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True Grit

True Grit


by Charles Portis

True Grit Introduction

In a Nutshell

Turn off Red Dead Redemption, pry your bottom off the couch, and dust the cheetle off your fingers: we've got some real Wild West Action for you. We're talking train-robbing, shoot-outs, and dastardly outlaws; we're talking wide open frontiers, gunslingers, and morally ambiguous lawmen.

We're talking True Grit.

Charles McColl Portis's True Grit was first published in 1968, in installments in big-time American weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post. It hit the big screen almost immediately, in a 1969 Oscar-award winning adaptation with the Duke himself, John Wayne. (In fact, one of the only pictures we can find of the elusive Portis shows him hanging out on the red carpet with Wayne.)

The novel is Mattie Ross's "true account of how [she] avenged Frank Ross' blood over in Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground" (7.337). Frank Ross, of course, is Mattie's dad, murdered by a servant in 1875—when she's all of 14 years old. In True Grit, Mattie looks back on her quest for vengeance in 1923, fifty years later. The novel is set in Arkansas, a region Portis knew well: he grew up there before leaving Arkansas to serve as a Marine in the Korean War (1950-1953).

True Grit is full of wacky characters like Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, Mattie's one-eyed, gun-toting, saddle-blazing US Marshal of a sidekick—and side-kick #2, the Texan Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced "LaBeef").

Filmmakers can't get enough of this cinematic novel, even though some of its goofball humor is lost in translation. The novel catapulted back into the limelight with the enormous success of the 2010 Coen brother adaptation, which was nominated for ten Oscars.


Why Should I Care?

Get out a sheet of paper, Shmoopers, because it's time for a pop quiz.

(1) You fail an algebra test. Do you:

(A) Drown your sorrows in a bowl of Ben & Jerry's
(B) Write nasty graffiti about your teacher in the high school bathroom
(C) Buckle down, hire a tutor, and rock your next exam

(2) The boy you like asks some other girl to Homecoming. Do you:

(A) Drown your sorrows in a bowl of Ben & Jerry's
(B) Write nasty graffiti about that other girl in the high school bathroom
(C) Put on a fancy dress, grab your best friend, and rock that Homecoming anyway

(3) Your father is murdered by a cold-blooded killer. Do you:

(A) Wait patiently for the police to catch the killer while comforting your mother
(B) Get all emo and neglect basic hygiene while letting your mom deal with your younger sibs all by herself
(C) Hop on a train, hire a vicious marshal, and bring that killer to justice yourself

If you answered A, you're … a lot like most of us. If you answered mostly B, you've probably got a stint in juvie ahead of you.

And if you answered C—congratulations, you've got true grit. Okay, okay, in real life, you're definitely going to want to choose (A) for question 3. But for True Grit's Mattie Ross, true grit means taking matters into her own hands; it means dictating to life rather than letting life dictate to you; and it means never, ever losing sight of her goals.

We hope you have different goals than Mattie. Still, whatever they are, we're pretty sure true grit will get you there.

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