by Charles Portis
In the years following the Civil War, the American West, specifically Fort Smith, Arkansas, was a place of savagery and chaos. Hangings were public. Beyond
Fort Smith was the expansive
Indian Territory where those who wanted to
avoid the law did so with little effort. Growing up came quickly, brutally and
The 3 major characters of True Grit were part of that environment. First, we meet Mattie Ross, age 14, of
. Mattie leaves her home to go to Dardanelle, Arkansas with the
mission of finding Roger Chaney who shot her unarmed father. Mattie hires
Rooster Cogburn to apprehend Chaney. Her plan is complicated by the appearance
of Texan LeBoeuf who is also tracking Chaney for a shooting involving a judge.
Cogburn and LeBewoulf finally accept Mattie’s determination to find Roger
Chaney. Together, this unlikely trio, enter the Fort Smith Indian
Territory where true grit is survival.
It is the tension between Mattie, a supremely confident teen-ager, and the older, male characters which provides humor in the book. Mattie is naive but smart enough to realize she needs the experience and true grit found in Rooster Cogburn. Her straight forward no-nonsense talk leaves no doubt of her intentions or her feelings. Both male characters must deal with this fearless and focused young whippersnapper who reminds them more than once who she is and from where she comes.
There is a reason True Grit was on the New York Times best seller list for 22 weeks. It is part history, part coming-of-age, and part comedy. It is just good reading.