More or less as a challenge, Stephen King published this story as a serial in six parts. Just as in Charles Dickens' time, the story was crafted while the book was already in production. In keeping with the serial concept, the first edition consists of six thin, low-priced paperbacks.
Since it first appeared, The Green Mile has been republished as a single volume. The first edition contains a section where the narrator speaks directly to the reader; the later edition contains an additional foreword. The novel was left otherwise untouched, though King did change one passage where a character in a straitjacket wipes his brow (a mistake that initially slipped past both him and his editor). The novel won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 1996.
The novel was adapted by Frank Darabont for the screenplay of a feature film of the same name in 1999, directed by Darabont, starring Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecombe and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey.
The story centers on John Coffey, an almost seven-foot tall black man who is convicted of raping and killing two small white girls. He is notable because of his size and also for his strange behavior. Besides John Coffey, there are two other prisoners on the cell block during the main period the book focuses on: Eduard Delacroix, a Cajun arsonist and murderer who is cowardly and weak-minded, and William Wharton, a wild and dangerous multiple murderer, determined to make as much trouble as he can before he is executed. Looking back, Paul also describes his experiences with a Washita Cherokee murderer named Arlen Bitterbuck, nicknamed "The Chief", and Arthur Flanders, nicknamed "The Pres", an insurance executive who killed his father to perpetrate insurance fraud. The story also features Mr. Jingles, an unnaturally intelligent mouse who appears early in the novel and befriends Delacroix. The mouse learns various tricks and appears to follow commands. Delacroix insists that the mouse whispers things in his ear.
Paul and the other guards are antagonized throughout the book by Percy Wetmore, a sadistic guard who enjoys aggravating the prisoners and tries to kill Mr. Jingles on more than one occasion. The other guards have to be civil to him despite their dislike of him because he is the nephew of the governor. However, when he is offerred a place at the nearby Briar Ridge mental institution as a secretary, Paul thinks they have finally got rid of him. But Percy informs Paul and his colleagues that he is not going to leave until he is "put up front"--allowed to supervise an execution. Paul allows him to take charge over the execution of Eduard Delacroix. Percy is supposed to soak a sponge in saltwater and tuck it inside the electrode cap to be strapped onto Delacroix's head (to draw the electricty to the brain to kill him faster and with less pain), but his resentment of the man leads him to omit this step. As a result, when the switch is thrown, the electric current causes Delacroix to catch fire and he suffers an agonizing death.
Over time, Paul realizes that there is something special about John Coffey, as it is revealed that he possesses mystical healing abilities. These powers heal Paul's urinary tract infection and Mr. Jingle's broken body after Percy Wetmore almost kills him. Paul also realizes that Coffey is very empathic and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others around him, and all over the world. The guards (not including Percy) drug William Wharton and lock Percy into the padded restraint room. They then smuggle Coffey off the prison site and take him to the warden's wife, where he manages to cure her deadly brain tumor using his magical abilities. When they return to The Mile, Percy is released from the restraint room and agrees to move to the Briar Ridge secretarial job straight away. However, as he is leaving, John Coffey passes the "disease" which he took out of the warden's wife onto Percy. Percy goes mad and shoots Wharton to death, then falls into a comatose state from which he never recovers. He is later transferred to Briar Ridge, but as a patient rather than a secretary.
Although Paul eventually discovers that Coffey was innocent of the murders (which were, it turns out, the work of William Wharton), Coffey elects to die anyway to escape the cruelty of the world. Near the end of the book, it is revealed that those healed by Coffey gain an unnatural lifespan. In the end, Mr. Jingles lives to be 64 and dies of old age in Paul's nursing home and Paul reveals to the reader how his wife died. Paul also states that he is 104 years old and wondering just how much longer he will live. The book ends with this quote:
Brutus "Brutal" Howell Brutus Howell is second in command on the Green Mile. He is a tall, imposing man but is not violent at all unless necessary. His nickname of "Brutal" is intended as irony.
John Coffey John Coffey is a huge black man, on death row for the alleged rape and murder of two young girls. He is very quiet and prefers to keep to himself, he weeps almost constantly, and is afraid of the dark. Even at the end, during his execution, he asks Paul Edgecombe not to put on the black silk mask, which was used to block the view of the criminal's face, because he is afraid of the dark. Coffey is described as "knowing his own name and not much else", and lacks the ability to so much as tie a simple knot. However, he is convicted of luring the girls away from their home, disposing of the watchdog, carefully planning and using abilities he would otherwise not be expected to have. He's the calmest and mildest prisoner the guards have ever seen, despite his hulking form. He turns out to be innocent of what he is accused of, but chooses to die anyway.
Percy Wetmore Percy is the antagonist of the story, a young, seemingly sadistic guard who is only allowed to stay because he is the nephew of the governor. He is very homophobic and attacks Eduard Delacroix for allegedly touching him, although it was an accident. He is later attacked by "Wild Bill" Wharton and is teased by Delacroix for it. In retaliation, Percy deliberately sabotages Delacroix's execution. At the end of the story he is sent to Briar Ridge mental institution.
Eduard "Del" Delacroix Del is a Cajun prisoner with a fairly slow grasp of the English language. He is incarcerated for multiple deaths due to a fire he started whilst trying to cover up a murder. While on The Mile, Del befriends a mouse named Mr. Jingles who becomes his best friend in his last days on death row. His execution is sabotaged by his enemy, Percy, meaning that Del dies a slow and gruesome death in the electric chair.
William "Wild Bill" Wharton Wild Bill is on death row for various crimes. He does not like the nickname "Wild Bill" but prefers to be called "Billy the Kid", a name which he has a tattoo of on his forearm. When he first arrives he manages to convince the guards that he is in a drugged stupor, only to attack and attempt to strangle Dean when they reach E Block. He is knocked out by Brutal, but upon regaining consciousness he continues to wreak havoc on the mile, playing tricks such as urinating on the guards. He is punished by being placed in the restraint room but never seems to learn his lesson. As John Coffey is being smuggled out to the warden's house, Wild Bill grabs his arm and Coffey sees that it was he who committed the murders which Coffey was accused of. Therefore, Coffey gave Percy a "sickness" causing him to kill Wharton.
Mr. Jingles Mr. Jingles is an unusually intelligent mouse who enjoys eating peppermint sweets. He becomes a friend to Eduard Delacroix in the few days before the man dies. He is healed by John Coffey after Percy Wetmore kills him by stomping on him. This gives him increased longevity and he finally dies many, many years later.
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