Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileThe Mouse On The Mile Chapters 4 5 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | The Mouse on the Mile, Chapters 4–5 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 4

The Chief is set to be put to death on July 17. On July 16 Paul Edgecombe and the rest of the regular E Block guards rehearse for the execution. Meanwhile The Chief visits with his family in another part of the prison. Toot-Toot stands in for The Chief. Brutus "Brutal" Howell is "put out," meaning he's in charge of the execution. Jack Van Hay is in the switch room behind the electric chair with Percy Wetmore. This will be Percy's first execution.

Toot-Toot jokes around during the rehearsal, but Paul and his men take it seriously. Everything they do today is meant to make things easier tomorrow. Dean Stanton mimes checking Toot-Toot's head for stubble, which would impede the conduction of electricity. Toot-Toot pretends to pray for forgiveness in Paul's office, then is escorted to the electric chair in the storage shed. The guards clamp his arms and legs in place, taking care to angle their own faces, throats, and genitals away from swinging limbs. Brutal yells "Roll on one!" to Jack, which is the cue to fire up the generator.

Toot-Toot makes a few crass wisecracks after Brutal's prepared speech about the execution. All the guards lose their composure and laugh. Paul wants to laugh, but he's also mad. He doesn't want anyone remembering Toot-Toot's words tomorrow night and laughing during the proceedings.

Brutal puts a mask over Toot-Toot's head. It has a circular hole at the top, which is where a wet sponge will be placed to conduct electricity between The Chief's body and the steel cap placed over it. Brutal says, "Roll two," and Toot-Toot flails around in the chair in a comic imitation of electrocution. No one really notices. They're all looking at the mouse, who is sitting in the doorway to Paul's office.

Chapter 5

The Chief is executed the next night. The execution goes well—The Chief only falters when he sees the room of witnesses seated in front of the platform. "Steady, Chief," Paul Edgecombe tells The Chief "[t]he only thing most of these people will remember" is how he goes out. Paul encourages him, "give them something good—show them how a Washita does it." The Chief nods and clambers onto the platform. A minute later, his body is surging forward in the chair as electricity courses through him. The prison doctor checks for a heartbeat, pronounces it "[d]isorganized," and The Chief is electrocuted again. The doctor listens again and nods. The Chief is dead.

Paul and Brutus "Brutal" Howell load The Chief's body onto the stretcher carried by Harry Terwilliger and Dean Stanton. They whisk it into a dark and creepy tunnel that reminds Paul of a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. The tunnel runs under the highway and outside of the prison. A "meat wagon" waits at the other end to take the body away.

Smoke is rising from The Chief's head, which is still cloaked in the black silk hood. One of his braids is on fire. Paul slaps it out before The Chief's body is loaded onto the waiting stretcher.

Percy Wetmore, who has done nothing except watch the other men work, slaps The Chief's cheek. "Hope hell's hot enough for you," he says. Brutus scolds him and Percy backs off. Dean and Harry pull a sheet over The Chief's face, "which had already begun to take on the waxy, characterless cast of all dead faces," including those of the innocent.

Analysis

Executions aren't a trivial matter to the guards on E Block. Although the men in the chair have done horrible things, they're still humans. They deserve respect. That's part of the reason why Paul is so annoyed by Toot-Toot during the rehearsal for the Chief's death. Toot-Toot's constant joking and showing off is disrespectful to the men and women who take their final walks down the Green Mile. His behavior indicates he thinks he's better than the condemned (as do the sinister Bible verses on his snack cart). The only other person on the block who acts that way is Percy. His disrespect for the condemned (and the dead) is evident when he slaps The Chief's waxen cheek. This action is also indicative of his cowardliness. Percy wouldn't have dared to slap The Chief while he was still alive for fear of being harmed. Likewise Toot-Toot wouldn't have the guts to take part in a real execution. As Paul says, Percy and Toot-Toot are the same—they love the smell of barbecue but they're: "too squeamish to cook and kill [their] own meat." In plainer terms, they're brave only when nothing is at stake.

There's a lot at stake for E Block's guards, and the entire prison system, on execution nights. These executions are public. Law enforcement and prison authorities are in attendance, as are reporters and members of the public whose lives were affected by the crimes of the condemned. Everything that happens in the storage shed on execution night is a direct reflection of the prison's warden and his staff. A botched execution decreases the public's faith in the penal system and the competency of those in charge of it. For many in the audience an execution is also a form of entertainment, albeit a grim one. That's why the electric chair is set on a platform/stage. Paul's job is to make sure everyone leaves the room satisfied.

Paul goes into great detail about the execution process in The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 4. This gives him the authoritative voice of an expert, which makes him seem more like a real person than a fictional character. It also foreshadows, or hints at, events to come. Somewhere in the course of the story there will an execution that doesn't go right. Author Stephen King wants the reader to understand how and why things go wrong without having to interrupt the action with lengthy explanations. The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 4 is the setup for another part of the book.

The creepiest scenes in The Green Mile occur in the underground tunnel connecting the storage shed to the outside world. King creates the ominous mood at the end of The Mouse on the Mile, Chapter 5 (and later chapters) with an allusion, or reference, to Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," a detective story about the grisly murder of two women. Like the bloodthirsty ape in Poe's story, shadows in the "chilly and dank" tunnel loom large. This isn't a place anyone would want to be, especially with a dead body. Yet the men who are there don't turn and run. Paul, Harry, Dean, and Brutal conduct this part of the job with just as much respect as they do when they're working with the living. Paul feels bad that The Chief's braid caught on fire, and Brutal reprimands Percy when he strikes the dead body. "He's paid what he owed. He's square with the house again," Brutal says about The Chief. Unlike Percy, Brutal views executions as the way the very worst men and women atone for their sins. When it's all over, they're just like everyone else. Paul also ascribes to that line of thinking. He notes there's no difference in the appearance of the dead faces of guilty and innocent people. Everyone is the same in the end. Perhaps that's why Paul is so insistent about being respectful to those in their care.

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