Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileCoffeys Hands Chapters 1 3 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | Coffey's Hands, Chapters 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Elaine Connelly, Paul Edgecombe's "special friend" at George Pines nursing home, finds Paul sitting in the communal TV room just after 4:00 a.m. He's hunched over, trying to "still the shakes that [ran] through [him] like a high wind." He looks as if he's seen a ghost. He kind of has. An actor in the old movie he was watching on TV looked just like William Wharton. Paul became so upset when the Whartonesque character pushed an old woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs he had to turn the TV off.

Elaine knows Paul has been writing about his past, and she can see how deeply revisiting those memories affects him. Much to Paul's surprise, she tells him to keep writing. "What's a few sleepless nights at our age?" she asks. She's sure this isn't the first ghost Paul has ever seen, and he's forced to agree. Although Paul promises Elaine he will try to sleep, he can't get William Wharton's face out of his mind.

Chapter 2

The narrative returns to the last few paragraphs of The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 11. William Wharton is choking Dean Stanton. Paul Edgecombe is trying to line up a gunshot, but Wharton is blocking his own body with Dean's. Harry Terwilliger is trying to wrestle Wharton to the ground while Percy Wetmore just stands there, frozen with his baton in hand.

Brutus "Brutal" Howell comes racing in like "a miracle in the flesh." He shoves Percy aside, brings out his own baton, and crashes it onto Wharton's head. Wharton goes down "like a sack of meal." Paul, Harry, and Percy put the unconscious Wharton into his cell while Brutal helps Dean to his feet.

Wharton wakes three hours later. "Hey, flunky," he says to Paul. "Next time it'll be you. And I won't miss." Paul merely says hello and tells Wharton he's going to "skip the speech and the Welcome Wagon." Wharton is caught off guard. Paul wouldn't have normally said that, but something happened while Wharton was unconscious. Paul's not sure if the reader will believe it.

Chapter 3

Harry Terwilliger and Brutus "Brutal" Howell help the recently choked Dean Stanton to the infirmary. William Wharton is passed out in his cell, and Percy Wetmore is reporting the afternoon's events to Warden Hal Moores. Paul Edgecombe is relieved to be alone. Thanks to his urinary tract infection his "groin [is] on fire" and he's covered in a feverish sweat.

After a painful pee, Paul realizes he hasn't heard a peep from Coffey. It's unusual for prisoners to remain silent after commotion on the block, and Paul worries Coffey has committed suicide. It turns out Coffey is fine, though he's acting a little strange. Eyes alert and voice somewhat frantic, he insists Paul come into his cell so they can talk. Paul balks at first. Going inside Coffey's cell is a terrible idea not only because of Coffey's sheer size, but also because Paul is the only guard on duty. Despite his protests, he ends up sitting on the mattress next to Coffey.

Paul feels like he's been hypnotized. Coffey promises he just wants to "help," then thrusts his hand onto Paul's crotch. A painless jolt whips through Paul's body. "[F]or a moment the color seemed to jump out of everything," Paul writes. He can see every pore on Coffey's face as his own hands form claws in the air and his toes tap on the floor. The feeling is over as suddenly as it began, and Paul feels his fever breaking. Next to him Coffey looks like he's going to throw up. He exhales "a cloud of tiny black insects" that turn white, then disappear.

Delacroix is convinced Coffey is trying to kill Paul, but Paul just tells him to shut up. He feels good. No, he feels great. In a low voice he asks Coffey exactly what he did, but Coffey just shakes his head. "I helped it, didn't I?" he asks before lying on his bunk and turning toward the wall.

Delacroix is still riled up when Paul locks Coffey's cell from the outside. He thinks Coffey performed "gris-gris," or a magic incantation, on Paul. "He a hoodoo man!" Delacroix says. Mr. Jingles the mouse told him so.

Paul returns to the duty desk. He feels strange, as if he's going to burst into tears at any moment. He manages to control himself and starts writing the report about what happened with Wharton just a little bit ago. A bathroom break confirms what he suspected—his urinary tract infection is gone. Paul is reminded of the miracle stories he heard at church during his youth, and he decides his healing is an act of God. There's got to be a reason why God wants Paul healthy and able to work, so Paul vows to keep his "eyes open ... and [his] mouth shut, especially about miracle cures."

Analysis

Assistant warden Curtis Anderson was right in The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 6: William Wharton "just doesn't care." No matter how much trouble he gets into or how brutally he is punished, Wharton is going to keep pushing everyone's buttons. He wants to become just as infamous as his hero, Billy the Kid. The notorious Wild West thief and murderer William Henry McCarty Jr. reportedly killed 21 people before his death at age 21. Wharton isn't scared of the electric chair—dying in its arms will make him even more famous than he already is. In the interim, he raises hell in E Block simply to pass the time. That's why Paul finds him so frightening, even 64 years later. Wharton has nothing left to lose. That's not the case for most of the men and women who come through E Block. Though they've all done terrible things in the past, they try to make things right with the Lord through prayers and self-reflection. The threat of death makes most of them regret their wrongs. Like The Chief in The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 3, many of them want assurances they will get into heaven. They're all looking for salvation, whereas Wharton is hell-bent on damnation. Like Percy, Wharton gets a high from harming others, though his assaults are more about ensuring his legacy than exerting his power.

Paul isn't going to play Wharton's games. For one thing, Wharton nearly killed Dean after just a few moments on the block. For another, Paul knows Wharton acts out because he wants attention. He wants to be yelled at. He wants chaos. Denying him that is the best way to diminish any lingering delusions of power and control. That's why Paul essentially ignores Wharton's insults and bad behavior.

Paul also ignores Wharton at the end of Coffey's Hands, Chapter 2, because he has a lot of other things on his mind. Author Stephen King makes an interesting choice here. Instead of telling what happened on the block that day in chronological order—Wharton strangles Dean, Brutal knocks him out, John Coffey heals Paul, Wharton wakes up—Chapter 2 skips Paul's interaction with Coffey and shows Wharton waking up. King does this to build tension and suspense. Coffey's healing of Paul's infection is a big moment. It's the first time Coffey's powers are on display for the reader. It's also the first time the reader sees Paul lose control of a situation.

Paul knows all the protocols of working on the Green Mile. He even wrote a lot of them. Yet he violates half a dozen of them when he willfully enters Coffey's cell alone. No guard in his right mind would do such a thing, not even Percy. But Paul isn't in his right mind. Coffey is exerting some kind of control over him, which Paul compares to being hypnotized. He knows what's happening, he knows he shouldn't be doing it, but he also can't do anything to stop it. There's clearly something supernatural about John Coffey, but it doesn't really scare Paul, not even after Coffey clears his infection. He's curious, yes, but not afraid.

Eduard Delacroix, who watched Coffey beckon Paul into his cell then touch him, is afraid. He's certain Coffey performed "gris-gris," or voodoo. More appropriately called Louisiana Voodoo, Delacroix is referring to an African-based, underground religion that was brought to the former French colony of Louisiana by slaves. Louisiana Voodoo is based on a connection with spiritual forces. Although it is frequently depicted in popular culture as being a form of "black magic," Louisiana Voodoo is actually used to help others. This includes healing those suffering from physical ailments. Paul doesn't believe Delacroix—after all, the man gets his information from a mouse—but the two men's ideas about what happened aren't so dissimilar. Delacroix thinks Coffey performed a religious miracle. Paul also thinks a religious miracle occurred, but not because of Coffey. From Paul's perspective, God healed him, not Coffey, and "[Coffey] was nothing but a conduit" for God's will. As a child Paul was taught when things like that happen, one must figure the cause for divine intervention. Why does God want Paul alert and at work?

Paul doesn't have an answer yet, but he knows enough not to go asking for suggestions. Even though he believes God has healed him, he can't be certain others will think the same thing. They may think he's lying or, worse, crazy. There would be a lot of questions to answer not only about Coffey and his abilities. People would want to know why Paul risked his life and his job when none of the other guards were around. Paul is a pretty private guy—he doesn't divulge information or theories until he's almost 100 percent sure they're correct. If he did choose to tell someone else, like Brutal, there's always the chance his admission could be heard by unwanted ears. A mistake like that could get him fired, especially when made in front of Percy. Jobs are hard to come by in the depressed economy of 1932, and Paul isn't willing to risk the one he already has. Not yet, at least.

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