“The Green Mile” is the nickname given to E block, or death row, at Cold Mountain Penitentiary—so called because of the color of the tiles in the long corridor leading up to the electric chair, where condemned inmates await executions in their cells. The Green Mile is symbolic of the inmates’ inevitable walk toward death, as they all must face the electric chair. It is a space where violence and compassion co-exist, as Paul’s humane efforts to talk to the inmates balance out the danger of the inmates losing their sanity or turning to violence. Over the course of the novel, different places are referred to as “Green Miles” in their own right: Melinda Moores’s room (where she is dying of cancer), the Georgia Pines nursing home (where elderly people await death), and, at the end of the novel, life as a whole (as all humans live with the knowledge of death’s inevitability). The Green Mile, then, serves as a representation of the fact that all humans—ordinary citizens and criminals alike—are bound to face death. Just as Cold Mountain’s Green Mile is characterized by a mix of compassion and violence, ordinary life, too, is made up of moments of joy as well as pain—and, like life on the Green Mile, every person’s life is bound to end in death. The various places that are referred to as Green Miles in the novel thus represent the various ways in which different individuals must confront the certainty of their own death.
The Green Mile Quotes in The Green Mile
A left turn meant life—if you called what went on in the sunbaked exercise yard life, and many did; many lived it for years, with no apparent ill effects. Thieves and arsonists and sex criminals, all talking their talk and walking their walk and making their little deals.
In a way, that was the worst; Old Sparky never burned what was inside them, and the drugs they inject them with today don't put it to sleep. It vacates, jumps to someone else, and leaves us to kill husks that aren't really alive anyway.
It was over. We had once again succeeded in destroying what we could not create. Some of the folks in the audience had begun talking in those low voices again; most sat with their heads down, looking at the floor, as if stunned. Or ashamed.
This is the real circus, I thought, closing my eyes for a second. This is the real circus right here, and we’re all just a bunch of trained mice. Then I put the thought out of my mind, and we started to rehearse.
I could hear Del breathing in great dry pulls of air, lungs that would be charred bags less than four minutes from now laboring to keep up with his fear-driven heart. The fact that he had killed half a dozen people seemed at that moment the least important thing about him. I’m not trying to say anything about right and wrong here, but only to tell how it was.
As for your witnesses, most of them will be telling their friends tomorrow night that it was poetic justice—Del there burned a bunch of people alive, so we turned around and burned him alive. Except they won't say it was us. They'll say it was the will of God, working through us. Maybe there's even some truth to that. And you want to know the best part? The absolute cat’s pajamas? Most of their friends will wish they'd been here to see it.
“[…] But none of those things are the reason I want to help save her, if she can be saved. What’s happening to her is an offense, goddammit, an offense. To the eyes and the ears and the heart.”
“Very noble, but I doubt like hell if that's what put this bee in your bonnet,” Brutal said. “I think it's what happened to Del. You want to balance it off somehow.”
I’ll be okay, they ain’t killers, Percy would think . . . and then, maybe, he’d think of Old Sparky and it would cross his mind that yes, in a way we were killers. I'd done seventy-seven myself, more than any of the men I'd ever put the chest-strap on, more than Sergeant York himself got credit for in World War I.
“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?”
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.
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.