The Green Mile

The Green Mile

by

Stephen King

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The Green Mile: Part 4: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day is marked by a huge thunderstorm. Preparations for the upcoming execution initially seem to go smoothly, as Delacroix waits in his cell and the witnesses arrive. However much the witnesses might have joked about the electric chair, Paul notes that as time passes they become serious and nervous. When Paul comes to pick Delacroix up, Delacroix, in tears, hands him Mr. Jingles and makes him promise that nothing bad will happen to him.
The audience’s quiet reaction to the electric chair mirrors the inmates’ attitude that Paul had described at the very beginning of his story. However much people might joke about capital punishment, people suddenly grasp the existential weight of what they are about to witness at the very moment the threat of death becomes real.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
After Delacroix gives his mouse one last kiss, which puts the guards on the verge of tears, Dean, Brutal, and Paul escort him to Paul’s office where he says a Catholic prayer in Cajun French. A stroke of lightning scares the guards but Del, lost in prayer, fails to notice. When the men walk through the small door and are forced to duck, Del stops short at the sight of Percy presiding over the execution. Paul, however, looks at the chair and feels that everything is in order—or hopes so, at least.
The guards’ compassion for Delacroix conveys a sense of injustice, as they are forced to put an end to the beauty of love and friendship. The presence of lightning highlights the sense of doom that surrounds Delacroix’s execution, which is only heightened by the presence of the cruel Percy, presiding over the execution with intentions that are impossible to identify.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
Del walks up to the chair, the men tie him to it, and Paul feels a moment of compassion for this man, explaining that his status as a rapist and a murderer seem to matter little in that moment. Del is trembling and sweating uncontrollably with fear.
In recognizing Del’s inherent humanity and his weakness at the moment of his death, Paul realizes that the act of executing a fellow human being—however criminal the man may be—feels deeply disturbing.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After the roll on one, Percy steps forward, gives his official speech, and asks Delacroix if he has anything to say. Delacroix apologizes for his crimes and, in a whisper, asks Paul to take care of his mouse. As Paul is reassuring him, Percy reveals to Delacroix that Mouseville is an invented place, and Del reacts with shock—but his reaction also suggests that part of him already knew. Furious, Paul glares at Percy but realizes that he is powerless to do anything about it, for they are in the middle of a public execution.
Insufficiently satisfied with the fact that he is making his enemy die before his own eyes, Percy seizes any opportunity he can to cause Delacroix harm before he dies. Paul’s lack of a reaction to Percy’s affront suggests that he is forced to relinquish all his authority to Percy. This distressing fact only presages future danger, conveying a sense of uncontrollable doom and disaster.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
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Percy places the mask on Del’s face. Then, instead of wetting the sponge in brine, which allows electricity to flow through the man’s head, he places it dry on Delacroix’s head. Neither Brutal nor Paul—who is still upset about Mouseville—notices that anything is wrong. Nevertheless, Dean and Brutal are showing visible signs of distress and Paul realizes that while they all realize that something must be wrong, they simply cannot yet identify what it is.
The guards’ ability to sense that something is wrong likely derives from their knowledge of Percy’s sadistic character. They understand that the decision to put Percy in charge of the execution was a mistake, motivated not by the guard’s competence or merit but, paradoxically, by his violently unmanageable nature.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Suddenly, when Percy is done fitting the cap on Delacroix’s head, Paul notices that he sees no water running down the condemned man’s cheeks. He tries to communicate what he has seen with Brutal, but his colleague doesn’t understand. Paul violently grabs Percy’s arm and Percy’s face reveals the truth that he knew exactly what he was doing when he failed to wet the sponge. Percy calls roll on two and Delacroix’s body surges forward.
Paul’s panic at what is going to happen to Del contrasts with Percy’s calm, as the guard goes on with the execution as though nothing is wrong. The climactic confrontation between the two characters demonstrates that, while Paul cares about his fellow human beings, Percy truly is irredeemable, incapable of compassion and ready to commit even the worst criminal acts.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
After a few seconds, it becomes clear that something is wrong when a crinkling sound is heard and a horrible smell emerges, which Paul later understands to be a mix of burning hair and sponge. Paul looks at Dean, who is panicking, and a popping sound is heard underneath Del’s mask. Paul runs to stop the electricity, but Brutal, extremely pale yet perfectly in control of his thoughts, grabs his arm, telling him not to stop the juice, for it is too late for this and they should go on with the execution.
The horror of the events that begin to take place, as the electric current does not flow correctly into Delacroix’s body, is compounded by the ironic fact that stopping the execution would only increase the inmate’s physical suffering, since he would then have to endure the pain of the wounds that the chair has already inflicted on his body.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Del begins to scream as his body slams back and forth in the chair, his bones cracking from spasmodic movements and the crotch of his pants turning dark. Soon, his cries can be heard over the din of the rain and the audience begins to wonder if something is wrong. Percy’s horrified face shows that he had not expected something so horrible as this. Suddenly, Del’s mask bursts into flames and Van Hay, completely shaken, asks if he should stop the current. Paul yells back that he shouldn’t. He tells Brutal, who is going to throw water on Del to stop the flames, to go get the fire extinguisher. As Del’s mask peels off, his horribly blackened face is visible for all to see. The maddening sound of electricity fills Paul’s ears.
The agony that Del is suffering on the electric chair is intolerable for everyone to witness—including its instigator, Percy himself. While Percy realizes with disgust that he had not correctly anticipated the consequences of his evil intention, he still fails to show remorse. The audience’s horrified reaction also highlights people’s hypocrisy, as spectators are willing to watch a man suffer for his crimes but, at the same time, do not want to feel personally affected by the criminal’s agony.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
While the audience gives in to panic and Paul explains to Curtis Anderson that they have gone too far to stop the process now, the remainder of the execution lasts two full minutes, excruciatingly long for everyone. Paul believes that Del is conscious through most of it, even as smoke came out of his face, the buttons on his shirt melted, and his body burned alive. The audience huddles by the door, which is locked, and when Paul looks for the doctor he sees that he has fainted.
Paul’s realization that Delacroix has remained conscious during his execution only emphasizes the cruel injustice of what the prisoner is undergoing. The audience’s fear and panic confirms that their view of punishment was idealistic, as it involved remaining blind to the excruciating pain that the electric chair is capable of inflicting on its victims.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
When Del’s body slumps back and it becomes clear he is dead, Paul orders Van Hay to cut the electricity and Brutal to put out the fire. Brutal shoves the fire extinguisher into Percy’s arms, telling him it is his job and Percy looks back at him, furious and sick. Meanwhile, Curtis Anderson is trying to reassure the audience, telling them what happened was the result of a power surge from the lightning. Paul tells Dean to grab the doctor’s stethoscope and places it on Del’s burned body, where his skin slides off. Among the audience’s cries and protests, he confirms that Del is dead and tells the guards to get his body out of there.
Once again, Percy is unable to behave maturely and accept responsibility for what he has done. While he may feel disgusted by the sight of Del’s body, he does not show a true desire to atone for his evil deed, but merely scowls at Brutal. By contrast, Paul acts bravely and confirms Delacroix’s death, a remarkably gruesome task in light of the state of Del’s body. Paul thus proves capable of effective leadership in moments of stress—an attitude at odds with Percy’s irremediable incompetence.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon