The Green Mile

The Green Mile

The Green Mile Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Stephen King's The Green Mile. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Stephen King

Stephen King grew up in Portland, Maine. His father, a merchant seaman, left his family when Stephen was two years old, leaving Stephen’s mother, a caregiver at a mental hospital, to take care of two sons. As a child, King grew fascinated with science-fiction and horror stories and soon began to write his own. The publication of his first novel, Carrie, in 1974 (King was twenty-six) was a huge success, allowing him to leave his job in order to write full-time. Over the course of an extraordinarily prolific career, King has published over two hundred short stories and fifty-four novels. As in The Green Mile, his stories often involve ordinary people forced to confront horrific events, demonstrating the power of human courage, solidarity, and compassion in the face of evil.
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Historical Context of The Green Mile

Stephen King sets his novel in the American South during the Great Depression, a severe, years-long economic downturn that began in the United States in 1929 and soon affected the rest of the world. In the United States, it led many people to lose their jobs and forced them to live in poverty. In The Green Mile, Paul and his colleagues share a fear of losing their jobs, primarily motivated by these extremely difficult economic conditions. King’s depiction of small Southern American towns also builds on the United States’ history of slavery and racism. While slavery was abolished in 1865—over fifty years before the setting of the novel—the racist attitudes of many characters show that many whites proved resistant to social change, unable to accept the end of slavery and the basic equality of whites and blacks.

Other Books Related to The Green Mile

Many of Stephen King’s novels show ordinary citizens dealing with the conflicting forces of good and evil in seemingly everyday circumstances. King’s first novel, Carrie (1974), tells the story of a young girl who uses her telekinetic powers to exact revenge on her enemies in an ordinary American town—an evil objective that contrasts sharply with John Coffey’s use of his supernatural powers to do good in The Green Mile. A possible inspiration for The Green Mile could be John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937), which is also set during the period of the Great Depression. It tells the story of two migrant field workers, George and Lennie, who are forced to seek temporary jobs. Like John Coffey, Lennie is physically strong but mentally disabled. Unaware of his own strength, he ends up inadvertently killing a young woman. As a result, George finds himself forced to kill his companion in order to spare him a violent death at the hands of a mob. The Green Mile shares a similar premise (in that Coffey is also a strong but gentle and mentally childlike man who stands accused of a violent crime and must ultimately face death at the hands of someone who loves him and wishes to spare him further pain).
Key Facts about The Green Mile
  • Full Title: The Green Mile
  • When Written: 1995-1996
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: 1996
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Mystery, Magical Realism
  • Setting: Depression-Era American South
  • Climax: Eduard Delacroix’s execution
  • Antagonist: Percy Wetmore
  • Point of View: First-person (Paul)

Extra Credit for The Green Mile

Six-Volume Publication. The Green Mile was first published serially in six volumes, released over the course of six months.

Movie Adaptation. The movie adaptation of The Green Mile, released three years after the book’s publication, was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.