Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileNight Journey Chapters 1 3 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | Night Journey, Chapters 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Paul Edgecombe had difficulty reliving Eduard Delacroix's death yesterday, but he managed to persevere and make it through. After ensuring Brad Dolan was off the premises, Paul went for a walk and spent time in one of the sheds. He woke late this morning, and he's dismayed to see Dolan's car already in the parking lot. Paul knows it would be smarter to stay inside, but he can't.

Elaine Connelly has a solution. Armed with a cigarette and a matchbook, she goes into a bathroom and sets off the fire alarm in the west wing of the building. All the orderlies, including Dolan, rush to hustle the residents outside. Paul slips by them and into the kitchen, grabs a few slices of cold toast, and walks down the path toward the shed. As he walks he thinks about the conversation he, Harry Terwilliger, Brutus "Brutal" Howell, and Dean Stanton had around his kitchen table in the autumn of 1932.

Chapter 2

Paul Edgecombe is positive John Coffey is innocent. He says as much to Harry Terwilliger, Brutus "Brutal" Howell, and Dean Stanton as they cluster around his kitchen table the day after Eduard Delacroix's execution. The key to Coffey's innocence is Paul's shoe. After Delacroix's death, Paul handed his shoe to Coffey and asked him to tie it. Coffey couldn't. Paul explains there's no way the sausages found next to the Dettericks' dead dog belonged to Coffey. When Deputy Rob McGee found Coffey with the Detterick girls in his arms, he also found a sandwich and pickle in Coffey's overalls pocket. They were wrapped in newspaper and tied with butcher's string. Coffey can't tie a knot, which means he couldn't rewrap his lunch after removing the sausages. He never had them in the first place. Nobody even thought to ask Coffey during the trial if he could tie a knot, so the subject was never brought up. "Nobody was really equipped to think of it," Paul says.

Another thing that convinces Paul of Coffey's innocence is Coffey's repeated use of the phrase "I helped it." He said it when he relieved Paul of his infection and when he brought Mr. Jingles back to life. When the search party found him holding the Detterick girls, he was saying, "I couldn't help it." The white men who found him heard what they wanted to hear—a black man confessing to raping and killing two little girls. Coffey was really saying was he found the dead girls and he couldn't bring them back to life.

The final hint of Coffey's innocence is the confusion of the hunting dogs searching for the twins' killer. Most of the dogs wanted to go one way, but the two coon dogs, which are trained to hunt raccoons, wanted to go another way. Their handler had the coon dogs take another sniff of Cora Detterick's nightgown, after which they follow the rest of the pack. Sniffing the tattered garment sent them chasing after the little girl, not her killer. That's why the dogs find Coffey and the dead girls, not their murderer, whom Paul suspects is white.

Brutal, Harry, and Dean take in all they've heard. All three agree to Paul's plan to save Melinda Moores, but Paul tells Dean he has to stay behind. Paul's kids are grown and Harry and Brutal are both bachelors. They don't have as much to lose as Dean, who still has kids at home. He'll probably still get in trouble if they're caught—and they're definitely going to get caught—but he won't go to prison. There's no time for argument. They need to act tonight.

Chapter 3

Janice Edgecombe doesn't want to know anything about Paul's plan, but she can't help but think it has something to do with Melinda Moores. She says as much to Paul, who tells her this might be "the only chance [Melinda] has left." Janice tells him to take it.

Analysis

Paul and his friends are taking an enormous risk by breaking John Coffey out of prison for the night. As touched upon in the insights for The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix, Chapters 6–9, they'll most likely become inmates if they're caught. Paul thinks the risk is worth it for two reasons. The first is his desire to atone for Eduard Delacroix's torture. Paul didn't deliberately botch the execution, nor did he pull the switch. But he didn't speak up when it became clear Percy shouldn't be working on E Block. He was complacent, which made him complicit. He wants to make up for that, not for Delacroix but for God. Although he doesn't identify with any particular branch of Christianity, Paul believes in God, heaven, and hell. He's determined to make up for his wrongs and secure his own eternal salvation.

Curing Melinda's cancer is also an issue of morality. Paul can't stand by and watch his friends' wife die when he knows there's an alternative. He has a moral obligation to save Melinda, who is kind and good. Similarly he has a moral obligation to carry out the executions of people who took the lives of others. Although Paul works in a prison, he doesn't restrict his actions to those approved by the rule of law. His rulebook is based on morals. In his mind his moral obligation to save Melinda Moores and atone for his own sins is more important than obeying man-made laws.

It is easier to convince Harry, Dean, and Brutal to save Melinda than it is to persuade them of Coffey's innocence. They know Coffey was found holding the Detterick twins' lifeless bodies, and they know the only explanation he had was "I couldn't help it." Like everyone else, they automatically assume he committed the crime. That assumption has a lot to do with the way Coffey looks. He's a hulk of a man, standing taller and broader than anyone they've had in E Block before. His stature is intimidating, and it's not hard to imagine him breaking a dog's neck or bashing in the heads of two little girls. Paul doesn't see that when he looks at Coffey, at least not anymore. Unlike Harry, Brutal, and Dean, Paul has felt Coffey's powers or energy coursing through his own body. More than anything it brought him a sense of awed peace. Because of that he can see beyond Coffey's exterior to the gentle soul within.

Paul also has the unusual ability to see beyond Coffey's race. In his experience the people who end up on the Green Mile are mostly minorities, usually African-Americans. In the world of The Green Mile (as in the real world) minorities are disproportionately convicted of crimes compared to their white counterparts. It's not that they commit more crimes—they're simply found guilty because of their race. Despite many people's assertions of "enlightenment," racism was alive and well in the 1930s American South. Black people weren't seen as equal to white people. The residents of Trapingus County pin the blame for the Detterick twins' murder on a black man not only because he was there. They believe in his guilt because they think that's the type of thing black people do. Likewise they didn't go out of their way to investigate the particulars of Coffey's involvement in the murders. "Nobody was really equipped to think of it, Coffey's own attorney included," Paul says about the tied butcher string. By that he means no one could even comprehend that a black man found at the scene of a crime wouldn't be guilty. Paul can comprehend it, but that's only because he had the opportunity to get to know Coffey on a human level. If Coffey hadn't cured him, he wouldn't be so sure of his innocence.

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