impending execution of a good man and Paul's role in doing it.

Paul, Harry, Brutal, and Dean have enough experience to know that all the evidence in the world wouldn't be enough for John Coffey to walk free. They have seen E Block's cells filled and refilled with African- Americans and other minorities. They've seen white men who've committed atrocious murders get a sudden reprieve days before their scheduled deaths. White men like Sheriff Cribus would rather convict an innocent black man than accuse a guilty white man. There's a sense of safety and moral superiority when it's the "others" committing crimes, not people who look like you. Cribus is more concerned about maintaining the illusion of white moral superiority than ensuring those who have been caught actually committed the crime. Paul and his friends understand the system is flawed, but they also know they can't change it.

Janice understands race relations in the American South just as well as the men in the room. But she doesn't agree with their assertion nothing can be done to help John Coffey. An optimist in a room full of pessimists, she thinks the system not only should be changed but can be changed. Those who know the truth are obligated to tell it. She understands that's easier said than done, but if anyone were to do it, it would be her husband. Janice has never met John Coffey. She believes in his goodness solely based on what Paul has said about him. Her insistence that they report what they know to set Coffey free is in part rooted in her belief in Paul's morality. It isn't morally right for an innocent man doing the work of God to be executed, so the execution needs to be stopped. Paul's unwillingness to even try shakes Janice's understanding of who her husband really is.

Janice is by far the most important person in Paul's life, even long after her death. The reader has known Janice was dead since The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 7, when Paul writes about going through her belongings after her funeral, but Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 6, is the first time the cause of her death was explicitly said. Paul has danced around Janice's death throughout his recollections of the autumn of 1932, and he's still not ready to tell the reader exactly what happened halfway through the last book of the story. Her loss affected him more deeply than anything else he has experienced during his long life, including his relationship with John Coffey.

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