True Grit: A Fish on a Hook

Bailee Dean

Imagine you are at the movie theater. The smell of buttered popcorn and Icee’s wafting through the air, watching a 3D movie. Through the flimsy blue and red colored glasses, you see an aging, one-eyed U.S. marshal, a rough Texas ranger, and a juvenile, teenage girl on the screen. They are galloping at high speed, although the young teenager is merely on a pony, deep in Indian territory. The 3D figures are in your face and you feel as if you are there alongside these Western heroes on their quest. When I open up the pages to True Grit, it feels as if I am instantly transported into the Wild West with Mattie, Laboeuf, and Rooster; the same feeling as watching a film. 

 Personally, I enjoy watching a good movie at the theater, but this book was almost as intriguing as a movie playing before my eyes. Charles Portis sets the scene in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas in the 1870’s. True Grit details the journey of Mattie Ross, accompanied by U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas ranger LaBoeuf, as they quest to avenge Tom Chaney, who joined Lucky Ned Pepper and his troublesome gang. Tom Chaney violently killed Mattie’s father and stole his belongings, so Mattie is determined to arrest him and make sure he receives the punishment he deserves. As Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf journey deep into Indian territory, they face many challenges with wanted and dangerous burglars that test their courage and “true grit.” In my opinion, True Grit, written in 1968, is extremely underrated and could make any non-reader enthralled and excited to turn the next page. Charles Portis is an expert writer who uses simplicity, details, and likable characters to capture his readers into the life of Mattie Ross. 

The first thing that I noticed when I started reading this novel, besides the captivating and determined protagonist Mattie, was the simplicity of the dialogue. Portis uses very straightforward words and phrases to help the general audience understand his story. I thought that this was so fitting because the simplicity of the text ensured that absolutely nothing, such as complex words with deep meanings, is a distraction from the compelling story of Mattie searching for her father’s killer. On the first page, Portis abruptly throws you into the life of Mattie and her cause.  “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… I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas…” The clarity of the dialogue benefits the overall story because the sole purpose of True Grit is to entertain the reader, and the comprehensive dialogue allowed for me to fully engage in the story. Portis is quite skilled at making sure that all readers understand what is occurring in the book.  He often says, “Here is what happened,” or italicized the important phrases to really help readers tune into the story, which helps to not get caught up in the irrelevant details. 

Although the text and dialogue is effortless and simple, True Grit doesn’t lack in the details department. Throughout reading the text, I noticed how in-depth Portis describes Mattie’s experiences in Fort Smith, the journey in finding Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang, and the conversations Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie have. In every scenario I encountered in the story, I was able to know exactly what was going on because of the thoughtful amount of detail. Portis is so skilled at painting a picture in reader’s minds through his skillful use of detail and storytelling, even down to the color of the horses Mattie sees. When Mattie enters Stonehill’s stock barn to try and sell her father’s pony, she recalls all that she saw in that barn. “He had a nice big barn and behind it a big corral and a good many small feeder pens. The bargain ponies, around thirty head, all colors… were frisky things with clear eyes and their coats looked healthy enough, though dusty and matted.” Similar to writing in a journal to preserve memories, Portis describes every occurrence and detail so that readers will remember the events taking place and have a connection to it because they can vividly picture the novel and characters in their minds. 

The characters that are portrayed in True Grit were expertly  incorporated into the story that, as a reader, it is almost impossible to not root for the characters along their journey. Portis intentionally created Mattie as an underdog; a courageous 14-year-old girl in the 1870’s who sets out to look for the killer of her deceased father. Obviously we as readers, just like Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Chaney, do not imagine Mattie to be able to complete such a task, but her wit and bravery attracts readers to see what she is capable of, as well as admire all that she has accomplished. Portis also draws in readers to the one-eyed marshal and Texas ranger with their compelling backstories. Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie  all grow to deeply care for each other and is demonstrated when Rooster says to Chaney, “You will answer for her [Mattie] now! Where is she?” As a reader, it is so rewarding to see all that these characters achieve together and how they overcame their differences. These characters seem so life-like and believable that they draw your attention in and have you lured in, like a fish on a hook. 

Portis is a very skilled writer and True Grit is definitely worth the read. Although there are a few minor issues with the book, such as an overabundance of unnecessary information and dragging out the climax, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. The book is chock full with lively, witty phrases and subtle humor buried in the thrilling tale of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn. Just like watching a movie, True Grit brings the characters to life and makes you feel like you are a part of their journey, as the main purpose is to entertain. This book is about the importance of loyalty, maturity, and independence because you never know what you will encounter in life. True Grit is most definitely worth the hype and is a recommended read!