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The Green Mile | Quotes


Appeals weren't for the likes of John Coffey, not back then.

Paul Edgecombe, The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 2

The judiciary system was prejudiced against African-Americans throughout the 20th century, particularly in the Deep South prior to federal reforms enacted in the 1960s. Like many other black men and women accused of crimes, John Coffey is convicted in part because of his skin color. At that time and that place, law enforcement officials weren't interested in reopening cases in the hopes of exonerating a black person, particularly if it also pinned the blame on a white person. White people felt better thinking crimes were committed by "those people" instead of people just like themselves. Many also didn't see any harm in ridding the world of one more black man.


Don't worry about Old Sparky ... He makes the big 'uns little.

Paul Edgecombe, The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 3

"Old Sparky" is the nickname the guards give the electric chair. Dean Stanton thinks they might have to crank up the electricity on the electric chair to properly kill the enormous John Coffey. Paul's response, more metaphorical than literal, tells the reader it doesn't matter who sits in the chair, how big they are, or what they've done. Everyone is the same after they visit Old Sparky—no longer dangerous and eventually forgotten.


I couldn't help it, boss.

John Coffey, The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 2

Coffey's oft-repeated phrase explains both who he is and why he was arrested. He first says it to Deputy Rob McGee when McGee finds him cradling the Detterick girls' dead bodies. McGee interprets Coffey's words as meaning he couldn't stop himself from killing the girls. But that's not what Coffey's really saying. Coffey has the gift of healing the grievously ill and injured. He refers to the miracles he performs as "helping." So when Coffey says he "couldn't help it," he means he couldn't heal the Detterick twins, not that he killed them.


Percy wanted not just to kill the mouse but to squash it.

Paul Edgecombe, The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 2

Percy Wetmore thrives on the suffering of others, particularly when he's the one causing the pain. Doing harm to others makes Percy feel powerful, even when his victim is a defenseless mouse.


They can only be electrocuted once.

Dean Stanton, The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 2

Dean is irritated after trying to teach Percy Wetmore how to best deal with the inmates on E Block. The protocol on E Block is to treat prisoners with respect and a modest amount of compassion. Contrarily, Percy thinks it's his duty (and right) to do bodily and emotional harm to those in his care. As Dean tells Paul Edgecombe, Percy doesn't understand how little power he has over the prisoners. With the threat of the electric chair looming over them, their lives are as bad as they can possibly get. Try as he might, Percy will never be able to equal the pain of knowingly waiting for one's own death.


He was nothing but a conduit, after all.

Paul Edgecombe, Coffey's Hands, Chapter 3

Paul is certain it is God, not John Coffey, who cures him of his urinary tract infection. As a child Paul learned about the various ways God could make his will known, including the healing of the ill or infirm. He doesn't ask Coffey about the miracle he just performed because he knows the dim-witted giant won't have any idea of how it works or why. He's merely the vessel for God's will, and that's good enough for Paul.


Now this room was just another version of the Green Mile.

Paul Edgecombe, Coffey's Hands, Chapter 6

Paul and his wife visit the Mooreses shortly after Melinda's cancer diagnosis. She has deteriorated rapidly in the span of just a few weeks, and it's clear she won't be getting any better. Paul thinks the rug in the sitting room should be "the shade of tired old limes" just like the linoleum of E Block's corridor. Like the Green Mile, this is a place where people wait to die.


Atonement was powerful; it was the lock on the door you closed against the past.

Paul Edgecombe, The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix, Chapter 7

Raised in various Baptist and Pentecostal churches, Paul believes deeply in the concept of atonement, or making reparations for one's wrongs. It's a sort of spiritual balancing act that allows one to remain in good standing with God. Paul blames himself for Eduard Delacroix's awful death. He thinks his guilt will be assuaged (and his soul saved) if he helps John Coffey save Melinda Moores.

Harry Terwilliger isn't convinced John Coffey would be willing to help save Melinda Moores. He's never met her. Why would he want to save the life of the warden's wife? Paul doesn't have such worries. God made Coffey for one purpose: to serve as a conduit for His will. He'll help Melinda because that is what he was born to do.


What they were seeing was black.

Paul Edgecombe, Night Journey, Chapter 2

Paul explains his reasoning as to why he thinks John Coffey is innocent of the murder of the Detterick twins. A lot of elements of the story just don't match up. Still the judge, jury, and sheriff's officer didn't dig beyond what they saw in front of them: a huge black man holding two dead white girls. In the Jim Crow-era South, a person's race was often enough to convict.


To tell you the truth, boss, I don't know much of anything.

John Coffey, Night Journey, Chapter 5

Brutus "Brutal" Howard asks Coffey how he knows he's about to be taken out of prison to help a sick woman. Coffey doesn't have any good answer to that. He knows what he can do, but he doesn't know how or why. He just does what his instincts tell him to do. His response also goes a long way in describing Coffey himself. He isn't a particularly smart man and he can barely remember anything for more than a few minutes. Paul Edgecombe would say God made him that way—an empty vessel ready to receive God's will.


This is the first time I ever felt really actually in danger of hell.

Brutus "Brutal" Howell, Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 7

The guards on E Block have never before knowingly killed someone who is innocent. John Coffey's execution changes that. Paul Edgecombe, Harry Terwilliger, Dean Stanton, and Brutal all feel terrible about what they have to do, and not just because they genuinely like Coffey. As Brutal says, they're killing "a gift of God." He thinks that is more than enough reason for God to deny them entrance to the heavenly hereafter. Their jobs have put them in the position of not only killing John Coffey but damning themselves.


He kill them with they love.

John Coffey, Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 8

William Wharton kept the Detterick twins quiet by threatening to kill the other girl if her sister screamed. They couldn't call for help because of their love for one another, yet they ended up dead anyway. Coffey says this is how things are all over the world—people die because they are protecting those they love. From Coffey's point of view, love is supposed to be a gift, not a weapon. This is one of the reasons why he says he's ready to die. He doesn't want to experience people killing each other with love any more.


I'm sorry for what I am.

John Coffey, Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 10

Prisoners executed at Cold Mountain Penitentiary are given the opportunity to say a few words before they die. Most choose to apologize for the crimes that got them there. John Coffey, who didn't commit a crime, feels remorse not for what he did but for who he is. The powerful gift given to him by God has been an unbearable burden. He is weighed down by the pain and misery of everyone he meets. He brings joy to others, but there are few moments of joy for him. Even though he has helped an untold number of people, he doesn't believe his life is one worth living.


Sometimes, oh God, the Green Mile is so long.

Paul Edgecombe, Coffey on the Mile, Chapter 13

Paul is 104 years old when he finally tells the story of John Coffey and the autumn of 1932. Before his execution Coffey imbued Paul with a sort of protective force that prevented him from serious illness or injury and unnaturally extended his life. The problem with that is everyone Paul loves dies while he remains alive. Like the prisoners on E Block, Paul feels like he's staring down the road to death. It can't come fast enough.

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