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 family and farm until his return from Fort Smith. Mattie shows her spunk early by winning a battle of wills with Colonel Stonehill, the fort’s auctioneer: He is intimidated by her threat of legal action and repurchases horses he had sold to her father. As she sets out in pursuit of Chaney, her companions are the fortyish Cogburn, for whose services she has agreed to pay one hundred dollars, and a thirtyish Texas Ranger sergeant with the gender-bent name of LaBoeuf who, intent upon both justice and a large reward, is pursuing Chaney for a murder that Chaney had committed in Texas.
Cogburn and LaBoeuf constitute an odd couple. Although they are separated in age by only a decade, LaBoeuf is of...
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