Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
True Grit is a study of the indomitable spirit of three representative Americans: a hard-living, heavy-drinking lawman, Rooster Cogburn; young Mattie Ross, who hires Cogburn because of his reputation for grit and who proves herself to possess the same quality; and Sergeant LaBoeuf, a disciplined, clean-living lawman who is mercenary enough to contemplate maximum reward money. In varying degrees, all the characters in the novel, including the outlaws, either have “true grit” or show respect for it.
In seven unnumbered chapters, this short novel re-creates the idiom, melodrama, and morality of nineteenth century adventure fiction, particularly the dime-novel Western adventure stories. The events are related by Mattie Ross, who, in her late fifties or early sixties, looks back from her current situation as an unmarried, one-armed banker caring for her invalid mother, to the second year of the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration. Back then, her father, Frank Ross, had ridden from his home near Dardanelle in Yell County, Arkansas, to Fort Smith to purchase horses and had been shot to death and robbed by his companion, Tom Chaney. She recalls the details of her determined and ultimately successful mission, as a fourteen-year-old, to make Chaney pay for his crime.
She is first accompanied, traveling from her home to Fort Smith, by Yarnell Poindexter, a freeborn black man from Illinois, whom her father had hired to look after the Ross...
(The entire section is 884 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of True Grit Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
True Grit is a first-person narrative that exploits the tradition of the “innocent eye”—a story seen through the eyes of an unsophisticated adolescent—a tradition going back at least to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). The narrator-protagonist, Mattie Ross, is fourteen, the same age Huck was when he experienced his adventures on the mighty Mississippi. Mattie’s narration, however, strikes a very different tone from Huck’s for two reasons. First, Mattie is looking back over a period of fifty years on the events she recounts. Second, Mattie was much the same at fourteen as she is in her sixties—the kind of girl who is an adult from birth.
The setting is Arkansas and the Indian Territory in the late 1870’s. Mattie lives on a farm in Yell County, Arkansas, located near Dardanelle, an Old South settlement on the banks of the Arkansas River. Mattie’s father, Frank Ross, travels on business to Fort Smith—where the West begins—and there he is shot down and robbed by Tom Chaney, one of his farmhands. Chaney flees into the Indian Territory and joins a band of outlaws led by Lucky Ned Pepper. Mattie leaves her mother, sister, and brother at home and travels to Fort Smith, ostensibly to claim her father’s effects but in reality to bring Tom Chaney to justice.
Portis utilizes his Presbyterian background and the cultural geography of his home state to their fullest effect. Mattie is a girl of...
(The entire section is 1055 words.)