Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileThe Two Dead Girls Chapters 1 3 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | The Two Dead Girls, Chapters 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Paul Edgecombe is the former "bull-goose screw," or superintendent, of E Block at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. This part of the prison is Cold Mountain's equivalent of Death Row. Nearly all the prisoners housed there leave via the electric chair.

E Block is shaped like the letter T. A wide corridor "floored with linoleum the color of tired old limes" is flanked by three roomy jail cells on each side. At the bottom of the T is the restraint room. A left turn at the top of the T takes prisoners to the exercise yard. A right turn takes them into Edgecombe's office. A small doorway in there leads to a storage shed. Tools, dry goods, and other necessities of prison life are kept on the left of the storage shed. The electric chair is on the right.

Edgecombe got to know dozens of murderers during his tenure at Cold Mountain. Although some like Beverly Matuomi, who killed her husband for cheating on her, had their sentences reduced to life in prison, most walked the Green Mile to the electric chair. There was only one time when Edgecombe questioned "the nature of [his] job." That's what this story is about.

Chapter 2

John Coffey arrives on E Block in October 1932 after his conviction for the murder of the Detterick twins. There's only one other prisoner on the block at the time. Eduard Delacroix was sentenced to death for raping a young girl, killing her, then setting her body on fire behind an apartment building. The building also caught on fire. Six tenants died. "It was the only crime he had in him," Paul Edgecombe says, and Delacroix whiles away his time on the block quietly playing with his pet mouse, Mr. Jingles.

Percy Wetmore and Harry Terwilliger, two regular guards on E Block, bring Coffey to his cell. Percy bellows, "Dead man walking!" as they walk down the green corridor. All the guards hate Percy, who thinks he deserves preferential treatment due to his familial connections to the governor. A combination of the unseasonable heat, a painful urinary tract infection, and Percy's snottiness compel Paul to banish Percy from the block for the day.

Paul assesses his newest prisoner, an enormous black man measuring 6 feet 8 inches tall. His broad shoulders and muscular physique make him look like he could snap a person in two, but his vacant stare and gentle demeanor say otherwise. Paul immediately decides Coffey won't be a problem, which is good "[b]ecause he [is] so damned big." He gives Coffey the rundown of life on E Block. Coffey's only question is whether there are lights on during the night. He's afraid of the dark. Paul assures him there are, then shakes his hand. As he walks away from Coffey's cell, Paul hears him say, "I couldn't help it, boss ... I tried to take it back, but it was too late."

Chapter 3

Harry Terwilliger warns Paul Edgecombe there are going to be problems with Percy Wetmore, who isn't pleased about being forced to do manual labor in the infirmary. Dean Stanton agrees, but Paul doesn't really care. He's more interested in John Coffey. Neither Dean nor Harry know much about Coffey's past, so Paul heads for the prison library. The oppressive heat and the throb in his groin go ignored while he reads about what Coffey did to the 9-year-old Detterick twins.

Analysis

The Green Mile is a story-within-a-story. The tale of what happened at Cold Mountain Penitentiary in the fall of 1932 is told by first-person narrator Paul Edgecombe, who is jotting down his memories some 64 years later at a Georgia nursing home. While the reader learns about Paul's past, they are also given a glimpse of his current circumstances. Though they may seem unrelated, the two story lines have several parallels before they finally intersect at the end.

The Green Mile isn't told chronologically. It bounces back and forth between the present and the past, the latter of which is also told out of order. Author Stephen King uses the arrivals and executions of various prisoners as guideposts to help the reader understand what happened when. For reference, the Chief and The President are on the Green Mile when Mr. Jingles the mouse shows up. They are both executed before the arrival of Eduard Delacroix, who is still there when John Coffey arrives. Coffey is followed by William Wharton. Delacroix is put to death shortly after Wharton's arrival.

As the setup for the story to come, Book 1 (The Two Dead Girls) of the six-book novel focuses almost entirely on the people and places relevant to the events of autumn 1932. Of particular importance is the narrator's description of E Block, which is where most of the story takes place. The block's green flooring is the inspiration behind the nickname "the Green Mile," which is a punny riff on the traditional "Last Mile" of other prisons. Though E Block is the final address of most of their inmates, death is not emphasized in the terminology used by Paul and his guards. The six-cell building is always referred to as "E Block" or "the Green Mile," never Death Row. Likewise, neither name gives any hint about the electric chair waiting in the storage shed. As explained in The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 6, the guards' jobs isn't to remind their charges about death, but rather to help them come to peace with it.

The main events of The Green Mile take place in 1932 in the rural American South, most likely Louisiana. This was at the height of the Great Depression. Millions were out of work, and good jobs were hard to come by. That's why Paul and the other guards are so wary of Percy Wetmore, the story's main antagonist, or villain. The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 2 alludes to the political connections Percy used to get his job at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. His familial relationship prevents him from ever being fired and serves as a threat to those he perceives to wrong him at work. One word from him to his uncle and they'd be fired. Paul hates Percy not because of his unwillingness to follow orders but because of his power. Paul may be Percy's supervisor, but Percy controls the livelihoods of everyone he works with. Paul and the other guards on E Block are more afraid of Percy's influence than they are of the murderers they watch over.

The Green Mile's time period and location have a lot to do with the types of people who found themselves sent to their deaths on E Block. Although slavery had long been abolished by the beginning of the Great Depression, African-Americans were still viewed by many as second-class citizens, especially in the Deep South. Juries, judges, and law enforcement officials had difficulty looking past skin color when it came to dealing with alleged criminals, and those with darker skin or "questionable" backgrounds were often dealt harsher punishments than white people who committed the same crimes. In The Green Mile, most prisoners headed for the electric chair at Cold Mountain Penitentiary were black or of another minority background. That's the case for John Coffey, Eduard Delacroix (who is of French-Cajun descent), and The Chief, a Native American. In some cases, including that of John Coffey, Paul's prisoners were sentenced to death not for what they did but for who they were.
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