Literature Study GuidesThe Green MileThe Two Dead Girls Chapters 4 6 Summary

The Green Mile | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Green Mile | The Two Dead Girls, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Chapter 4

On a June night in 1932 Klaus Detterick and his wife Marjorie allow their 9-year-old twins Cora and Kathe to sleep on the family's screened-in porch. When their older brother, Howie, tries to fetch the girls for breakfast the next morning, the girls are nowhere to be found. Blood splatters dot the porch and its steps. Further investigation finds the family's dog dead in his doghouse on the other side of the barn. His neck is broken and there's a piece of sausage close to his head.

Klaus and Howie grab their guns and attempt to follow the kidnapper's trail. They find scraps of the girls' clothing on bushes and trees as they run through three miles of fields. They are eventually joined by Deputy Rob McGee and "a jackleg posse," including hunting dogs. The dogs lead the group two miles further northwest to the Trapingus River, which is home to "families named Cray and Robinette and Duplissey" who "spat out their own rotted teeth as they plowed."

The posse ends up at a trampled clearing full of blood. The six dogs have a disagreement about which way to go. Their handler has them smell remnants of Cora's nightgown and they all point downstream. The men follow, and within ten minutes they hear a strange howling. John Coffey is sitting on a riverbank, holding a dead girl in each of his arms.

Klaus attacks Coffey, who just keeps on crying. Four men manage to subdue Klaus, who goes "limp as a man flung back from a live wire." Deputy McGee speaks to Coffey, who finally realizes he has company. McGee is unnerved by Coffey's eyes, which he later tells a reporter were "[l]ike the eyes of an animal that never saw a man before" and always full of tears. He carefully removes a wrapped package containing a sandwich, a pastry, and a pickle from Coffey's overalls pocket, then asks Coffey what happened. "I couldn't help it," Coffey says. "I tried to take it back, but it was too late." Coffey is arrested for murder. The trial jury deliberates for only 45 minutes before sentencing him to death.

Chapter 5

Paul Edgecombe can't sleep after reading about the murder of the Detterick twins. He's also miserable about his urinary tract infection, but he doesn't want to take the sulfa pills he knows the doctor will prescribe. When he finally does fall asleep, he dreams of "girls with shy smiles and blood in their hair."

Chapter 6

Paul Edgecombe avoids his summons to Warden Hal Moores's office the next morning by going over Brutus "Brutal" Howell's report from the previous night. Paul makes note of Brutal's inability to start "the talk" with John Coffey, who cried silently for much of the night. "Getting the talk started" is the most important part of working in E Block, and Paul decides to spend some time with Coffey himself.

Also on the duty desk is a note from Curtis Anderson, the warden's chief assistant. It says Eduard Delacroix will be executed in a few weeks and mentions the impending arrival of a new prisoner, William Wharton. Nineteen-year-old Wharton was sentenced to death for the murders of four people, including a pregnant woman and a state patrolman. Anderson warns Wharton is "[c]razy-wild and proud of it."

Paul finally goes to see Warden Moores. They briefly talk about Moores's wife, Melinda, who has fallen inexplicably ill with headaches and muscle weakness. Then they discuss the real reason Moores called Paul to his office: Percy Wetmore. Moores was reprimanded by the governor for Paul's decision to assign Percy to manual labor detail in the infirmary the previous day. Paul isn't impressed by Percy's tattling. Paul doesn't know how much longer he can deal with Percy on E Block, but Moores tells him to hold on a little longer. He has it "on good authority" Percy will be hired for a job at Briar Ridge, a state-run hospital. Moores then suggests Percy might already be gone if Paul hadn't put him in the switch room during The Chief's execution.

Paul is shocked when Moores tells him to put Percy "out" for Delacroix's execution. There are a dozen ways Percy could mess up an execution, and Moores is relying on Paul and Brutal to make sure everything goes smoothly. After all, "Delacroix's nuts are going to cook whether Wetmore's on the team or not."


Chapters 4 through 6 of The Two Dead Girls provide valuable insight to The Green Mile's chief protagonist, John Coffey, and its antagonist, Percy Wetmore. Many readers automatically label the most visible character in a story as its protagonist, but that's not always the case. Protagonists are the heroes and the people who effect change. As the book's narrator, Paul Edgecombe is arguably the main character of The Green Mile, but he isn't the person who changes everything in E Block. He's not a hero. That designation belongs to John Coffey. He is the impetus for the changes that occur in the lives of E Block's guards and prisoners, and he is the reason why Paul is penning his memoir in the first place. Without Coffey, there wouldn't be any story to tell.

John Coffey isn't like any criminal Paul has seen before. That sentiment is echoed by everyone who comes in contact with the giant-yet-gentle man. His eyes, which are almost always crying, have a faraway look in them that makes him seem not entirely present in the moment. It's "as if the true John Coffey was somewhere else, looking out on some other landscape." He is unusually timid for such a big man, and he radiates a sense of calm peace wherever he goes. The other men who end up in E Block aren't anything like that. For the most part they act tough and crass, even when they don't feel that way. This is the first clue that Coffey doesn't belong on the Green Mile. His persona simply doesn't fit the mold.

That mattered little to the jury that proclaimed Coffey's guilt and subsequent sentence. When they looked at Coffey, they likely saw a hulking black brute that could easily break a dog's neck and bash in the heads of two little girls. Found covered in the blood of the two dead girls cradled in his arms, it was a natural assumption that Coffey was guilty. But no one ever got his side of the story. There's no mention in the text of Coffey giving testimony or of the defense his lawyer used. Perhaps there was no defense at all. John Coffey was a penniless black drifter in hillbilly territory in the Deep South. He had to take the state-appointed lawyer who most likely gained nothing from him walking free. His race and his social status effectively assured an unfair and incomplete trial. He never had a chance to tell his story because no one wanted to hear it.

The only thing Coffey ever says about the murders is that he "couldn't help it" and "tried to take it back." That sounds like an admission of guilt, and that's how the Trapingus County authorities take it. They see a physically intimidating black man holding two dead white girls in his arms and assume he's confessing to murder. As the story continues, it is revealed that so-called confession is actually the key to Coffey's innocence.

Percy Wetmore is the polar opposite of John Coffey. A snide, entitled white 21-year-old, he uses his brains, not his brawn, to get what he wants out of people. Percy has absolutely no redeeming qualities. He's lazy, he's rude, and he thinks he's better than everyone else. Those things, coupled with his disrespect for authority, are enough to get him fired from any job. Yet Percy has more power than anyone on staff at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, even Hal Moores. That's because his uncle, who "is so married he's almost not there," is the governor. Percy complains to his father, who complains to his sister, who complains to her husband, and all of a sudden Percy has any job he wants. Even worse, he can end the jobs of those he dislikes.

One of the great questions of The Green Mile is why Percy chose to work on E Block at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. He could have had any state government job he wanted, yet he chose to work in a place where people are killed for their crimes. The answer to that question is indicated at the end of The Two Dead Girls, Chapter 6, when Moores says Percy might already be gone if he had gotten to play an active role in The Chief's execution. Percy wanted this job because he wanted to see men fry. The warden thinks the novelty will wear off once Percy sees an execution up close and personal, which is why he tells Paul to put Percy "out front" for Eduard Delacroix's execution. Having gotten what he wanted, Percy will move on to Briar Ridge.

The very idea of having Percy out front scares Paul, and it's not just because of the many ways in which Percy could mess up. Percy's thirst for causing pain to others goes against everything for which Paul and the other guards on E Block stand. Paul figures it isn't up to him to dole out punishment for crimes committed—that has already been handled by the judges and juries. Instead Paul and his men are responsible for helping their charges come to peace with the violent acts they have done and how they're being punished for them. "The talk" is essentially one-on-one therapy. In future chapters Paul makes it clear the guards aren't trying to absolve anyone of guilt, as guilt seems to be more effective than death in getting a man to see what he has done wrong. Harming prisoners doesn't do any good, and the guards' jobs are a lot easier if the inmates are calm. Unlike Percy, Paul doesn't feel the need to flaunt his authority or power over anyone, not even the condemned.

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