People do not give credence that a fourteen-year-old-girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it didn't happen every day. (1.1)
Bam. We don't waste any time getting our story started, and Mattie lets us know right away that she's out for blood. (Just imagine trying to do this with cell phones and Facebook—she wouldn't have made it out of Fort Smith before her mom was texting her that she was going to be SO GROUNDED if she didn't get back within 20 minutes.)
I said, "That is my father." I stood there looking at him. What a waste! Tom Chaney would pay for this! I would not rest easy until that Louisiana cur was roasting and screaming in hell! (2.19)
Revenge is a dish best served cold—or in Mattie's case, "roasting and screaming in hell." Notice how she doesn't spend any time agonizing about the right thing to do: it's black and white for her. Murder leads to revenge, just like eating an entire pizza leads to regret.
"I have left off crying, and giggling as well. […] Here is the money. I aim to get Tom Chaney and if you are not game I will find somebody who is game. I know you can drink whiskey and I have seen you kill a gray rat. All the rest has been talk. They told me you had true grit and that is why I came to you. I am not paying for talk." (5.109)
Mattie may be out for revenge, but she's not dumb—she knows she can't actually do it by herself. Instead, she hires Rooster. He's in it for the money and LaBoeuf is in it for the law—and Mattie is in it for the revenge. NBD. Whatever the motivation is, Mattie knows the end goal is the same.
"I want him to know he is being punished for killing my father. It is nothing to me how many dogs and fat men he killed in Texas."
"You can let him know that," said Rooster. "You can tell him to his face. You can spit on him and make him eat sand out of the road. You can put a ball in his foot and I will hold him while you do it. But we must catch him first." (5.224-5)
Mattie doesn't just want Chaney dead—she wants him to know why he's dying. Sounds right: revenge is no good if the person being punished doesn't understand that he's done something wrong.
I would have Lawyer Daggett skin Rooster Cogburn and nail his venomous hide to the wall. The important thing was not to lose sight of my object and that was to get Tom Chaney. (5.250)
Yikes. We'd hate to see Mattie's burn book. Seriously, though: no matter how many vengeful threats Mattie makes, she saves her real vengeance for Chaney. Everything else is just bluster.
"See that you mend your ways, boy, or I will come back some dark night and cut off your head and let the crows peck your eyeballs out." (6.25)
Being vengeful doesn't mean you can't have a soft side, too. Here Rooster is threatening some youngsters that were amusing themselves by hurting a mule. He portrays himself as a kind of dark angel of vengeance. Here, his candy center and his crusty shell come together in the service of a helpless creature.
I pointed the revolver at his belly and shot him down. (7.19, 20, 24)
Oops. Mattie may be a girl on a mission, but it seems like she hasn't had much experience with the nuts and bolts of revenge missions. Here, Chaney taunts her for forgetting to cock her gun, not expecting that she's actually going to shoot him. He's wrong.
My hand was swelled and turned black, and then my wrist. On the third day Dr. Medill gave me a sizeable dose of morphine and amputated my arm just above the elbow with a little surgical saw.
Sometimes revenge has a hefty price tag attached—and there's no use waiting for the sale. We're pretty sure that Mattie would have been happy to give up both arms to get her revenge—but maybe not. Maybe she would have just stayed home. What do you think?
This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross' blood over in Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground. (7.337)
Ooh. Chills. Here, the novel's last line works with the first line to frame the novel around the idea of revenge. As far as Mattie is concerned, everything else the novel deals with is just the distracting cherry on top of her revenge sundae.
"That is a description of Tom Chaney. […] He got that black mark in Louisiana when a man shot a pistol in his face and the powder got under the skin." (2.30)
Tom Chaney is only twenty-five years old, but he's already a marked man. In this nod to the black-and-white world of early Westerns, Portis lets us know that the mark on Chaney's face means this guy is bad, bad, bad. Add in some violence toward a fatherless fourteen-year-old girl, and Chaney himself comes to symbolize the brutality and cruelty of the lawless land he inhabits.
"I know him well. I shot him in the lip last August down in the Winding Stair Mountains." (3.282)
Here, Rooster is talking about Lucky Ned Pepper, another nasty character. Check out the casual way Rooster talks about shooting—almost as though he's saying, "I know him well. I had dinner with him last August down in the Winding Stair Mountains." In this world, violence is just a part of life.
"Wait, stop a minute." He said, "What is it?" I said, "There is something wrong with my hat." He stopped and turned around. "Your hat?" said he. I took it off and slapped him in the face with it two or three times and made him drop the reins. (5.308)
Even Mattie's got a violent streak. Sure, she's just whipping around a hat—but you get the feeling that she wouldn't mind hitting LaBoeuf with something harder.
Rooster cut the rope with his dirk knife and the mule breathed easy again. […] Rooster went up first and walked over to the two boys and kicked them into the mud with the flat of his boot. "Call that sport, do you?" said he. Those were two mighty surprised boys. (6.5)
Fighting violence with violence always works, right? Okay, sure, there's a chance the boys will be afraid of him and straighten up. There's also a chance that they will react to Rooster's humiliation with violence against either the mule or somebody else. Guess which one is more likely?
With that, Quincy brought the bowie knife down on Moon's cuffed hand and chopped off four fingers which flew up before my eyes like chips from a log. (6.165)
We're not sure which is more disturbing: the image of fingers flying up like chips from a log, or the casual way that Mattie witnesses this mutilation. Maybe it's a good thing she's not sensitive to blood—she's going to see worse before her little quest is over.
"It is hard to believe a man cannot remember where he served in the war. Do you not even remember your regiment?"
Rooster said, "It think it was called the bullet department. I was in it four years." (6.342)
Okay, Rooster totally has the best lines. Here, he's alluding to the U.S. Civil War, which ended about ten years before the major setting of the novel. This war was one of the most violent and bloody in American history—and Rooster is part of a generation that witnessed (and inflicted) terrible violence.
I reached into the bucket and brought out my dragoon revolver. I dropped the bucket and held the revolver in both hands. I said, "I am here to take you back to Fort Smith … If you refuse to go I will have to shoot you." (7.12, 8.18)
Mattie may be thirsty for vengeance, but she's still only going to fire her gun as a last resort. Is she less gritty than she seems—or is this a sign that she's one of the only good people in the entire novel?
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)
Gee, nice guy. He picks up a fourteen-year-old girl and shakes her like a rat—while threatening to pound her head in. We don't approve of violence, but we're not sorry that Ned Pepper ends up dead—and we don't think anyone else is. It's a brutal world out in Indian Territory.
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)
Ned Pepper just doesn't let up. In fact, of all the nasty, violent guys in the book (and yes, Rooster, we're counting you), Ned is probably the worst. To him, other people are literally just roadblocks and stepping stones.
We were told that the Indian's neck had not been broken, as was the case with the other two, and that he swung there and strangled for more than half an hour before a doctor pronounced him dead and had him lowered. (2.16)
Mattie doesn't exactly seem to disapprove of the death penalty, but she does describe it in such a way as to make us think that hanging can be really, really brutal and drawn out. Notice how she spends more time describing his death than the other men's? Her description is drawn out, just like his death. Creepy.
I have since learned that Judge Isaac Parker watched all the hangings from an upper window in the Courthouse. I suppose he did this from a sense of duty. There is no knowing what's in a man's heart. (2.16)
Judge Parker was a real person and he wrote extensively about his life, including his feelings on the death penalty. (He was anti.) Juries decided the guilt or innocence of men sentenced to hanging, and Parker sentenced them according to the laws at the time. But it doesn't seem like he liked it much.
When he died of dropsy in 1896 all the prisoners down there in that dark jail had a "jubilee" and the jailers had to put it down. (3.91)
The prisoners see Judge Parker as the human face of a justice system that they believe is treating them unjustly. They can't separate the man from the system of justice he represents—but the death penalty isn't dying with Parker.
"It feels like I still have fingers there but I don't." […] He talked a little more in a rambling manner and to no sensible purpose. He did not respond to questions. He is what was in his eyes: confusion. Soon it was all up with him and he joined his friend in death. He looked about thirty pounds lighter. (6.183)
Here, Mattie is describing the death of Moon, a young man about her age who was mixed up with Lucky Ned Pepper's gang. It's hard to pin down how she feels about this: on the one hand, he's one of the violent gang. On the other hand, he's just a fourteen-year-old boy, and he's dead. She's got to feel a little sad.
We learned that the boy was called Billy. His father ran a steam sawmill on the South Canadian River, the captain told us, and there was a large family at home. Billy was one of the eldest children and he helped his father cut timber. The boy was not known to have caused any devilment before this. (6.425)
Ugh. These guys really need an afterschool program or a Boys and Girls Club. Maybe then they'd be playing basketball or Xbox with their friends rather than hanging out with Ned Pepper and getting shot.
"Your life depends on their actions. 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)
Ah, the Wild West, where turning sixteen means you're finally old enough to get your driver's license and get shot. Sweet.
He said, "Well, Rooster, I am shot to pieces!"
The ball flew to its mark like a martin to his gourd and Lucky Ned Pepper fell dead in the saddle. (7.235-37)
Ding dong, the … well, okay, we're not exactly happy to see him die. But we are happy to see that he's not going to be preying on the community's young men anymore.
He had been in failing health for some months, suffering from a disorder he called "night hoss," and the heat of the early summer had been too much for him. Younger reckoned his age at sixty-eight years. (7.331)
Live by the sword, die by the sword … unless you're Rooster, that is. We thought he would go down in a hail of bullets and a blaze of glory, but instead he just dies of "night hoss." But we have to ask—is it better for him to have outlived all his friends and end up in a traveling Wild West show, or would he have rather died in the line of duty?
[Yarnell] was born of free parents in Illinois but a man named Bloodworth kidnapped him in Missouri and brought him down to Arkansas just before the war. Yarnell was a good man, thrifty and industrious, and he later became a famous housepainter in Memphis, Tennessee. (1.7)
Mattie doesn't spend a lot of time holding hands and singing "We Shall Overcome," but we get the sense that, in the 1950s, she would have been facing down the firehoses and riot police with the other civil rights activists. For her time, seeing a black man as a man—not to mention a good man—was practically radical talk.
When the conductor came through he said, "Get that trunk out of the aisle, nigger."
I replied to him in this way, "We will move the trunk but there is no reason to be so hateful about it.
[…] He saw that I had brought to all the darkies attention how little he was. (2.3-5)
Slavery has legally been over for about ten years, but there's still a long way to go—obviously, since Mattie frowns on the n-word but substitutes "darkies" as an acceptable alternative. But, again, this is totally progressive for the time.
The Irishman said, "If ye would loike to kiss him it will be all roight."
I said, "No, put the lid on." (2.19-20)
LOL, silly accents. Here, Mattie is giving us the Irish undertaker's accent to (1) make us laugh, and (2) suggest that Fort Smith is a multicultural metropolis. In the nineteenth century, Irish immigrants got just as much bad press as undocumented immigrants from Mexico today—if not more.
He was a half-breed with eyes that were mean and close-set and that stayed open all the time like snake eyes. I was a face hardened in sin. Creeks are good Indians, they say, but a Creek-white like him or a Creek-Negro is something else again. (3.257)
Mattie may be open-minded when it comes to Indians and black people, but she's not so generous when it comes to mixed-race people. But why? Is this Portis giving her character depth, or is it suggesting something about American attitudes towards intermarriage?
LaBoeuf said he was not accustomed to such a big fire, that in Texas they frequently had little more than a fire of twigs and buffalo chips with which to warm up their beans. (6.57)
Okay, we threw this one in just for laughs. Mattie just will not stop with the Texas versus Arkansas rivalry thing; she's as bad as a Hogs fan.
He reminded me of some of those Slovak people that came in here a few years ago to cut barrel staves. The ones that stayed usually made good citizens. People from those countries are usually Catholic if they are anything. They love candles and beads. (6.94)
Mattie isn't exactly saying anything bad here, but she is making some pretty sweeping generalizations, and her tone is judgmental and condescending. At the same time, if we read past Mattie's tone we can see America as a multicultural nation of immigrants—which is exactly what it was. Even Mattie's family was from somewhere else.
"I lost it in the fight at Lone Jack outside of Kansas City. My horse was down too and I was all but blind. Cole Younger crawled out under a hail of fire and pulled me back." (6.247)
Here, Rooster reveals to Mattie that he lost his eye in a Civil War battle. This is a subtle reminder that America as we know it almost wasn't—just ten years before the story takes place, there was a huge, destructive, bloody war about whose vision of America was going to dominate.
"Rooster" Cogburn will amaze you with his skill and dash with the six-shooter and repeating rifle! Don't leave the ladies and little ones behind! Spectators can watch this unique exhibition in perfect safety. (7.326)
Rooster's final job was performing in Wild West Shows, popular in the late nineteenth century. Talk about a vision of America: these shows gave cushy East Coasters a look at the rough-and-tumble world on the other side of the Mississippi River without ever having to set foot in Indian Territory.
People do not give credence that a fourteen-year-old-girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it didn't happen every day. (1.1)
Things have changed in the fifty years since Mattie was a girl. Pros: Women can vote! Cons: Teenage girls can't just run off on blood-quests. Hm, sounds like a toss-up to us.
He had mistaken the drummers for men. "The wicked flee when none pursueth." (1.16)
Mattie has some strong ideas about how a real man should act. The drummers she's talking about don't play drums but are traveling salesmen who "drum-up" business, which apparently isn't a manly profession. (Marshaling, on the other hand, is about a dudely as you can get.)
The Indian was next and he said, "I am ready. I have repented my sins and soon I will be in heaven with Christ my savior. Now I must die like a man." (2.13)
Manly ways to die include hanging and being shot while trying to keep your hired hand from heading off to shoot some gamblers; unmanly ways to die include … what? Probably anything involving whining or begging.
"It was a tragic thing. May I say your father impressed me greatly with his manly qualities. He was a close trader but he acted the gentleman." (3.14)
This is Colonel Stonehill talking. It's nice to see "manly qualities" associated with being a "gentleman" rather than just riding a rose and swearing a lot. It looks like Mattie does think there's more than one way to be a man.
"I don't believe you have fifty dollars, baby sister, but if you are hungry I will give you supper and we will talk it over and make medicine. How does that suit you?" (3.285)
When Rooster is drunk he has some nasty things to say about women, but he can be kind, too. Of course notice that he calls her "baby sister": maybe to Rooster, Mattie isn't a woman yet. Just give it a few years and see how he treats her.
"Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt."
"One would be as unpleasant as the other. […] Put a hand on me and you will answer for it. You are from Texas and ignorant of our ways but the good people of Arkansas do not go easy on men who abuse women and children." (4.70-71)
LOL Texans. But also, notice that Mattie is all about standing up for herself here. She's not the type to whine that women aren't treated fairly; put your hand on her, and you're going to regret it for a long, long time.
Your mother will make no decision without you, nor will she sign anything, not even common receipts; hence nothing can move forward until you are here. You are her strong right arm now, Mattie, and you are a pearl of great price to me, but there are times when you are an almighty trial to those who love you. Hurry home. (5.9)
Sure, it sounds like bragging—but all the things Lawyer Daggett says in this letter are true. Plus, notice how Mattie succeeded as a businesswoman because her family encouraged her. They're not telling her to leave the bookkeeping to her brother; they're telling her to come on home so they can get the family moving again.
"She said, 'Goodbye, Reuben, a love for decency does not abide in you.' There is your divorced woman for you talking about decency. I told her, I said, 'Goodbye, Nola, I hope that little nail selling bastard will make you happy. She took my boy with her too. He never did like me anyhow. I guess I did speak awful rough to him but I didn't mean nothing by it. You would not want to see a clumsier child than Horace. I bet he broke forty cups." (6.259)
A lot of funny and sad mixed up together in this quote. Notice that divorced women aren't considered decent—but no word about divorced men, right?
"I don't like that kind of talk. It is like women talking." (6.347)
LaBoeuf is trying to convince Rooster that he is a good guy, but Rooster sees all this talking about feelings as "womanly." To him, men should just shut up and ride. (We bet Mattie agrees.)
"His name is Chambers. He is now over in the Territory and we think he was in the party with Lucky Ned Pepper that robbed a hack Tuesday down on the Poteau River." (2.29)
No wonder Mattie doesn't trust the law: they don't even have Tom Chaney's name right. On the other hand, neither does Mattie. Chaney's real name is Theron Chelmsford, and lawman LaBoeuf is the only one who knows that.
He showed me a list of indicted outlaws that were then on the loose in Indian Territory and it looked like the delinquent tax list they run in the Arkansas Gazette in little type. (3.2)
We get the full range of criminality in True Grit, everything from train robberies to tax evasion to forgery. Petty theft? Got that too. Even Mattie's walking a thin line with her quest for vigilante justice.
"The lawbreakers are legion and they range over the vast country that offers many natural hiding places." (3.20)
Here, Colonel Stonehill describes Indian Territory as a haven for the lawless. It could almost sound like Robin Hood hiding out in Nottingham Forest—if it weren't that these lawbreakers are murderers and thieves rather than benevolent wealth-redistributors.
The men were all chained together like fish on a string. They were mostly white men nut there were also some Indians and half-breeds and Negroes. It was awful to see but you must remember that these chained beasts were murders and robbers and train wreckers and bigamists and counterfeiters, some of the most wicked men in the world. (3.86)
Hm, talk about internal conflict. Mattie sees that these criminals are human beings in an inhumane condition, but she also sees their treatment as necessary to protect society. In the end, Mattie deals with this in her typical straightforward way: like Judge Parker, she may not like it, but it's the law.
The sheriff said, "I have no authority over in the Indian Nation. He is now the business of the U.S. marshals." (2.31)
What better place for a criminal to hide out.
"Yes, I have asked for a fugitive warrant and I expect there is a Federal John Doe warrant on him now for the mail robbery. I will inform the marshals as to the correct name." (2.35)
Because Chaney is involved in a federal crime, the federal marshals can legally get involved in tracking him.
"The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners alive. […] He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string." (2.37)
Mattie doesn't even have to think about this; she chooses Rooster, because she wants justice—her kind of justice, which just might involve not bringing the prisoner in alive.
They had ridden the "hoot owl trail" and tasted the fruits of evil and now justice had caught up with them to demand payment. (3.86)
Mattie feels sorry for these chained up prisoners at first, but she gets judgmental pretty quickly. It doesn't seem to enter her mind that some of these men are innocent, or that some of the crimes that the punishments they are receiving might not fit the crimes.
MR. GOUDY: I felt sure it would come to you with a little effort. Now let us see. Twenty-three dead men in four years. That comes to about six men a year. (3.160)
This attorney sees Rooster as a hired killer and as a menace to society. Mattie sees him as a bringer of justice. How do you think he sees himself?
He said, "You are a fine one to talk about looks. You look like somebody worked you over with the ugly stick." (6.150)
Some insults are just as good in 1875 as they are in the 21st century. Mattie gets what she deserves here, since she just made it clear to young Quincy that she thinks he's ugly too. Now that's justice.
"Ned was Quincy's friend, not mine. I would not blow on a friend. I was afraid there would be shooting and I would not have a chance bound up like I was. I am bold in a fight." (6.174)
Honor among thieves? Poor Moon is only about Mattie's age and totally in anguish over his physical pain and having to give up information about his associates. He's got a finely developed sense of justice, after all—so it's too bad he fell in with Ned Pepper's gang.
LaBoeuf said, "There is something in what she says, Cogburn. I think she has done fine myself. She has won her spurs, so to speak. That is just my personal opinion." (6.500)
Talk about justice: after teasing and needling her the whole time, LaBoeuf finally admits that Mattie has grit. That's the kind of judgment we like to see.
Rooster said, "Yes this is the famous horse killer from El Paso, Texas. His idea is to put everybody on foot. He says it will limit their mischief." (6.511)
Teehee. Rooster may just be teasing LaBoeuf about accidentally shooting Ned Pepper's horse instead of Ned Pepper, but he's got a point. If LaBoeuf hadn't prematurely fired, a whole lot of lives might have been spared, and maybe even Mattie's arm. Still, it's not quite fair to judge LaBoeuf based on this one incident.
I hurriedly cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. The charge exploded and sent a lead ball of justice, too long delayed, into the criminal heart of Tom Chaney. (7.241)
Yikes. Check out that "lead ball of justice": this is pretty clear evidence that Mattie associates death with justice. She's not going to be happy until Chaney is dead—and she's not going to have to wait too much longer.
He had a bottle of whiskey and he drank that. (1.14)
Yep, the whole bottle. Mattie wants the readers to understand that Tom Chaney's drunkenness led directly to his murdering her father. We get it.
"[…] You see what I have come to because of drink. I killed my best friend in a trifling quarrel over a pocketknife. I was drunk and it could just as easily have been my brother. If I had received good instructions as a child I would be with my family today and at peace with my neighbors." (2.14)
Here, Mattie's recalling the speech of a man who's about to die. He blames alcohol not only for his murder of his friend, but to his own about-to-be-hanged state. Notice that the man believes that abuse of alcohol is a result of a bad upbringing. Today we know that alcohol abuse has a lot to do with brain chemistry—but it can still lead to terrible consequences.
"The meanest on is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull cork. […]"
"Where can I find this Rooster?" (2.37-38)
Apparently, it's perfectly acceptable for U.S. Marshals to drink on the job. Great! That probably doesn't lead to excess force at all.
"I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains." (3.314)
Ha. We're so stealing this one next time someone offers us a beer at a party. (No underage drinking, Shmoopers.) Mattie doesn't have any positive associations with alcohol; we bet she never drinks a drop in her life.
"I have a writ here that says for you to stop eating Chen Lee's corn meal forthwith. It is a writ for a rat and this is lawful service of said writ." (3.330)
Rooster is both funny and scary when he's drunk. We really don't like the idea of this guy with loaded weapons, and not just because we don't want to see any more rats get shot.
I have never wasted any time encouraging drunkards or show-offs. (3.330)
Mattie's approach to Rooster's drinking is no-nonsense and blunt, just like her approach to the rest of life. Encourage? No. Tolerate? Yes—for just as long as she needs to, to get the job done.
I suspect now that [Dr. Underwood's Bile Activator] it made use of some such ingredients as codeine or laudanum. I can remember when half the old ladies in the country were "dopeheads."
Thank God for the Harrison Narcotics Law. (4.2-3)
Uh, yeah. Before the Harrison Ant-Narcotics Act, anybody could buy or sell narcotics. Laudanum is an opiate, the same stuff that they make opium and even heroin out of. They used to give that stuff to babies.
"The man Chaney, the man with the marked face, killed my father. He was a whiskey drinker like you. It led to killing in the end." (6.144)
Just in case you haven't figured it out yet, drinking is bad. Forget Just Say No: they should hand this book out at anti-drug assemblies.
On one long climb he fell off his horse, but he quickly gained his feet and mounted again.
"That was nothing, nothing," said he. "Bo put a wrong foot, that was all. He is tired. This is no grade. I have freighted iron stoves up harder grades than this, and pork as well. (6.525-26)
Uh, well at least drinking and riding is less dangerous than drinking and driving? We guess? Mattie is the type of person who wants to be sharp and alert for everything. Rooster, on the other hand, seem to be trying to forget the pain of his life.
Like Martha I have always been agitated and troubled by the cares of the day but my mother had a serene and loving heart. She was like Mary and had chosen the "good" part. (1.11)
In the New Testament's Gospel of Luke, Jesus and his disciples visit the home of two women named Mary and Martha. Mary's all, "Oh Jesus! Let me sit at your feet and wash them with my hair," while Martha is all, "ugh, Mary, could you maybe help me with the dishes?" In other words, Mary lets the housework go so she can hang out with Jesus, while Martha is too busy worry about mundane details to appreciate that Jesus himself is in her house.
Some people might say, well, what business is it of Frank Ross to meddle? My answer is this: he was trying to do that short devil a good turn. Chaney was a tenant and Papa felt responsibility. He was his brother's keeper. Does that answer your question? (1.15)
Mattie doesn't seem like much of a reader, but she sure does know her Bible. At just about any given time—like this imaginary conversation with "some people"—she can drop in Bible verses to justify her position.
The Indian was next and he said, "I am ready. I have repented my sins and soon I will be in heaven with Christ my savior. Now I must die like a man." If you are like me you probably think of Indians as heathens. But I will ask you to recall the thief of the cross. He was never baptized and never even heard of catechism and yet Christ himself promised him a place in heaven. (2.13)
Hm. Is the Indian being serious here—or is he just saying what he thinks his Christian audience wants to hear? Or is Mattie just remembering what she wishes he'd said?
I will go further and say that all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces? Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious "clap trap." My answer is this: Preacher, go to your bible and read Luke 8:26-33. (3.5)
You must pay for everything in this world one way or another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it. (3.86)
Mattie believes in the Calvinist doctrine of election. According to that doctrine, each of us is born already marked for heaven or hell. If you're marked for hell—too bad, so sad, there's not one tootin' thing you can do about it. Since you can never know for sure if you're elect or not, the only thing to do is act as if you are. The point here is that there's no such thing as "justice" or "deserving" in Mattie's ideas about God. There's only election.
On his deathbed [Judge Parker] asked for a priest and became a Catholic. […] If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need of some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make. (3.91)
Catholics believe in deathbed absolution, something not offered to Methodists. Mattie is suggesting that Judge Parker is converting because he's worried that he'll be punished for sentencing men to death. Although Mattie obviously believes in the death penalty, she has some conflicted feelings about it too.
I was much relieved to find my side of the bed empty. I got the extra blankets and arranged them as I had the night before. I said my prayers and it was some time before I got any sleep. I had a cough. (3.350)
We never see Mattie heading to church, but here we get the sense that religion is part of her daily life.
I too am now a member of the Southern Church. I say nothing against the Cumberlands. They broke with the Presbyterian Church because they did not believe a preacher needed a lot of formal education. That is all right but they are not sound on Election. I confess it is a hard doctrine, running contrary to our earthly ideas of fair play, but I can see no way around it. (6.7)
Okay, Mattie seems a little obsessed with the idea of election. It makes sense. A man like Tom Chaney could never be one of the elect, because he doesn't act in any sort of pious way—and maybe she sees this as a justification for her vengeance on him. Or, maybe she's worried that seeking revenge would earn her punishment, if it weren't for predestination.