Stephen King: Black on The Green Mile

It’s a challenge trying to keep my blog updated with the “great firewall” of China on it’s constant block rampage. Even with a VPN, sometimes I can’t access google, blogs, and a slew of other websites.

Anyway, I finished Green Mile a few days ago. What a great read! As mentioned previously, I’ve only attempted a Stephen King novel once in my life as a preteen. I failed and never picked up another book by the guy. Since my completion of Green Mile, I’ve had to sincerely re-evaluate my views on Stephen King as a writer. Recently, I even started listening to the audiobook for The Shawshank Redemption and it’s just as good (sure we’ve seen it on TBS 2001 times, but so what)! I may need to add a few King novels to my reading list to see what I’ve been missing.

“I had been playing with a story idea on a subject I had always suspected I would get around to sooner or later: the electric chair.” – Stephen King

My Long Sentence Summary: During the time of America’s Great Depression, prison guard Paul Edgecombe narrates interactions with varying death row inmates, including a hulking black man with healing powers who is wrongfully convicted of a crime and sentenced to death by electrocution.

Their Summary: At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers are depraved as the psychopathic “Billy the Kid” Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in “Old Sparky.” Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

Thoughts on the Book: You won’t forget a single character from The Green Mile. Every death row inmate, every guard, and even the pests are well-developed and memorable. Having seen the movie provides a sort of visual for the characters and setting as you read, but after reading the book, I have less respect for the creative and dramatic pursuits of the film. Paul Edgecombe narrates the stories of the prison guards and inmates at Cold Mountain Penitentiary and King’s literary pen excels with the details of their lives and quirks.

My major issue with The Green Mile is that we have this oversized black man sitting in a prison with 4 guards and maybe 3 other prisoners. And at some point, I hoped somebody would get bored enough to walk by Coffey’s cell and ask him about himself. Shouldn’t the prisoners ask each other about themselves at least? With death constantly on your mind, maybe you don’t care about where the guy in the cell across from you is from. I understand that Coffey forgets many things, but I don’t understand not making an attempt to ask about his background. Who’s his mother? Did she have healing powers? Was he born in the south? Certainly, at some point, Edgecombe attempts to research Coffey’s background, asking local whites and reading the papers, but never does he go directly to Coffey to ask him anything. Even after Coffey heals Edgecombe of his urinary infection, brings Mr. Jingles (the mouse) back to life, sucks a brain tumor out of a white woman’s head, and “takes care” of Percy and another inmate—at no point do the prison guards or anyone else try to really help Coffey. Nobody makes a REAL sincere effort to help Coffey. Yes, Edgecombe asks Coffey what he wants him to do to save him and Coffey says he wants to die, but who truly wants to die by electrocution in front of a room of people that hate you? Again, this is my major issue with the novel. We know Coffey, but we know nothing about his past. At one point I thought to myself, can we pass this book to Toni Morrison and let her handle Coffey’s story? I bet she’d pen something amazing. I’m sure I can think of a few black authors who could take over Coffey’s backstory.

King briefly writes of one other black character in the novel. An excerpt on her below.

Excerpt: There was never a time during my years as block superintendent when all six cells were occupied at one time – thank God for small favors. Four was the most, mixed black and white (at Cold Mountain, there was no segregation among the walking dead), and that was a little piece of hell. One was a woman, Beverly McCall. She was black as the ace of spades and as beautiful as the sin you never had never to commit. She put up with six years of her husband beating her, but wouldn’t put up with his creeping around for a single day. On the evening after she found out he was cheating, she stood waiting for the unfortunate Lester McCall, known to his pals (and presumably, to his extremely short-term mistress) as Cutter, at the top of the stairs leading to the apartment over his barber shop. She waited until he got his overcoat half off, then dropped his cheating guts onto his two-tone shoes. Used one of Cutter’s own razors to do it. Two nights before she was due to sit in Old Sparky, she called me to her cell and said she had been visited by her African spirit-father in a dream. He told her to discard her slave-name and to die under her free name, Matuomi . . .

Stephen King’s Advice to Writers: Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.

I look forward to reading another Stephen King novel in the future. I’ll have to research which ones most appeal to my interests though, and with so many to choose from, doing so will be a serious task.

Happy reading, y’all.

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3 thoughts on “Stephen King: Black on The Green Mile

  1. The movie was on again last week. But I always wondered what was John Coffey’s background. In the movie the character was not drawn out enough for me and that always annoyed me. They just made him one dimensional. I guess I will have to read the book now.

  2. Oh, he’s pretty one dimensional in the book too. It’s like you know him, but you don’t really know him. He’s magical…and he didn’t commit the crime. I guess that’s all we need to know. I guess.

  3. “At one point I thought to myself, can we pass this book to Toni Morrison and let her handle Coffey’s story? I bet she’d pen something amazing. I’m sure I can think of a few black authors who could take over Coffey’s backstory.” Brillant idea, naysue! I am sure Ms. Toni Morrison would do this lovingly as she re-imagined the story of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello. I’ve never read the Green Miles, but upon re-thinking the film I see your points. We know nothing of his life although he gives and gives without reciprocity.

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