The Green Mile

The Green Mile

by

Stephen King

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The Green Mile: Part 5: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The men buy snacks from Toot-Toot during his last trip of the night and, in the next 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 with his report, Paul reads it and thinks it is an outrageous accumulation of lies but tells him it is fine, and Percy walks away. Dean and Brutal pretend to be absorbed in a game, but they are all aware that the suspense is unbearable.
Despite the evident horror of what Percy has done, he proves incapable of showing either remorse or honesty. Paul, though, has given up on him completely, accepting that he is a lost cause and can probably never be redeemed. The guards’ nervousness reveals the high personal stakes that are involved in their decision to break the law and heal Melinda Moores.
Themes
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
When it is almost midnight, Paul gives Dean a sign. Dean goes into Paul’s office to get a Cola drink and gives it to Paul, who serves it in an unbreakable tin cup and brings it to Wharton’s cell as a reward for behaving that evening. Wharton drinks it up eagerly. Afterwards, when Percy sees that Paul has given Wharton soda, he asks him why he did it and Paul replies internally that it is because it is filled with drugs that will leave Wharton unconscious for forty-eight hours. Brutal gives Percy a Biblical reply about Paul being overly compassionate. Percy, who doesn’t understand Brutal’s literary speech, goes to sulk in Paul’s office.
This time, even cruel Wharton and Percy are subject to Paul’s intelligent planning, meant to manipulate and subdue them so as to facilitate Coffey’s escape. Paul does not hesitate to cause mild harm to the inmates to achieve his goal but avoids hurting them too severely. Percy’s attitude proves ridiculous and childish, demonstrating the ease with which he can feel humiliated, as well as the clear limits of his intelligence.
Themes
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
After about forty minutes, the men check Wharton’s cell and see that he is lying on 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, and Brutal walk up the Green Mile toward Paul’s office.
Everything seems to be going according to plan and the reader follows the characters’ actions with anticipation, only discovering the next step in Paul’s plan by the time it has already happened.
Themes
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
When Percy sees the three men enter, he notices something dangerous in their faces and, despite their assertion that they only want to talk to him, he tries to run away. Harry blocks him and Brutal reveals the straitjacket. Percy tries to run again but Harry stops him by grabbing his arm. As Percy panics, lunging forward and desperately trying to escape Harry’s grasp, he hits the book he was reading and a smaller book falls out of it—a pornographic cartoon. While Paul feels sad and Harry disgusted at this sight, Brutal laughs loudly and makes fun of Percy.
The pornographic cartoon that Percy was reading suggests a mixture of childishness and vulgarity, confirming that Percy is incapable of obeying anything but his body’s most basic instincts, this time in a way that is both pathetic and ridiculous. Percy’s fear of the men’s reaction demonstrates the extent to which cruelty and isolation only breed enemies—turning fair, compassionate guards into potential aggressors.
Themes
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
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Brutal then tells Percy to enter the straightjacket, as Percy’s lips are trembling and he is almost crying. Percy begins to scream for help and Brutal immediately steps behind him, holding his ears in his hands, threatening to tear them off. Percy calms down, but when he still refuses to enter the straightjacket Brutal twists his ears and Percy lets out a scream that is a mix of pain, surprise, and understanding that his connections cannot help him right now.
While Paul does not want Percy to get hurt, he also accepts that physical coercion, however immoral it might seem out of context, justifies their greater goal of healing Melinda Moores. Unlike Percy, Brutal does not use gratuitous violence but generally makes use of force only when it proves absolutely necessary to the group’s safety and well-being.
Themes
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
The men succeed in putting Percy in the straightjacket and Percy begs Paul not to put him in Wharton’s cell. Paul feels disgusted at the thought that Percy could have thought them capable of such an action and tells Percy he is only going to spend a few hours in the restraint room, so that he might think about what he did to Delacroix. When the men re-enter the Green Mile, Dean fakes surprise and indignation at what is happening and Brutal tells him to shut up—a dialogue they scripted ahead of time so that Dean might not lose his job.
Paul realizes that Percy is incapable of understanding compassion, as the guard believes that Paul lacks any sense of pity or respect toward him. Percy’s fear thus merely emphasizes the fact that his vision of the world is devoid of positive emotions, only marked by cruelty and violence.
Themes
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
While Percy threatens to get them all fired, the men throw Percy into the restraint room, remove his hickory stick and gun, and put tape over his mouth. After the 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 Green Mile. Suddenly, as they get ready to walk Coffey down the Mile, Wharton’s arm shoots out of his cell.
The men do not stop to question the validity of what they have begun, but walk through the various steps of the plan. This creates a sense of urgency—and possibly doom—as it becomes clear that the men could be punished for their actions. It demonstrates their commitment to morality over their own self-interests.
Themes
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
Wharton grabs Coffey’s arm and Coffey’s eyes suddenly become alive, in the same way that Paul saw them liven up when he healed his urinary infection and Mr. Jingles. This time, however, Coffey’s glance is colder and Paul feels a moment of fear at the thought that Coffey could potentially get out of control. With slurred speech, Wharton tries to stop them and Coffey tells him he is a bad man. Brutal separates Wharton’s hand from Coffey’s arm and the tension suddenly dies down. Brutal tells Wharton to go lie down and Wharton comments, using a racial slur, that black people should have their own electric chair. Soon, he returns to his bunk and falls asleep again.
Despite Coffey’s relative lack of memory and rational intelligence, he has a strong capacity for judgment, judging Wharton just as he had previously described Percy: as a bad man. The simplicity of this description suggests that Coffey is able to see into the hearts of men, beyond their status as criminal or innocent people, and judge their souls. This defines morality as something inherent to the personality of certain human beings, which then becomes apparent in their actions.
Themes
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
The men wonder 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 they are going, Coffey says they are going to help a lady. Brutal asks how he knows that and Coffey, after thinking about it carefully, admits he doesn’t know.
Coffey is unable to notice practical dangers, focusing instead on the more elevated issues of morality and kindness.
Themes
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Love, Compassion, and Healing Theme Icon