Study Guide

Ned Pepper in True Grit

By Charles Portis

Ned Pepper

If Chaney is nasty, then Ned Pepper is just pure evil, like a little glimpse into what Chaney could become if he stuck it out for a few more years. Almost everything he does is violent, violent, and more violent. Just look at the way he treats Mattie—who, remember, is a fourteen-year-old girl (albeit one with a gun):

  • He shook me like a terrier shaking a rat. "Tell me another lie and I will stove in your head!" Part of his upper lip was missing, a sort of gap on one side that caused him to make a whistling noise as he spoke. Three or four teeth were broken as well, yet he made himself clearly understood. (7.45)
  • He flung me to the ground and put a boot on my neck to hold me while he reloaded his rifle from a cartridge belt. (7.47)

We don't ever get much sense of what motivations lie behind any of Pepper's actions, although we imagine that, by now, his two goals are (1) don't die, and (2) don't get caught. He does have some sort of rudimentary moral code, telling Mattie, "I have never busted a cap on a woman or anybody much under sixteen years but I will do what I have to do" (7.59).

He's no Frank Ross, but at least it's something.