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John Coffey: Disablity as seen from the novel "The Green Mile"

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Tommi Sue Wojnarowski

on 17 December 2013

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Transcript of John Coffey: Disablity as seen from the novel "The Green Mile"

Minority Lens
John is a black man.
John is a disabled man.
John is convicted of a crime.
All three are considered being in a minority.
As seen by Society
At first Mr. Coffey is intimidating and the guards in the jail see him as a man that could break the chains without struggle. Soon, the guards (all except for one) find that John is a gentle, sad mad. He feels the evil of the world. Since John is so pure at heart and yet his physical stature can be overwhelming, people see him as a threat. In the end, the people do not "get to see" who John Coffey really is, but the guards do and are saddened that John chooses death over being out of jail.
What a Doctor sees in John Coffey ~ A Medical View
John Coffey is considered to have a cognitive disability. An intellectual disability (ID) is defined as by Webster's Dictionary is "subaverage intellectual ability that is present from birth or infancy and is manifested by abnormal development, learning difficulties, and problems in social adjustment." (2013) He is just "slow". Doctors have been known to say that he is "just big and dumb". Physically, John is very large and strong; he could be a threat for that reason. John is written off because he is not educated, possibly incapable of, his "slowness" and his race. Doctors do not see John for the reason he is black. When John was younger he might have hit his head or had an infection that injured his brain. Maybe if he had been white he might have been able to see a doctor, that not being the case he was forever disabled.
Meeting John Coffey ~
A Personal View

"My name be's John Coffee and I is in jail 'cuz people think I's did a bad thing. I's coodn' take away her pain. I's too late. She ly'd in my lap, hers blood soakin' my shirt, I's tryin' to helps her, but nutin' happened. I's in this place 'cuz I'm a-tired and coodn' save her."*
A Memoir of John Coffey:
Disability as seen from the novel "The Green Mile" by Stephen King as told by T.S. Spiers*

what is assumed about him
disability - cognitive
a black man with a cognitive disability
how he feels he is viewed
what people do not know about him
why is it difficult to understand him
How He Sees Himself ~ An Analysis
medical condition
utility to society
how to facilitate a man like Coffey
likelihood of him committing the crime he is accused of
his future
How the Doctor "sees" Mr. Coffey
Effects of this Lens
*Disclaimer - This is an analysis of the novel through the "eyes or lenses" of the characters. The novel has been researched and many are quotes from the novel or movie itself. There is no intention of being insensitive to race, gender or ability. See this more as a "play" seen through multiple lenses.
*Not quoted from the book or movie, written to "match" what John might have said about his incarceration.
(when I am in his cell interviewing him)-
John is sitting his cell, on his cot that looks like an ironing table compared to his size. John is wearing larger than life overall's that looked worked in and worn in. He is at least 7 feet tall with muscles of a bull. Yet, he does not intimidate me nor am I afraid he will try to me what he is accused of doing to those little girls. He seems tired, broken and lonely.
After interviewing Mr. Coffey, I analyzed him from his eyes into the world,
I proverbially "walked in his shoes".
John was born at the turn of the 20th century. Medicine was not effective to those who had disabilities. Even if there had been John was not eligible, as mentioned before, and his family had been poor. Slavery had been made illegal, but the South was not always compliant; Johns family very well could have been "owned". This could speak to his lack of education and medical attention.

At that time, medicine did not "treat" the "feeble-minded". People were considered to be "too idiotic" to be able to understand the ways of the work. In the late 19th century a book was published "Idiocy: And Its Treatment by the Physiological Method" by Edward Seguin that described how medicine viewed individuals with an "intellectual disability" (ID). Seguin wrote:
[T]he harmless idiot, sitting awkwardly, bashful, or at least reserved on our approach. He will answer us if he can, rarely mistaking, never deceiving, but oftentimes failing to understand. His mind is extremely limited but not deranged, and with no special tendency to final insanity. He has been hurt often, but he never assailed anybody; he loves quiet places and arrangements; repeated monotonous sounds, or stillness, and above all plain and familiar faces; he has a look, not of envy at things and persons, but of abstraction, gazing far out of this world into a something which neither we nor he can discern....(1907, p. 17).
John could easily be seen as in "idiot". Except for the "God given" ability to heal by a simple touch of his hand. The medical world is baffled as to how a man with such low IQ could possess a power that changes lives. Doctors cannot, medically, explain his ability or how he acquired it. No matter how, John Coffey can do something that medicine cannot guarantee. He could be seen as a "medical oddity who is useful".
Disability - Medically defined
What is in a disability to the American medical world?
What to do with a man like John Coffey?
In the early 1900's, people like John Coffey were being hospitalized, institutionalized and sterilized. From a medical stand point, John would have not be a contribution to society and the new urbanization of America because of his lack of ability to assimilate. He was socially unacceptable due to his race, disability and even size. It is likely that if John Coffey had not been accused of a crime and put into jail, he would have at some been placed in an institution. His huge size would make him valuable as a worker, but "knowing his name and not much else" could be dangerous in the long term (King, 1996). These are some of the reasons that America began to help people disabilities "disappear".
First time we meet John Coffey
He is cradling a dead girls body in his arms. He is then accused of raping and killing two little girls who live on a farm where John worked.
Next we see John in jail
John is in jail. The guards think that he could crush them if John wanted to. He is viewed as dangerous and stupid, but afraid of the dark.
John saves
John cures Paul of his bladder infection
John saves the mouse
John saves and cures Melinda Moores of a brain tumor
John is showing that he has a special gift
John saves himself
John is given the option to leave the jail because the guards find him innocent and do not believe that he should be executed. John decides that death would be best gift he could give himself; to free him from the pain and evil that he experiences. He, at this point, has touched many and many are sad to see him die.
John is a black man.
Because he is black it is assumed that he is a criminal.
He is "feeble-minded"
Since John is assumed to be a criminal, he is assumed to be "intellectually disabled" and unable to overrule urges that are socially unacceptable.
His "blackness" contributes to his "feeble-mindedness"
John must be genetically inferior simply because he is black and that is why he is "disabled" which would lead him to be a criminal.
Walking the Green Mile
Sadly, in the end of the book, John Coffey decides his own fate. He decides that dying is better than living in a world with so much pain. No matter his "disability", John was able to discern between right and wrong and understood that there are some pains that cannot be taken away. Losing a child is one of those pains. John Coffey was seen as a villain in social eye, dumb in the medical lens and saw himself as a scared little boy who was afraid of the dark.
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