Essay Number 1
Prompt: In Mattie’s world (post Civil War), what is the meaning of “true grit?” Does “grit” refer to courage, to dirt, to having a
slightly rougher side? Who in the novel has this trait? Who lacks it? Is having “true grit” necessarily positive?
Mattie’s world revolves around her conception of what “true grit” is. She has an idea graven into her mind that grit is dead-set fearlessness. Based on this notion, she sets off into the wild to exact revenge upon her father’s murderer.
Mattie is a cold sort of character. She has spunk, but not …? She visualizes grit as undaunted courage, but her version is also extreme. It is a relentlessness, a stubborn refusal to back away from a fight. Mattie’s idea of true grit is also hardness, the idea that no form of weakness, emotionality included, should get in the way. When she takes off on her angry mission, she does so thinking that she is the only person in the world with such grit. “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood…” (p. 11) This is the opening line in the book, and it quickly becomes apparent to the reader that Mattie looks down on anyone who shows fear, seeing them as cowards, incapable of having true grit. What Mattie does not realize though is that grit comes in different forms.
True grit is also visible when a person goes through with something, knowing from the beginning that he or she will not win. Rooster Cogburn has courage which shows even though Mattie brands him as a coward. “…now he [Rooster] had abandoned me in this howling wilderness to a gang of cutthroats…Was this what they called grit in Fort Smith? We called it something else in Yell County!” (p. 190) During the climax of the book, Rooster rides at Ned Pepper’s gang, even though the odds are strongly against him, because he knows that it is the only hope for wiping the murderous gang out. Even though Rooster realizes that the situation is virtually hopeless, he still rides out against them.
Courage does not have to mean that fear is not present. True grit is overtaking that fear and conquering in spite of it.
Essay Number 2
Prompt: Mattie has an absolute sense of right and wrong that is deeply influenced by her religious upbringing. Is
Mattie’s “eye for an eye” approach to her revenge on Chaney justified? Are her methods sound? Does True Grit treat Chaney’s death as a victory?
“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Romans 12:19 KJV
“Tom Chaney would pay for this!” (p. 24) When Mattie Ross set off to avenge her father’s death, she immediately stated that Chaney was in the wrong and that she was therefore justified in her quest to bring him down. “I want [Chaney] 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.” (p. 97) She was seeking revenge and felt satisfied when she got it by shooting her father’s murderer. The Lord says that it is His right to implement justice. Revenge is not given to us and anger is not a right motive. From the very beginning, her methods were wrong and her motives were not sound. She set off to deal with Chaney and when she did, she granted herself the rights she thought she ought to have.
“An eye for an eye” was a Biblical concept however, it was an Old Testament system of law by which society as a whole dealt with wrongs and not an individual’s right to meet out retribution and revenge. Though what was done to Mattie and to her father was inexcusable and though she had every right to pursue justice, it was not her right to vindicate her father’s death by committing a crime herself.
Mattie, herself, calls Chaney’s death a victory. “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 head of Tom Chaney. Yet I was not to taste the victory…” However, several telling excerpts from the book reveal what is to be expected by a life consumed by anger and bitterness. Mattie goes on to live a life critical of those around her and devoid of meaningful relationships. “I would marry an ugly baboon if I wanted to and make him cashier. I never had the time to fool with it.” (p. 224) Mattie calls it a victory but it is really a tragic defeat.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7 KJV