Study Guide

True Grit Revenge

By Charles Portis


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.