I am going to begin this post very simply, and I apologise in advance for my language, but I feel it absolutely necessary.
This book is FUCKING FANTASTIC!
This is my first read of Stephen King’s work and it has absolutely skyrocketed to the top of my list of all time favourite books . It is rare that a book can truly make you feel the full range of emotions, but by God did this one take me for a ride. I first wanted to read the book as I knew the story and I wanted to see how it covered the topics of the death sentence and racial inequality. I want to come back to this a bit later – what I have to say might be too much heavy reading for only 100 or so words in. I’ll start on a lighter note.
“The Green Mile” explores an incredibly sensitive issue. The punishment of death by electrocution was first used in 1890 and was served only to those deemed as absolute scum-of-the-earth (oh, and black people of course). Does it then sound bizarre that despite knowing their crimes, you invest yourselves into these criminals? All readers have to love John Coffey, I think that goes without saying, but I think Delacroix (and Mr Jingles) are equally powerful characters. I was devastated when he walked the green mile and how it all transpired actually made me feel sick. Criminal or no, nobody deserves to die like that. King is very good at vivid descriptions – I’ll give him that.
So what is it about these murderers that makes you like them?
For me, I think it becomes easy to overlook the crimes committed purely because you can see how human they are. For the most part they are remorseful and perhaps did not intend to commit the crimes they did. This isn’t always the case however (cough cough Wharton – I certainly didn’t invest into him emotionally!) The most human thing about all the inmates, but particularly Delacroix is with the attachment to Mr Jingles the mouse. In the contrast, you then have people like Percy on the outside. That to me seems as much of an injustice as John’s sentence to die. People like Percy thrive on cruelty to others and to me is the absolute embodiment of archaic social attitudes. They say what comes around goes around, and rightly or wrongly, karma gets Percy good.
In case there is anyone out there reading this that has neither had the privilege of reading the book or watching the film, I will explain to you all about what is special about John Coffey – like the drink only spelt differently.
After two girls are kidnapped, a manhunt finds six foot and eight inches tall John cradling to the two dead, naked twin girls. He is crying his eyes out saying “I tried to take it back, but it was too late.” John is convicted of the rape and murder of the twins and is sent to E Block of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary to ultimately walk the green mile. What we later discover is that John has the power to heal and throughout the narrative performs several ‘miracles’.
John is a very interesting character. Whilst being seemingly dimwitted, I would actually disagree with this completely. Yeah, maybe he can’t tie his shoelaces, is afraid of the dark and all in all doesn’t say very much, but the power that John holds makes him far more perceptive than the average person. He can read people’s minds, he can feel people’s suffering and pain as well as heal it. I as the reader had doubts throughout the book about John’s involvement in the crime; eventually so do the prison wardens who have to pull the switch.
The most tear jerking moment in the book for me (remember that emotional roller-coaster) took place two days before John was due to sit the chair. Paul Edgecombe is making final arrangements for John’s last evening and John says the following:-
“You and Mr Howell and the other bosses been good to me,” John Coffey said. “I know you been worryin, but you ought to quit on it now. Because I want to go, boss.”
I tried to speak and couldn’t, He could, though. What he said next was the longest I ever heard him speak.
“I’m rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I’m tired of bein on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not ever havin no buddy to go on with or tell me where we’s comin or goin to or why. I’m tired of people bein ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I’m tired of all the times I’ve wanted to help and couldn’t. I’m tired of bein in the dark. Mostly it’s the pain. There’s too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can’t.”
I just want to leave that one with you to mull over – a quote from a six foot and eight inches tall black man, convicted and sentenced to die over the rape and murder of two girls. There were holes in the evidence given in Coffey’s trial, but nobody cared to look at them. He’s only a Negro, after all. It couldn’t possibly have been a white man now, could it? I hope I’ve made my opinion on his sentence to die clear.
Tackling these issues must be difficult for a writer without sparking one form of controversy or another, but I’m glad these issues are raised. I’ve also just found out that the electric chair is still an optional method of execution in some states of America, as an alternative to the lethal injection.
They say history repeats itself, but I only hope we can arm ourselves with the knowledge so that we do not go back to these dark ages of discrimination again. I’m just saddened that this particular history isn’t that old.
I know this is quite a long post and I apologise. I feel very strongly about the issues raised I’m keen to hear from you if you do too!