True Grit, Essential Revision Notes

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Table of Contents

True Grit by Charles Portis 4

Context 4

Overview and Summary 5

Themes and Supporting Quotations 12

Revenge 12

Violence 14

Mortality 17

Visions of America 19

Gender 21

Criminality 24

Justice and Judgement 25

Drugs and Alcohol 28

Religion 30

True Grit by Charles Portis


Charles McColl Portis's True Grit was first published in 1968, in instalments 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.

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’. 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

Filmmakers can't get enough of this cinematic novel, even though some of its goofball humour 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.

Overview and Summary

Mattie Ross is a fourteen-year-old girl who likes ponies – but only if she's advising her dad to buy low and sell high. And when we meet Mattie, her dad Frank is doing just that, heading off to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to buy some ponies. He's traveling with his hired hand, Chaney, who makes a dumb move by gambling away his pay-check, getting drunk, and then deciding to go get his money back. By force. When Frank tries to stop this ...

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