The Green Mile

The Green Mile

by

Stephen King

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The Green Mile: Part 6: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Janice decides to 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 at what point Coffey realized that Wharton was the true culprit. Together, they realize that Coffey discovered this when Wharton touched him and he could read his thoughts.
Janice takes personal responsibility for bringing about justice—not in the name of Del’s execution but to protect Coffey’s innocence. She proves more idealistic than Paul in her desire to prevent Coffey’s execution, hoping that the legal system will prevent the injustice of Coffey’s death from taking place.
Themes
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Paul himself began to suspect that Wharton could have killed the Detterick twins because Curtis Anderson had written in his report that Wharton had spent a long time wandering around the state. The way that Wharton tried to strangle Dean, too, made it seem likely that he could have killed the dog on his own. When Paul went to Purdom County, he checked Wharton’s earlier records and the Sheriff told him that Wharton had been caught sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl some time earlier. The girl’s father did not file an official complaint, deciding instead to go to the Sheriff, who made sure Wharton was violently beaten. Harry, not convinced that this serves as sufficient proof for a pattern of rape, is interrupted by Janice, who says that men like that don’t do such things only once.
Wharton’s previous records of sexual assault make him a much more likely aggressor than Coffey, who was unknown until the Detterick case. Janice’s intervention into the conversation about sexual assault suggests that she, as a woman, feels confident enough about her knowledge of the truth to assert her opinion vigorously, thereby settling the issue. Paul’s efforts to prove Wharton’s guilt are surprising, given that Wharton is already dead and that Coffey is bound to be executed, but they demonstrate his commitment to his job and, more generally, to the ideals of justice and truth.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
Morality and Justice Theme Icon
Paul then relates his trip to Trapingus County, where he told the entire truth to Rob McGee. When McGee came back from his visit to the Dettericks, he was clearly convinced of Wharton’s guilt. Klaus Detterick told him that, some time before his girls’ murder, he had hired a young man to paint his barn. The man had dinner with the family a couple of times, during which he would have gotten the chance to hear about the girls occasionally sleeping out on the porch. The day after the man left, a man robbed a business nearby, stealing an ancient silver dollar that was later found on Wharton.
Wharton’s propensity to do evil comes to light even more fully than it did in prison, as every single piece of evidence of Wharton’s presence in a geographical location is accompanied by reported evidence of a crime. It becomes clear that Wharton was obsessed with causing harm wherever he went, for financial benefit or for his mere enjoyment. The man’s cruelty appears completely senseless and desperately impossible to control.
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The final incriminating detail, confirming that Wharton murdered the two girls, is the fact that the man told the Dettericks his name was Will Bonney—Billy the Kid’s real 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. However, Paul and Brutal tell Janice that what they have found out does not constitute legal proof, only a series of coincidences, whereas Coffey was actually found holding the Detterick girls’ dead bodies. In addition, Sheriff Cribus would never want to reopen a case that he believes ended well—that is, with a black man convicted.
Wharton’s own pride at his status as a criminal causes him to leave behind a piece of evidence that makes it easy to relate the Detterick case to himself—suggesting, perhaps, that he almost wanted what he did to become public knowledge. Janice’s enthusiasm is cut short by practical considerations about the legal system. The obstacles that she faces reveal that the law’s complexity—and its trenchant racism—often impede the very course of justice it is meant to promote.
Themes
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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 Sheriff Cribus, or that Paul himself could go, or that the guards could lie about the circumstances in which they found out about Wharton’s guilt (without mentioning Coffey’s supernatural powers). The men counter all her arguments with practical considerations that make each one infeasible.
Janice’s moral outrage is admirable but strikingly impractical. The objections others raise help explain Paul’s reaction when he left Deputy McGee: he understood that he could only hope to know the whole truth about the Detterick case, without hoping that he could actually change its outcome.
Themes
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Finally, after realizing that 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 look like a real escape, and that Coffey would easily be arrested again anyway. Silently crying, Janice listens to the men’s objections and suddenly sends everything flying off the table. She begins to yell at Paul and Brutal, telling them they are cowards and are going to let an innocent man die, consoling themselves with the fact that it is only the death of one more nigger.
Faced with the impossibility of doing anything for John Coffey, Janice is forced to accept the full injustice of this situation. Her attacks against Paul and Brutal seem harsh, since she knows that Paul and Brutal are not actually racist. At the same time, her comments highlight a fact that both guards already know: that they are in part morally culpable for taking part in an innocent man’s execution.
Themes
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Janice stands up and Paul tries to grab her arm but she pulls away, calling Paul a murderer no better than Wharton. She leaves the room and begins to sob into her apron. After a while, the men stand up and help Paul clean the mess without saying anything, for nothing can be done.
Janice’s violence and the men’s silent retreat underline the shame and anger that they are all feeling, however differently they might express their emotions, as they realize their inability to change what is clearly an unjust fate for Coffey.
Themes
Death and the Death Penalty Theme Icon
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