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The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | Night Journey, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

The drive to Hal Moores's house takes an hour in Harry Terwilliger's old truck. Paul Edgecombe feels lost during the entire ride, not because of where they are going but because of what they are doing. He's out in the middle of the night with a prisoner convicted of the murder of two little girls. It doesn't matter Paul thinks John Coffey is innocent, and it doesn't matter Paul thinks Coffey can perform miracles. In truth, he doesn't even believe that anymore. His doubt about the whole endeavor "gr[ows] like a sickness" as they get closer to their destination.

A light is on at the Moores's house. Warden Hal Moores comes to the door in his pajamas with a pistol in hand. Paul had told Brutus "Brutal" Howell and Harry he would do all the talking, but suddenly he can't even open his mouth. It's as if a "demon of discord" is doing everything in its power to keep Coffey away from Melinda Moores. Paul doesn't know how to stop it, not even when Moores spots Coffey in the shadows. Moores raises his gun to shoot Coffey, but Harry steps between them. "[W]e're here to help!" Harry insists.

Melinda's voice, "querulous and certain and utterly lost" can be heard from inside the house. Her swearing and sexually suggestive tirades catch all the men off guard, except Coffey. He picks up Harry, moves him to the side, and tells Moores he wants to help. Everything snaps back into place for Paul, and he's certain of their mission again. It's as though Coffey's presence drives the "demon of discord" away. Melinda's voice suddenly sounds stronger but a little afraid. Coffey walks into the house toward the shrieking woman.

Chapter 8

Melinda Moores looks like "a sick child got up as a Halloween witch." Her skin sags off her skeleton, and one side of her face is bunched up like she's trying to wink and frown all at once. The bedroom reeks of human waste. Paul Edgecombe is certain they are too late.

Looking back on it, Paul isn't entirely sure if Melinda was possessed by a demon or not. He does remember the look on her face when Coffey walks into the room. It's one of fear and horror, as if something inside her recognizes its power is about to be threatened. Coffey ignores Melinda's sexual come-ons and draws closer. The old Melinda suddenly appears. "[S]ane and aware," she asks Coffey about himself and they have a brief but pleasant conversation.

Coffey bends toward Melinda and stares into her eyes. "I see it, and I can help," he says quietly. He kisses her deeply. The whole house lurches as he inhales the air from her lungs. A window cracks and a picture falls to the floor. Downstairs a grandfather clock crashes to the ground. The white blanket covering Melinda's body begins to turn black as smoke wafts from the edge of it. Paul douses the smoking section with a glass of water.

Coffey is still kissing Melinda. Her back arches and her hand flails in the air. A scream rips through the room as a gust of wind shakes the entire house. When Coffey pulls away, Melinda looks 10 year younger. Her face is smooth and back to normal. But Coffey looks terrible. His skin turns gray as he coughs in "deep retching barks." Thinking he's choking, Brutus "Brutal" Howell raps Coffey on the back, but Coffey insists he's fine. No bugs fly out of his mouth.

On the bed Melinda asks what happened. The last thing she remembers is going to Indianola for tests. "Did I have the X-ray?" she asks. Paul says yes and tells her it was clear. Her headaches will probably stop now. Then Melinda notices Coffey, who is coughing in the corner. "I dreamed of you," she says. "I dreamed you were wandering in the dark, and so was I. We found each other." She gets out of bed and walks to Coffey to give him a hug. She limps just on the first step.

It's nearing 3:00 a.m. Paul, Brutal, Harry Terwilliger, and Coffey need to get back to the prison. Brutal and Paul are especially worried about Coffey, who is looking worse by the minute. Hal Moores shakes Coffey's hand and thanks him, then Melinda hugs him and hands him her necklace. There's a medallion with St. Christopher on it. She tells him it will keep him safe. He puts it around his neck and thanks her. "Thank you," she says.

Chapter 9

Harry Terwilliger pulls his truck to the side of the road about 10 miles away from the Moores's house. He, Paul Edgecombe, and Brutus "Brutal" Howell all have to pee. John Coffey, who is sitting in the back of the truck, isn't doing well. His breathing sounds "dry and raspy, like wind blowing through straw." Paul and Brutal both know Coffey isn't going to live long enough to make it to the electric chair. In a way, that's okay with Paul. He doesn't want Coffey to die by his hand.

Paul dozes on the second leg of the trip. He dreams he, Brutal, Harry, and Dean Stanton are standing on Calvary Hill. Three crosses bear Percy Wetmore, Coffey, and Eduard Delacroix. Paul is holding a bloody hammer. Brutal yells at him to get Coffey down, but there isn't any stepladder. Paul wakes up before he can reply to Brutal.

Harry parks the truck where he hid it earlier in the day. He, Brutal, and Paul help Coffey out of the truck and to the prison. Though they are nearly caught in the headlights of a passing truck, they manage to make it into the tunnel unseen. They're still not safe yet. As Paul writes 64 years later, their evening is "far from over."

Analysis

Stephen King is popularly known for his horror novels like The Shining (1977) and Carrie (1974), but his body of work spans multiple genres and includes science fiction, fantasy, detective stories, and even memoir. The Green Mile falls into the category of magical realism. That means it's a mostly realistic story with elements of fantasy or the supernatural woven in. The removal of the disease in Melinda Moores's body is pure fantasy—it couldn't happen in real life—with very real results and repercussions.

Melinda's illness is more than the mutation of her cells. The very nature of who she is has changed. Her filthy and crass language seems to come from another entity altogether. And the way she reacts to Coffey's presence makes Paul question whether she's the victim of a demonic possession. That fits in with his feeling that some sort of evil spirit or force is trying to prevent them from getting to Melinda. The first instance is in Night Journey, Chapter 4, when William Wharton touches Coffey. Paul feels something sinister in the air trying to derail their plans, which abruptly disappears when Brutal removes Wharton's hand from Coffey's arm. In Night Journey, Chapter 5, that same force nearly has Brutal and Harry turning tail and running when Coffey says he can hear the screams of the deceased. The final instance is in Night Journey, Chapter 7, when Paul and Brutal find themselves suddenly unable to explain why they're at the Moores's house. Each time it is the guard standing closest to Coffey who breaks the spell so they can move forward. Their proximity to Coffey gives them the strength to combat the dark force. Whatever is inside Coffey is good, and whatever is trying to stop them is bad. There comes a point where Paul thinks the "demon" has actually retreated into Melinda's body, strengthening her voice and her resolve against the enormous black man in her bedroom. But the closer Coffey gets to her, the more Melinda seems like herself. Coffey doesn't really take away the bad spirit—it's more like he dissolves it with his own spirit. There's no trace of it after he inhales Melinda's illness—he doesn't suddenly become malevolent or dangerous, and he doesn't start ranting like Melinda did. He becomes ill from the disease he imbibed, but his mind is just fine. The spirit never transferred to him.

The necklace Melinda gives Coffey has a medallion bearing the likeness of St. Christopher. St. Christopher is the Christian patron saint of travelers and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. This group of saints, invoked for protection from illness and death, became popular in medieval Europe following the Black Death of the 14th century. Many legends portray Christopher as a giant who devotes his life to helping travelers cross a river. During one such journey his load became impossibly heavy. Christopher was only carrying a child, so it didn't make sense that he felt he couldn't go on. It turns out the "child" was Jesus himself, and Christopher was carrying both him and the world he created. And that in a nutshell is the story of John Coffey. His purpose in life is to metaphorically carry those who are unable to make it through treacherous times on their own. Coffey could be said to carry Jesus on his back, serving as the conduit for His work. He also carries the weight of the world: there is little pain Coffey does not feel and little sorrow he does not see. He internalizes the world's misfortunes and sufferings and weeps for every person who hurts. Like Jesus himself, Coffey is driven to tears by his compassion for others.

There's little doubt John Coffey serves as a Christ figure in The Green Mile. He feels the pain of others and heals those in need. He is also sentenced to death for acts he didn't commit. This parallel is explicitly illustrated in Night Journey, Chapter 9. Paul dreams Coffey, Delacroix, and Percy are nailed to three crosses. Just like Jesus they're being tortured for their sins. In the dream Paul knows Coffey doesn't belong up there with the other two wicked men, but it's too late to get him down. Even worse, the hammer in Paul's bloody hands indicates it is Paul who nailed Coffey and the other two men to the crosses. He is to blame for the death of an innocent man. That's also how Paul comes to feel in real life. Delacroix's death was regrettable not because Delacroix died but because of the way he died. He deserved the punishment he received. Likewise Percy earned his time in the straightjacket. But John Coffey hasn't done anything wrong. He's gives of his own life to help others. But at this point there's no way Paul or the other guards can save him. He's a black man accused of murdering two little white girls in the Deep South. No judge or court of public opinion would ever overturn that ruling.

The big question at the end of Night Journey is not whether John Coffey will die but when he will die. He didn't blow out the disease he inhaled from Melinda's body—no black bugs appeared, even when he was coughing and gasping for air. Whatever evil thing was in Melinda is now in him. Brutal and Paul both know this doesn't bode well for the giant man. As strong and powerful as he is, he's no match for Melinda's cancer. That begs the question why he didn't just cough it up when he had the chance. Maybe he would rather die this way than in the electric chair. Maybe he doesn't want the guards who have grown to love him be the ones who have to end his life. Or maybe he doesn't have a choice. Maybe this particular illness is the one he won't be able to beat.

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