True Grit | Study Guide

Charles Portis

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True Grit | Chapter 5 | Summary



Mattie receives a letter from Lawyer Daggett, containing the signed release for Colonel Stonehill. The lawyer says her mother is very worried, and he tells her to hurry home. Mattie goes to Stonehill's get her money; she insists on cash, which the colonel will have later in the day. When Mattie returns to the Monarch, LaBoeuf and Mrs. Floyd are at the breakfast table, where Mrs. Floyd talks about Mattie's affairs.

At 9:00 Mattie returns to Colonel Stonehill's for her cash. He comments that Mattie got the better of him in the trade. He has paid her for Judy, "a horse I do not possess," and "a string of useless ponies I cannot sell again."

Mattie goes to see Rooster and is dismayed to find him still in bed at 10:00. They discuss the Wharton case, which Rooster thinks might be appealed. "I should have put a ball [bullet] in that boy's head instead of his collarbone," he says of Odus Wharton.

Rooster turns the conversation to his fee. "You will sometimes let money interfere with your notion of what is right," he says. Rooster is surprised when Mattie shows him the cash. He does not remember their deal; Mattie reminds him she will pay him $100 to capture Tom Chaney. Rooster confirms the deal, but he is surprised when Mattie expects to go with him.

Rooster argues Mattie will slow him down. He cannot fight Ned Pepper's gang "and try to look after a baby at one and the same time." Mattie says she has been coon hunting with her father. "We sat around a big fire and Yarnell told ghost stories," she adds. The argument becomes more intense, with Rooster threatening to slap Mattie and Mattie ranting about Rooster's lazy, drunken ways. Mattie ends the deadlock by threatening to burn Rooster's expense sheets, which would prevent him from getting paid for his federal marshal work. Rooster consents to bring Mattie along, and she fills out the expense sheets for him.

Mattie returns to Colonel Stonehill's to buy a pony to ride into the Territory. She drives a hard bargain once again. Though she sold Stonehill the ponies for $20 each that morning, she now insists on paying only $10 to buy one of them back. "Tell me this," says the exasperated Colonel, "do you entertain plans of ever leaving this city?"

Mattie mentions she has hired Rooster Cogburn. Colonel Stonehill calls him a "greasy vagabond" and says he "rode ... with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson." Stonehill also says Rooster was "particeps criminis" (Latin for a partner in crime) in "some road-agent work" (a road agent is a highwayman or robber). Mattie saddles her pony and gets him used to being ridden.

When Mattie returns to Rooster's, LaBoeuf is there. Mattie wants to cut him out, but Rooster thinks LaBoeuf and his "Sharp's rifle" could be helpful. "We might run into some lively work," he says. Mattie refuses, and LaBoeuf says Rooster has allowed himself to be "hoorawed" by a little girl. Everything gets argued all over again, including Mattie's going with them and whether to take Chaney to Texas or Fort Smith.

Mattie is adamant Chaney should hang for killing her father, not the senator and his dog. "It is nothing to me how many dogs and fat men he killed in Texas," she explains. Rooster tries to placate her, promising her she can humiliate Chaney once he is captured. "You can spit on him and make him eat sand out of the road," Rooster says, "But we must catch him first." He adds Mattie is being "stiff-necked" and she must learn she "cannot have [her] way in every little particular." The argument ends in a stalemate, and Mattie storms off.

Mattie goes to the Monarch and buys some food from Mrs. Floyd. Mattie considers her options and finds she has none. She spends the night in Colonel Stonehill's office, to save money. In the morning Mattie rides to the ferry to cross the river. Rooster and LaBoeuf arrive, heavily armed. LaBoeuf tells the ferryman that Mattie is a runaway and should be turned over to the sheriff. The ferryman leads Mattie's mount, Little Blackie, off the ferry and up the hill, on the way to the sheriff. Mattie slaps him, takes control of the pony, and rides across the river, arriving there before Rooster, LaBoeuf, and the ferryman.

Rooster and LaBoeuf ride off, and Mattie follows. After a while LaBoeuf ambushes Mattie, pulls her from the saddle, and whips her leg with a switch. Mattie complains to Rooster, who orders LaBoeuf to stop. "She has got the best of us," says Rooster. LaBoeuf does not stop until Rooster threatens him at gunpoint. Mattie talks excitedly about ambushing Chaney. Together they can "hit him on the head with sticks and knock him insensible." Then they will tie him up, Mattie adds. No one answers Mattie's prattle, and they all ride off.


Rooster and Mattie are well matched, in part because Rooster accepts struggle as part of living with others. When their argument becomes fierce and loud enough to attract Chen Lee's attention, Rooster tells him, "Everything is all right. Sis and me is making medicine."

Chapter 5 introduces contrasting ideas of justice and revenge. It can be argued that justice means the state punishes the criminal, and revenge is the work of individuals. Part of justice involves the criminal seeing and admitting he has received a fitting consequence. Therefore, Mattie wants Chaney "to know he is being punished for killing [her] father." What Rooster offers her instead is revenge, and that on a petty scale: spitting on Chaney, making him eat dirt, shooting him in the foot. He says she can tell Chaney he is being punished for killing her father; "you can tell him to his face." But without the weight of the state behind it Mattie's pronouncement would only be personal.

However, justice and revenge and state violence and personal violence sometimes get mixed up. Rooster once rode with "Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson." William Quantrill (1837–65) was a horse thief on the run in Kansas when he gathered a gang of guerrilla fighters to raid and rob in the service of the Confederate cause in the Civil War. He and his gang were not officially acting on the orders of the Confederate Army when they raided and burned towns and farms suspected of sympathizing with the Union. Thus, Quantrill and his gang may have imitated state violence for their own personal gain. The Union Army declared Quantrill and his gang outlaws while the Confederate Army declared them soldiers and gave Quantrill the rank of captain. Mattie, too, wants the state's violence to contain a hint of personal revenge; Chaney's execution must be done in her father's name and no one else's.

Colonel Stonehill compares Mattie to Ophelia, a character in Shakespeare's revenge tragedy Hamlet. Like Mattie, Ophelia knows the grief of having her father murdered; in Shakespeare's play Hamlet accidentally kills Ophelia's father. Hamlet, too, knows the grief of having his father murdered. But rather than see justice done to Hamlet, Ophelia cracks under the pressure. She goes mad and drowns herself. Thus, Stonehill's comparison underlines Mattie's status as a girl heroine. He says he heard "a young girl fell headfirst into a fifty-foot well." The girl was "drowned like the fair Ophelia," and Stonehill says, "I thought perhaps it was you." But Mattie is not like "the fair Ophelia." Mattie turns her aggression outward, not inward. Mattie might be an avenger, not a seeker of justice.
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