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The Green Mile | Symbols

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From a cursory glance The Green Mile appears to be a book solely about the wrongful execution of an innocent man. A deeper look into the story's characters and events reveals it is actually laden with religious symbolism, much of it pertaining to the life of Jesus Christ.

John Coffey

John Coffey isn't just the protagonist of The Green Mile—he's also a major symbol. His gifts, his past, his present, and even his name all indicate his role as the story's Christ figure. The similarities are numerous. Like Jesus's birth, Coffey's presence in Trapingus County is also somewhat of a mystery. As Burt Hammersmith says in Coffey's Hands, Chapter 4, Coffey has no idea of where he came from or where he's been. It seems "like he dropped out of the sky." Like Jesus, Coffey performs supernatural feats. Coffey is able to read minds, and he takes on the weight of the world's fears and sins. He can physically heal people of injuries and illness. He even weeps like Jesus. In The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 6, Paul Edgecombe writes Coffey's "eyes were always streaming tears, like blood from a wound that can never heal." Here King is making an allusion, or reference, to Jesus sweating blood before his crucifixion. In addition to all this, the crucifixion is the clearest point of comparison. John Coffey is an innocent man convicted of the rape and murder of two little white girls. Jesus Christ was an innocent man accused of being the King of the Jews in a province of the Roman Empire. Both men are accused of crimes against the dominant groups of their respective times and places. Both men are sentenced to death.

Author Stephen King wasn't going for subtlety here. Many of the clues about John Coffey's symbolic relationship to Jesus are pretty obvious to those familiar with The Bible. But even those with rudimentary knowledge of Christianity can't miss the fact that both men share the same initials, J.C.

Disease

John Coffey's greatest gift is his ability to heal the seriously ill and injured. Not only does he relieve Paul Edgecombe and Melinda Moores of their debilitating illnesses, but he manages to bring a dead Mr. Jingles back to life. He has the power to remove "bad" things from people's bodies, thereby curing them. Sin and sickness are linked throughout The Bible—one begets the other. And there are instances when Jesus heals his followers by forgiving them for their sins. If the reader accepts Coffey as a Christ figure, then the diseases and injuries Coffey cures in The Green Mile are representative of humankind's sin. Like Jesus does with sin, Coffey takes on the illnesses of others to relieve them of their burdens.

William Wharton

If John Coffey represents Jesus, then William Wharton symbolizes the devil. As assistant warden Curtis Anderson says in The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 6, "[t]his man just doesn't care." Like Satan himself, Wharton relishes causing mayhem and harming others. "Ain't this a party now?" he yells while strangling Dean Stanton at the end of The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 11. Wharton has done despicable things during his 19 years on the planet—raping young girls, robbing banks, murdering men, women, and children. And the only reason he does it because he likes it. He is the mortal personification of evil.

But not for long. The punishment for his terrible deeds comes not from the electric chair, but from the man who represents the son of God, John Coffey. Good bests evil just as faith in the Lord is said to keep Satan away.

Mr. Jingles

The little mouse who makes his home on the Green Mile symbolizes humankind standing in judgment before God. He first appears on E Block a few weeks before Eduard Delacroix's arrival. Mr. Jingles (then known as Steamboat Willy) walks right up to the duty desk and sits down as if he's waiting for an appointment. The desk must seem impossibly tall to the little mouse, "as the judgment seat of God will no doubt someday seem to us," Paul reflects, yet he doesn't look scared at all. He is completely at ease with himself and the giants before him just as Paul and Brutal hope to someday stand before God without any reasons to fear eternal damnation.

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