In a world where violence and cruelty are rampant, The Green Mile’s characters are often in need of physical and spiritual healing. Two characters with supernatural powers, John Coffey and Mr. Jingles, come to the aid of others in the novel, healing their wounds at the expense of their own lives. Their self-sacrifice serves as an elevated example of the healing that takes place every day among humans. Indeed, ordinary humans, too, prove capable of overcoming pain, isolation, and cruelty through love and compassion. In the face of the novel’s many horrors, losses, and grave injustices, love and compassion are shown to be sources of healing and salvation.
The mouse (“Mr. Jingles”) and the prisoner John Coffey prove to be supernatural beings that provide joy and healing to the world. When a mouse appears on E block, it shows signs of extraordinary intelligence. In addition to engaging in human-like interactions with the guards, Paul notices that it seems to be looking for someone in particular. Later, when Delacroix arrives, Paul realizes that Mr. Jingles had been looking for Delacroix all along. The mouse’s sole purpose, it seems, is to provide amusement to this particular prisoner—to be, as Paul defines it, Delacroix’s “guardian angel,” and what The Chief calls a “spiritual guide.” The mouse’s dedication to this man demonstrates that everyone is deserving of joy and happiness, no matter what their past crimes or social status may be. John Coffey, too, performs miracles on ordinary humans. While he seems incapable of grasping the full significance of his actions, he successfully heals Paul’s urinary infection, keeps Mr. Jingles from dying after being crushed by Percy’s boot, and gets rid of Melinda Moores’s brain tumor. From John’s very first act of healing, Paul recognizes this man as an agent of God, saying “I’d experienced a healing, an authentic Praise Jesus, The Lord Is Mighty.” While Mr. Jingles’s presence remains more mysterious, Paul sees Coffey as a direct conduit for God’s will.
Both Mr. Jingles and Coffey’s actions come at a heavy cost. While Mr. Jingles survives being almost crushed to death, Coffey, by contrast, is not spared a brutal end on the electric chair. This, along with the visible suffering he undergoes after each act of healing, suggests that reducing humanity’s suffering is an all-consuming task that can only take place at the cost of great individual suffering. John Coffey—whose initials, incidentally, are the same as those of Jesus Christ—proves to be a Biblical figure of sorts, a martyr whose entire existence is dedicated to saving other people. In their self-sacrificing dedication to the cause, these two characters (Coffey and Jingles) are exemplars of compassion and generosity.
Yet such compassion and generosity are not limited to supernatural beings. On a smaller scale, healing often takes a human form, as love, friendship, and loyalty often work as antidotes to pain and cruelty. Paul believes that healing physical wounds or illnesses can make up for transgressions. Wishing to atone for Delacroix’s horrific execution, he decides to heal Melinda Moores of her brain tumor. While this act of generosity bears no direct relation to what happened to Delacroix, it serves as what Brutal calls a “balancing”—an opportunity for a good action to “balance” out a bad one. While Coffey ultimately performs the healing, the decision to help Melinda is entirely Paul’s idea, suggesting that his impulse to help others is, perhaps, just as divine as Coffey’s supernatural impulse to heal.
Paul also trusts that even the worst human beings are worthy of love and care. As death-row supervisor, he considers his most important task to be talking to the prisoners as a “psychiatrist” instead of a mere guard. His attitude is pragmatic as much as ideological. From a practical perspective, talking to the inmates keeps the E-block prisoners from becoming insane (and, perhaps, violent). More importantly, though, Paul’s actions demonstrate that he focuses more on the prisoners’ humanity than on the crimes they have committed. His humane approach to inmate supervision suggests that, with enough compassion and care, these men can be seen as full, dignified humans, not as mere criminals. Paul’s attitude endows them with the kind of compassion and self-respect they might very well have lost on the way. Such powers of empathy and trust are multiplied when they involve more than one person. Inspired by his companionship with Elaine Connelly at the nursing home, Paul trusts that the positive forces of love and friendship are strong enough to counter and, perhaps, to crush the evil forces of cruelty and violence. “[T]he team of Elaine Connelly and Paul Edgecombe would probably be a match for a dozen Brad Dolans, with half a dozen Percy Wetmores thrown in for good measure.” While cruelty isolates people, forcing them to retreat inside themselves, love has the power to unite people, and to bring out unsuspected strength in even the most vulnerable individuals, such as two old residents (Paul and Elaine) in a nursing home. As Paul faces his own “Green Mile” (awaiting death at the nursing home), his memories of love are a source of peace, healing, and salvation in the face of the myriad questions and unresolved injustices that linger around him late in his life.
Love, Compassion, and Healing ThemeTracker
Love, Compassion, and Healing Quotes in The Green Mile
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.
I don't want you to forget him, all right? I want you to see him there, looking up at the ceiling of his cell, weeping his silent tears, or putting his arms over his face. I want you to hear him, his sighs that trembled like sobs, his occasional watery groan.
I helped it, didn’t I?
Except he hadn't. God had. John Coffey's use of “I” could be chalked up to ignorance rather than pride, but I knew—believed, at least—that I had learned about healing in those churches of Praise Jesus, The Lord Is Mighty, piney-woods amen corners much beloved by my twenty-two-year-old mother and my aunts: that healing is never about the healed or the healer, but about God's will.
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.
It’s as if, by writing about those old times, I have unlocked some unspeakable door that connects the past to the present—Percy Wetmore to Brad Dolan, Janice Edgecombe to Elaine Connelly, Cold Mountain Penitentiary to the Georgia Pines old folks’ home.
Writing is a special and rather terrifying form of remembrance, I’ve discovered there is a totality to it that seems almost like rape. Perhaps I only feel that way because I’ve become a very old man (a thing that happened behind my own back, I sometimes feel), but I don't think so. I believe that the combination of pencil and memory creates a kind of practical magic, and magic is dangerous. As a man who knew John Coffey and saw what he could do—to mice and to men—I feel very qualified to say that.
Magic is dangerous.
As I went on down toward the kitchen, it occurred to me that the team of Elaine Connelly and Paul Edgecombe would probably be a match for a dozen Brad Dolans, with half a dozen Percy Wetmores thrown in for good
“My poor old guy,” she repeated, and then: “Talk to him.”
“Yes. Talk to him. Find out what he wants.”
I thought about it, then nodded. She was right. She usually was.
“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?”