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The Green Mile | Motifs

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Prayers as Supplication for Mercy

Various prayers surface during The Green Mile: Eduard Delacroix prays for mercy in life and death in the traditional "Hail Mary" in his native tongue. John Coffey recites a prayer about the "orphan child." And Paul Edgecombe prays for strength before Coffey's death. Paul's and Delacroix's prayers and those said by other inmates on the Green Mile represent the characters' desire for salvation. Those walking to their deaths want to be forgiven for the sin of murder. Paul also prays for salvation in light of his biggest sin: taking part in the death of an innocent man. But Coffey's prayer is different; it asks for companionship, not forgiveness. Coffey is innocent, but he's still scared.

Execution as a Form of Atonement

Along the same lines as the motif of prayers, the executions of The Chief and Eduard Delacroix symbolize atonement. These men did not choose this fate or this method of atoning for their sins—they are forced to do it by the state. But according to Brutal in The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 5, those whose lives ended in the electric chair have "paid what they owed." "He's square with the house again," Brutal says about The Chief as they wheel his stiffening body down the tunnel. The prisoners' deaths make up for the wrongs they have done.

The Green Mile

There are two versions of the Green Mile in The Green Mile. There's the physical Green Mile, which is the linoleum tile in E Block along which prisoners wait to take their final breath. And there's the metaphorical Green Mile, where the aged do the same. Both versions represent damnation. The convicted felons who walk down the real Green Mile are damned to spend an eternity in hell. Those who experience the metaphorical version, like Paul Edgecombe and Melinda Moores, are damned to remain alive while yearning for death.

Racism and the Illusion of Superiority

The racist attitudes displayed by many of the characters in The Green Mile represent the desire of white people in the Depression era South to maintain power over African-Americans. This is best illustrated by Burt Hammersmith, the reporter who covered the Detterick twins' murders and John Coffey's trial. Despite his claims of enlightenment, Hammersmith thinks black people are no better than dogs. "[Y]our negro will bite if he gets the chance," Hammersmith says. Speaking of other humans in such a degrading way allows Hammersmith and other characters in The Green Mile to feel better about themselves. It helps them to justify to themselves the actions they take to maintain an illusion of white supremacy.
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