After the guards successfully get Delacroix’s body out of the execution room, Brutal, moved by uncontrollable rage, goes to hit Percy with a blow that would probably have killed him, but Paul stops him. Brutal doesn’t understand why Paul is protecting him, and Paul says that hurting or killing Percy would only succeed in getting them all fired. When Percy tries to defend himself by claiming he didn’t know the sponge was supposed to be wet, Brutal moves toward him aggressively but Paul stops him again.
Moved by moral outrage, Brutal is stopped by Paul, who is more focused on practical considerations than moral principles and argues that there is no point in sacrificing one’s entire life for revenge. The two men’s attitudes contrast visibly: Paul’s feeling of comradeship for his fellow guards takes over any moral resentment at Percy’s evil deed, whereas Brutal is willing to sacrifice himself in order to defend a moral principle.
Paul says that Del is dead and they cannot do anything about that. He controls his own urge to hit Percy and makes him promise again to apply to transfer to Briar Ridge. Harry threatens that, if Percy doesn’t, they would give him over to Wharton—explaining that, since Percy has already proven himself to be incompetent, it would be easy to claim he proved incompetent in allowing himself be taken by Wharton.
Paul’s self-control does not mean that he, too, is not moved by moral outrage. However, he believes that the best punishment is to focus on solving the various problems at hand: making sure Del is dead and getting rid of Percy. Paul thus implicitly attributes moral worth to maintaining general sanity and well-being at the prison—not just to reacting violently to injustice.
When Curtis Anderson walks in, screaming, asking what happened, Brutal makes a joke that makes all of them laugh, deflating the atmosphere. Brutal tries to argue that the execution was successful—and that Del’s horrible death is poetic justice for the people Del himself burned. Paul tells Curtis that Percy committed a mistake, and Anderson finally agrees the execution could have gone worse—had Del still been alive, for example.
Brutal adopts a practical stance that seems at odds with the strength of his moral principles. His ability to convince Anderson—and, perhaps, himself—of the relative success of the execution demonstrates the power that individuals have in determining what is morally right and wrong, shaping the facts so that they fit their philosophy of punishment.
After making sure that the men will let him talk first to warden Moores and that no newspapers will publish what has happened, Anderson turns toward Percy and tells him he is an asshole. Using the other men as witnesses, Paul reassures Anderson by telling him that Percy is going to ask to transfer to Briar Ridge.
Anderson proves brave in confronting Percy directly, telling him what he thinks of him without fearing the consequences. In doing so, he implicitly takes Delacroix’s side over that of a member of the very staff that is supposed to serve justice.