The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mattie Ross is a devout Presbyterian who supports her sincere beliefs and principles with pertinent references to the New Testament. She is honest and will not persist in a falsehood even in an effort to deceive the murderer Tom Chaney. She is as forthright with outlaws as she is with law-abiding citizens. Her strength is shown in her ability both to get men to act in accordance with her wishes and to resist the commands of men. Her political persuasion is that of postbellum Southerners: She is a confirmed Democrat. She is outspoken and does not mince or waste words. Her narration shows that she clearly adheres in later life to the principles and values that she presents herself as having adhered to during her fourteenth year.

Rooster Cogburn is an embodiment of the Old West, with its code of personal, as opposed to legislative, justice. When he is enlisted by Mattie at the age of forty-three, his way of life is already on the way out. He participates in the advent of legal justice by becoming a marshal, after the manner of Wyatt Earp, and he does his best to help the new order, embodied in LaBoeuf, to displace his own. As a Southerner, he had seen his civilization collapse in the Civil War, during which he had served not in the regulation Confederate Army but with William Quantrill and his outlaw raiders. The end of his age is commemorated by his becoming a living exhibition piece.

Sergeant LaBoeuf is duty bound and dedicated to his job as a...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mattie Ross

Mattie Ross, the narrator-protagonist, a fourteen-year-old girl who has been an adult since birth. Mattie is narrating the story fifty years after her grand adventure. She has never married. Her most intimate contact with a man has been her warm, but chaste, relationship with Rooster Cogburn, the grizzled lawman whom she hired to catch her father’s killer. Mattie is proud, rigid, and self-righteous. She can also be imperious. More important, however, she is bright, resourceful, tenacious, loyal, and exceedingly brave.

Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn

Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, a U.S. deputy marshal for the western district of Arkansas. He has a questionable past, having fought as a guerrilla rather than as a regular soldier during the Civil War. He is approaching middle age, has lost an eye, has grown fat, and drinks too much. Mattie needs a man with grit, however, to run down her father’s murderer. Cogburn appears to possess that commodity in abundance, as he has killed twenty-three men in the past four years.


LaBoeuf (lah-BOOF), a Texas Ranger on detached service, seeking the same quarry as Mattie and Rooster. The fugitive, known by another name in Texas, has killed a state senator in Waco. The senator’s family has hired LaBoeuf to find the killer and bring him to justice. Mattie, both as a woman and as an Arkansan, immediately develops a strong prejudice against the swaggering Texan; she finds him flashy, conceited, and condescending.

Tom Chaney

Tom Chaney, the murderer of Mattie’s father, Frank Ross, and (under his original name of Theron Chelmsford) of at least one other man in Texas. After killing Ross in Fort Smith, Chaney flees across the Arkansas River into the Indian Territory. There, he joins Lucky Ned Pepper’s band of desperadoes, with whom Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf eventually have a thrilling confrontation.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

If Portis ultimately gives fiction no character other than Mattie Ross, he will have drawn someone whom critics have not hesitated to mention...

(The entire section is 531 words.)