The Green Mile

The Green Mile

by

Stephen King

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John Coffey Character Analysis

Despite his intimidating size, John Coffey is sensitive and non-violent. He is mostly illiterate (the only thing he can spell is his own name) and, like a child, is afraid of the dark. In prison, he spends most of his time crying for the suffering of other people. He has extraordinary healing powers, which lead the guards on E block to consider him a conduit for God’s will. After revealing these powers to the guards by healing the injured Mr. Jingles as well as Paul’s painful urinary infection, Paul decides to break Coffey out of prison so that he can heal Melinda Moores of her fatal brain tumor. Paul then discovers Coffey to be innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced, but sees no way around having to execute the innocent man. Despite the injustice of his sentencing and execution, Coffey proves willing to die, having grown weary of sensing the suffering and cruelty of the world. Nevertheless, Coffey believes in retribution and, when he discovers that Wharton is the true rapist and murderer of the Detterick twins, he uses his gifts to make Percy kill Wharton in his cell. The only black man in the story, Coffey is often the victim of racism, in the legal system as well as among ordinary individuals. In the end, he is executed on the electric chair for a crime he never committed, but not before he has passed some of his gifts onto Paul, enabling Paul to read the thoughts of others and making him impervious to the effects of old age.

John Coffey Quotes in The Green Mile

The The Green Mile quotes below are all either spoken by John Coffey or refer to John Coffey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Pocket Books edition of The Green Mile published in 1996.
Part 1: Chapter 4  Quotes

I think they would have given a good deal to unsee what was before them, and none of them would ever forget it—it was the sort of nightmare, bald and almost smoking in the sun, that lies beyond the drapes and furnishings of good and ordinary lives—church suppers, walks along country lanes, honest work, love-kisses in bed. There is a skull in every man, and I tell you there is a skull in the lives of all men. They saw it that day, those men—they saw what sometimes grins behind the smile.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey, Kathe and Cora Detterick
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Chapter 6  Quotes

I don't want you to forget him, all right? I want you to see him there, looking up at the ceiling of his cell, weeping his silent tears, or putting his arms over his face. I want you to hear him, his sighs that trembled like sobs, his occasional watery groan.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey
Related Symbols: Medal
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Chapter 3 Quotes

I helped it, didn’t I?

Except he hadn't. God had. John Coffey's use of “I” could be chalked up to ignorance rather than pride, but I knew—believed, at least—that I had learned about healing in those churches of Praise Jesus, The Lord Is Mighty, piney-woods amen corners much beloved by my twenty-two-year-old mother and my aunts: that healing is never about the healed or the healer, but about God's will.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey
Related Symbols: Medal
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Chapter 4 Quotes

Everyone—black as well as white—thinks it's going to be better over the next jump of land. It's the American damn way. Even a giant like Coffey doesn't get noticed everywhere he goes . . . until, that is, he decides to kill a couple of little girls. Little white girls.

Related Characters: Burt Hammersmith (speaker), Paul Edgecombe, John Coffey
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Chapter 1 Quotes

Writing is a special and rather terrifying form of remembrance, I’ve discovered there is a totality to it that seems almost like rape. Perhaps I only feel that way because I’ve become a very old man (a thing that happened behind my own back, I sometimes feel), but I don't think so. I believe that the combination of pencil and memory creates a kind of practical magic, and magic is dangerous. As a man who knew John Coffey and saw what he could do—to mice and to men—I feel very qualified to say that.

Magic is dangerous.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey
Related Symbols: Medal
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Chapter 2 Quotes

Hammersmith who had told me that mongrel dogs and Negroes were about the same, that either might take a chomp out of you suddenly, and for no reason. Except he kept calling them your Negroes, as if they were still property . . . but not his property. No, not his. Never his. And at that time, the South was full of Hammersmiths.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey, Burt Hammersmith
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Chapter 7 Quotes

I believe there is good in the world, all of it flowing in one way or another from a loving God. But I believe there’s another force as well, one every bit as real as the God I have prayed to my whole life, and that it works consciously to bring all our decent impulses to ruin. Not Satan, I don't mean Satan (although I believe he is real, too), but a kind of demon of discord, a prankish and stupid thing that laughs with glee when an old man sets himself on fire trying to light his pipe or when a much-loved baby puts its first Christmas toy in its mouth and chokes to death on it. I’ve had a lot of years to think on this, all the way from Cold Mountain to Georgia Pines, and I believe that force was actively at work among us on that morning, swirling everywhere like a fog, trying to keep John Coffey away from Melinda Moores.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey, Melinda Moores
Page Number: 372
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6: Chapter 6 Quotes

“My poor old guy,” she repeated, and then: “Talk to him.”

“Who? John?”

“Yes. Talk to him. Find out what he wants.”

I thought about it, then nodded. She was right. She usually was.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), Janice Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey
Page Number: 452
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6: Chapter 7 Quotes

“I mean we're fixing to kill a gift of God,” he said. “One that never did any harm to us, or to anyone else. What am I going to say if I end up standing in front of God the Father Almighty and He asks me to explain why I did it? That it was my job? My job?”

Related Characters: Brutus “Brutal” Howell (speaker), John Coffey
Related Symbols: The Green Mile
Page Number: 454
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6: Chapter 8 Quotes

“He kill them with they love,” John said. “They love for each other. You see how it was?”

Related Characters: John Coffey (speaker), William Wharton, Kathe and Cora Detterick
Page Number: 459
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6: Chapter 10 Quotes

Old Sparky seems such a thing of perversity when I look back on those days, such a deadly bit of folly. Fragile as blown glass, we are, even under the best of conditions. To kill each other with gas and electricity, and in cold blood? The folly. The horror.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey
Related Symbols: The Green Mile
Page Number: 475
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6: Chapter 13 Quotes

John saved me, too, and years later, standing in the pouring Alabama rain and looking for a man who wasn't there in the shadows of an underpass, standing amid the spilled luggage and the ruined dead, I learned a terrible thing: sometimes there is absolutely no difference at all between salvation and damnation.

Related Characters: Paul Edgecombe (speaker), John Coffey, Janice Edgecombe
Related Symbols: The Green Mile
Page Number: 497
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Green Mile LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Green Mile PDF

John Coffey Character Timeline in The Green Mile

The timeline below shows where the character John Coffey appears in The Green Mile. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Chapter 1
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
...the storage shed is so low that, when crossing it, most mean have to duck. John Coffey, Paul explains, was so tall he had to sit. To the left of the... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 2
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...a terrible urinary infection. The inmate Delacroix arrives at E block. Finally, and most importantly, John Coffey is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of the Detterick twins. (full context)
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One day, Percy and Harry walk in with John Coffey, an extremely muscular, six-foot-eight-inch tall black man whom Paul compares to a captured bear.... (full context)
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...man walking! Dead man walking!” but Paul, annoyed, cuts him short. Paul is waiting in John’s cell to talk with Coffey, as he does with all new inmates, but Harry is... (full context)
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When Coffey enters his cell, his incredible size forces him to duck. Amazed at the inmate’s sheer... (full context)
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When Harry comes to unlock John’s chains, Paul realizes that Harry is no longer afraid of John. What truly scared him,... (full context)
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Paul decides that, despite Coffey’s imposing size, the new inmate will not be any trouble on the block—a prediction he... (full context)
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Paul concludes his speech by asking if Coffey has any questions and the prisoner asks if the guards leave a light on during... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 3 
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...and disbelief at the fact Percy had been shouting “Dead man walking!” when he brought John Coffey in. Harry warns Paul again that, because of Percy’s political connections, Paul might be... (full context)
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When Paul asks what his colleagues think about John Coffey, both Harry and Dean concur that he will not bring trouble, agreeing that he... (full context)
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...at the time. When reading about the crime, Paul feels uneasy at the thought of John’s gigantic body in relation with the two blonde, smiling, nine-year-old girls who were murdered. He... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 4 
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...the scene before them. By the river, they see a gigantic man with a bloodstained jumper—John Coffey—carrying the naked bodies of the Detterick twins. Rocking the girls back and forth and... (full context)
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...at seeing the dead bodies of his two little girls, Klaus Detterick throws himself at Coffey and kicks him in the temple, but Coffey is unaffected. He seems not to notice... (full context)
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Deputy McGee steps forward to talk to Coffey, who still has tears rolling steadily down his face. McGee asks the man’s name. “John... (full context)
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When McGee asks John Coffey what happened, Coffey, tears still running down his face, replies: “I couldn’t help it.... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 6
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...Jingles, out of his box, and calmed down. Brutal also mentions trying to talk to Coffey, but failing to elicit any reaction from the prisoner. (full context)
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Paul makes a note about trying to talk to John Coffey. He then reads the account that the warden’s chief assistant, Curtis Anderson, has written.... (full context)
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Before Paul leaves, Moores asks him if he thinks Coffey is going to be any trouble. Paul replies that he does not think so, adding... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 8
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...the men’s decision ultimately came true. Neither of them took part in another execution after John Coffey’s. (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 6 
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Paul realizes that his decision to write about John Coffey has led him much farther back in his memory than he would have thought,... (full context)
Part 3: Chapter 3
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...a scream as he pees, urinating pus. When he is done, Paul suddenly realizes that John Coffey has made no noise during the entire commotion. He looks into Coffey’s cell to... (full context)
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For once, Paul notices, Coffey looks fully present, his eyes awake and without tears. Coffey tells Paul that he cannot... (full context)
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...cell, Delacroix warns Paul not to go in, but Paul tells him to keep quiet. Coffey tells Paul to sit down beside him on his bunk. When Paul sits next to... (full context)
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While Delacroix is yelling that he wants to know what is going on in Coffey’s cell, Paul notices that Coffey looks unwell. Out of nowhere, Coffey’s mouth opens as though... (full context)
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Paul stands up, notices that all his pain is gone, and asks Coffey what he has done to him. Coffey replies that he has helped, and Paul cannot... (full context)
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When Paul exits Coffey’s cell, Delacroix, who finds Paul completely different, becomes convinced that Coffey has worked a magic... (full context)
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...pain entirely gone, Paul knows that he has experienced a true miracle. He believes that Coffey is not the one who actually helped him, but that God did, as God has... (full context)
Part 3: Chapter 4
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...heads to Tefton, in Trapingus County, to look for Burt Hammersmith, the reporter who covered Coffey’s trial. He heads to the newspaper where the man works but is told Hammersmith is... (full context)
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When Paul tells Hammersmith he has come to talk about Coffey, who spends most of his time calmly crying in prison, Hammersmith remarks that this is... (full context)
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...to figure out what exactly motivates Paul’s curiosity. Paul decides not to tell him about John’s healing, but merely asks if Hammersmith believes Coffey has committed other crimes before. While Hammersmith... (full context)
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Hammersmith asks if Paul has seen Coffey’s scars, a detail which was used during the trial in Coffey’s defense. The jury, however,... (full context)
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To address Paul’s doubts about Coffey’s guilt, Hammersmith tells him the story of his own dog. He compares black people to... (full context)
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...to a fit of rage and attacked his son. Hammersmith returns to the topic of Coffey’s crime. He notes that he is against slavery but that Coffey is not innocent and... (full context)
Part 3: Chapter 6
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...the Green Mile. While Janice chats with Melinda, Paul suddenly remembers the way in which John Coffey healed him. (full context)
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...drive home, both of them agree that Melinda’s situation is terrible, and Paul thinks of John Coffey again. At home, Paul and Janice make love. When Paul drives back to the... (full context)
Part 4: Chapter 2
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...earlier. While Delacroix is crying and the guards, distraught, do not know what to do, Coffey’s voice rises from behind them, compelling them to give him the mouse. (full context)
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Paul remembers what Coffey did to his urinary infection and decides to pick up Mr. Jingles’s broken body. Brutal... (full context)
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As the guards watch, dumbfounded, Coffey lets Mr. Jingles back down. The mouse looks normal again, if not for a little... (full context)
Part 4: Chapter 6
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When Paul goes back to the block to write his report, feeling exhausted, he sees Coffey’s steady flow of tears running down his face and hears Wharton sing an inventive, sadistic... (full context)
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When Paul asks where Mr. Jingles is, Coffey says he went to the restraint room, and Paul believes he will be back. However,... (full context)
Part 4: Chapter 7
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...his plan, concerning the shoe but not entirely related. He says that Melinda Moores and John Coffey have a similar sadness in their eyes, which are the eyes of people who... (full context)
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...the only way to keep the past from haunting you. Paul has a dream about John Coffey holding the dead bodies of the Detterick twins and saying: “I couldn’t help it.... (full context)
Part 4: Chapter 9
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...around the table, Paul explains that what is on his mind has to do with John Coffey and Mr. Jingles. Paul refers to Coffey’s healing of Mr. Jingles, which they all... (full context)
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...job and his freedom to help Melinda Moores. Dean asks if Paul truly believes that Coffey could heal her brain tumor and Paul says he thinks so. (full context)
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The men then discuss practical details. Paul confirms that it makes more sense to bring Coffey to Melinda than the other way around, for Hal would never allow it. When he... (full context)
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When Dean raises a final objection about the fact that Coffey is a murderer and could become violent, Paul assures him that this would not happen.... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 1
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...He says that writing creates a kind of magic—and that magic, as he knows from John Coffey, can be dangerous. When he wrote down his memories of Delacroix’s execution the day... (full context)
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...the other prison guards in his house, when he told them how he knew that Coffey was innocent. (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 2
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At his home, Paul tells the guards that, after Delacroix’s execution, he gave Coffey his shoe and told him to tie it. Coffey soon found himself at a loss,... (full context)
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...Paul explains that the only reason he thought about it himself was because of what Coffey said after his episodes of healing. After healing Paul’s urinary infection as well as Mr.... (full context)
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Paul assumes that Coffey was probably not far from the crime scene and, when he heard the commotion, went... (full context)
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...of killing an innocent man, he cannot think of a way to convince people of Coffey’s innocence, as that would involve talking about Coffey’s healing powers. Paul says that the more... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 4
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Throughout the evening, Coffey seems unusually alert. When Brutal glances at Coffey’s cell on his way back from the... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 5
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...hours, time seems to advance at an impossibly slow pace for the nervous guards while Coffey sits on his bunk as though he were waiting for a bus. When Percy returns... (full context)
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...his bunk, unmoving, his eyes open but seemingly unconscious. Paul says it is time. While Coffey is watching, standing up against his cell’s door, Brutal grabs the straitjacket and Paul, Harry,... (full context)
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...guards close the door, knowing that there is no turning back now, they go open Coffey’s door. The men make sure Dean knows what to say if anyone comes by the... (full context)
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Wharton grabs Coffey’s arm and Coffey’s eyes suddenly become alive, in the same way that Paul saw them... (full context)
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...how Wharton could have gotten up with such a strong drug in his body and Coffey repeats that he is a bad man. When Brutal asks Coffey if he knows where... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 6
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To pass through the little door separating Paul’s office from the storage room, Coffey is forced to sit down, scoot, and get up again. In the storage room, when... (full context)
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Paul makes Coffey lie down on the gurney—which they used the night before to transport Delacroix’s body—and the... (full context)
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...of the tunnel, Paul opens the steel gate with a special key and, farther down, Coffey helps Harry open the bulkhead. The men enter a cold, April night and Coffey catches... (full context)
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...car, Harry and Brutal sit in the front while Paul sits in the back with Coffey, and they all set off. Smiling, Coffey spends a long time looking at the stars.... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 7
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...to Moores’s house, Paul begins to feel nervous and to doubt the very idea that Coffey could heal Melinda Moores. He also worries that Hal might never let a convicted murderer... (full context)
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When Harry walks over with John Coffey, Hal raises his gun and threatens to shoot. Suddenly, Melinda Moores’s voice can be... (full context)
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Unsettled by the situation, Moores begins to waver and Coffey walks up, moving Harry aside. Paul feels that the evil spirit is gone and understands... (full context)
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While Melinda is still swearing profusely, Coffey says he wants to help her. When Hal objects, saying she cannot be helped, Brutal... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 8
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...a mess, and her chamber pot full of a horrible yellow substance. When she sees Coffey enter the room, she looks at him with horror, and Paul wonders if she might... (full context)
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Melinda asks Coffey why his body is covered in scars and Coffey says he doesn’t remember. Hal watches... (full context)
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...by a series of spasms and the men hear the sound of a scream. When Coffey moves away from her, she looks absolutely normal, healthy, and many years younger, while Coffey... (full context)
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...tells her they didn’t find a tumor and he bursts into tears. Melinda asks who Coffey is and, when he presents himself, she says she dreamed about him. In her dream... (full context)
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...about the fact that they came to his house, and Hal thanks Paul before shaking Coffey’s hand and thanking him as well. Before the men leave, Melinda gets up again to... (full context)
Part 5: Chapter 9
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...drive back toward prison. When they stop by the side of the road to pee, Coffey remains in the car and Brutal tells Paul that, since Coffey swallowed Melinda’s sickness, he... (full context)
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When the guards reach Harry’s hidden parking spot, they help Coffey get out of the car and he almost falls over, coughing hard. On the walk... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 1
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In the Georgia Pines nursing home, Paul spends all night writing about Coffey’s escape from prison. When he takes a short break, he falls asleep and wakes up... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 2
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When the guards bring John back into the prison, the gurney proves absolutely necessary, as Coffey looks as though he... (full context)
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When Dean sees them, he expresses relief but worries about John’s appearance. Dean tells his friends Percy made some noise at the beginning but ultimately quieted... (full context)
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...Paul steps out of the restraint room to try to calm Percy down, he sees Coffey’s gigantic arm reach out for Percy. John presses his and Percy’s faces together against the... (full context)
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Percy screams and tries to step back, and Paul sees the black flow between John and Percy’s lips. Percy lets go of his baton—forever, Paul notes—and Paul tries to come... (full context)
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Paul sees blood dripping from Wharton’s bunk and turns around to see Coffey sitting on his bed, no longer looking sick. Coffey nods at him and Paul, surprising... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 3
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...half-jokingly says that he should keep certain small details out of his official report—such as Coffey’s healing powers and the fact that Paul helped a condemned murderer escape from prison. Paul... (full context)
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Hal Moores privately asks Paul if Coffey’s visit to his house has anything to do with what happened to Percy, and Paul... (full context)
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...Detterick girls didn’t scream when they were taken. Janice asks Paul if he truly thinks Coffey intended to kill Wharton through Percy, and Paul says he does. (full context)
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...then asks Paul to go through the details again of the moment when Wharton grabbed Coffey’s arm. As Paul recounts the story, Janice wonders why Coffey, who had never had any... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 4
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...low profile and does not investigate the idea he had while talking to his wife. John Coffey’s DOE arrives and, a few days later, Paul drives to the Purdom County courthouse... (full context)
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...When Janice asks him what is wrong, Paul says that he is supposed to execute Coffey in a week but that it is actually William Wharton who killed the Detterick twins. (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 5
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...invite Paul’s colleagues over for lunch again, arguing that they already know the worst part—that Coffey is innocent. When Paul tells his colleagues what he has found out, the men wonder... (full context)
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...name. At this piece of news, Janice excitedly concludes that the guards can now get Coffey liberated, since all they have to do is show the Dettericks a picture of Wharton.... (full context)
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Increasingly moved by horror and the realization that it might be impossible to prove Coffey’s innocence, Janice suggests a variety of options. She says Deputy McGee could try to convince... (full context)
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...the legal route to justice is not an option, Janice tells them they could get Coffey out secretly, to which the men reply that it would be impossible to make it... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 6
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...Paul makes a joke about it. She tells Paul not to tell Hal anything about Coffey’s innocence. She asks Paul if he and the guards will all be there for the... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 7
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Two days later, the guards rehearse Coffey’s execution while he is in the shower. Paul decides to stand in for the condemned... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 8
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When John returns from his shower, Paul goes to talk to him. Coffey’s calm eyes are, as... (full context)
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John then shares with him the longest speech Paul has ever heard him say, explaining that... (full context)
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As Paul leaves the cell, Coffey tells him that he knows Paul wonders why the Detterick girls didn’t scream when they... (full context)
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Paul leaves Coffey’s cell and realizes he can hear Brutal’s thoughts, who is debating the spelling of a... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 9
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The time for John Coffey’s execution finally comes, on November 20th. The guards feel sick and nervous and Hal... (full context)
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When Paul, Dean, and Harry go to Coffey’s cell, Paul gives him his official speech. Dean and Harry shake Paul’s hand, apologizing to... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 10
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...Homer Cribus and Klaus and Marjorie Detterick—although, like Hal Moores, Deputy McGee is absent. As John and the guards walk toward the chair, Marjorie spits on the platform and insults John,... (full context)
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When John sits down in the chair, Paul and Harry attach his ankles, Brutal attaches his wrists,... (full context)
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When Coffey turns toward Paul, Paul sees no resignation or peace in his eyes, but rather incomprehension,... (full context)
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...faint. Paul mentions she died eighteen years later in a trolley-car accident. For a second, John opens his eyes and Paul is the last thing he sees before he dies. Paul... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 11
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When Paul returns home, he sits down on his porch and cries, for John and for all of them. Janice comes out to comfort him and, in the afternoon,... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 12
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...when Elaine has finished the story, she joins Paul and says she is sorry for Coffey and for Paul. She begins to cry and Paul holds her. She asks Paul what... (full context)
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...him. Paul throws the spool again and he and Elaine talk about the fact that Coffey touched the mouse in the same way he touched Paul, making both of them resistant... (full context)
Part 6: Chapter 13
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...shook as though she were being electrocuted. When he called out for help, he saw John Coffey in the shadows, but the figure soon disappeared. Paul believed it could have been... (full context)
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...Paul realized there was no difference between salvation and damnation. He recalls the strange force John poured into him, and explains that since that moment he has never gotten sick. He... (full context)
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Looking back on his writing, Paul thinks about God, who chose to sacrifice innocent John Coffey. Paul thinks of the deaths of Mr. Jingles and of his wife Janice. He... (full context)