True Grit | Study Guide

Charles Portis

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True Grit | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

In the morning Mattie wakes to find the others already getting ready. She walks down a steep hill in search of water. She finds a stream, but Tom Chaney is there, with Ned's horses. Mattie shoots Chaney and the recoil knocks her off her feet. Chaney is only wounded. Mattie gets to her feet but her pistol jams. The gunshot attracts LaBoeuf and Rooster, as well as Ned Pepper and his gang. The two groups face off across the stream, and shots are fired. One of Ned's gang's horses is killed. Because Ned Pepper has Mattie as a hostage, he wins the fight. LaBoeuf and Rooster agree to ride away; Ned Pepper says he will release Mattie when he sees they have gone.

Mattie, Tom Chaney, Ned Pepper, and his gang go back uphill. Ned Pepper is accompanied by a "Mexican gambler" named Original Greaser Bob; Harold Parmalee, who imitates animals instead of talking; and Harold's brother Ross Parmalee. Atop the hill Ned questions Mattie. Ned talks about one of the men shot at the dugout, a young boy named Billy. Billy turned back to save Ned at the dugout and was killed by Rooster or LaBoeuf. Ned has no regrets about his part in Billy's death.

As the group watches Rooster and LaBoeuf ride away, Mattie despairs, abandoned by Rooster. She decides Rooster does not have grit after all.

Bob's horse was killed in the crossfire at the stream. Ned decides Tom Chaney will stay behind with Mattie and then deliver her to the crossing at Cypress Forks. Ned tells Chaney he will not be paid if he harms Mattie. Ned pays Bob but tells Chaney he will pay him later. Ned opens the mail pouch; it contains a registered check. Because he cannot write, he has Mattie sign it over to him. She uses a feather and ashes to scrawl on the check.

Ned, Bob, and the Parmalees ride away, leaving Chaney and Mattie behind. Ned promises to send someone back with a horse for Chaney. Mattie and Chaney sit by a campfire and bicker. Mattie throws a pot of scalding water at Chaney, but he manages to hit her with his pistol, stunning her. LaBoeuf emerges from the woods and disarms Chaney, rescuing Mattie.

With Chaney under arrest, Mattie and LaBoeuf turn their attention to the meadow below. Ned's gang faces off with Rooster, and Rooster rides at the four men, taking the reins in his mouth to free both hands for shooting. Rooster shoots both Parmalee brothers, and Bob escapes. Ned then shoots Rooster's horse, B, who falls on Rooster, trapping him. Ned is about to shoot Rooster when LaBoeuf fires his Sharp's rifle from the distant hilltop, killing Ned.

Chaney takes advantage of the distraction to hit LaBoeuf on the head with a rock, stunning him. Mattie fires her pistol at Chaney, striking him in the head and apparently killing him. The gun's recoil knocks Mattie into the pit.

Mattie lands in a hole on the floor of the pit. She is partly wedged in but in danger of falling farther. Her right arm is broken. The hole she is in is used by bats to fly out at night. She sees a dead man in the pit, and she pulls at his shirt to keep herself from falling farther in the hole. Moving the corpse awakens rattlesnakes that were nesting inside. As the snakes move Mattie uses a bone from the man's body to ward them off. Mattie hears a voice from above the pit: Chaney is still alive.

Rooster arrives and kills Tom Chaney, causing him to fall into the pit with Mattie. Rooster then climbs down to Mattie. He fires at the snakes but a small one bites her hand. Mattie is too injured to climb back up. Using Little Blackie, LaBoeuf hoists them both up with a rope.

Rooster tells Mattie he must get her to a doctor. Rooster rides Little Blackie, carrying Mattie with him. He rides all the way to Fort Smith. The ride exhausts the pony: "Blackie fell to the ground and died, his brave heart burst and mine broken." Rooster carries Mattie and then commandeers a wagon to make it the rest of the way. They reach Fort Smith at night.

Mattie spends several days in the care of Dr. J.R. Medill in Fort Smith. When she comes to, her mother and Lawyer Daggett are by her bedside. The doctor sets the broken bone, but the snakebite on her other hand grows worse. The doctor amputates her left arm just below the elbow. Rooster visits Mattie twice while she is "sick and 'dopey.'" He tells her LaBoeuf went into the pit after the body of Tom Chaney. He then went back to Texas, hauling the body along with him.

Mattie returns home to Yell County. She writes to Rooster, inviting him to visit. Three weeks after their return from the showdown with Ned, Rooster gets in trouble for shooting Odus Wharton and two other men. The other men are not fugitives from the law, and Rooster is forced to resign his post as a federal marshal. Rooster leaves for San Antonio, Texas, with his cat, Potter's widow, and her six children. Mattie occasionally hears word of him in years after. He leaves the widow. He is hired by a cattle baron to "terrorize thieves and people called nesters and grangers [small settlers] ... in what they called the 'Johnson County War.'"

Victoria and Little Ross find spouses and move away; Mattie remains at home to take care of their mother. In late May 1903, 25 years after the shooting of Chaney, Little Ross sends Mattie a newspaper clipping about Rooster. He is touring the South in a traveling Wild West show. Mattie takes the train to see the show in Memphis, Tennessee.

Mattie comes across the entertainers in the rail yard in Memphis, where she meets Cole Younger and Ross James. Mattie notices that they are old and decrepit: Younger rises to greet her, but James does not. Younger tells Mattie that Rooster died a few days before, while the show was at Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Mattie has Rooster's body exhumed and transported to Yell County, where she buries it in the family plot and has a headstone inscribed for him.

Mattie remarks she has never married: "I never had the time to fool with it." She has heard nothing from LaBoeuf and remarks she would like to hear from him "if he is yet alive and should happen to read these pages." She speculates he must be in his late 70s now, a frailer or less ebullient man than he once was: "Time just gets away from us." Thus, Mattie concludes her "true account of how I avenged Frank Ross's blood."

Analysis

The balance among the members of the trio shifts again: both LaBoeuf and Rooster abandon Mattie, or so it seems to her. They are taking the only logical option with Mattie hostage, but still she feels betrayed, particularly by Rooster, who "had abandoned me in this howling wilderness to a gang of cutthroats." She goes on a rant, blaming Rooster for all her troubles: "Who was to blame? Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn!" Rooster, she says, must have filled her pistol with "faulty caps ... causing it to fail in a time of need." While that seems exaggerated, Mattie is correct that the drunken Rooster "led [them] directly into the robbers' lair." But by the end of Chapter 7 Mattie is reconciled with the two men, and Rooster and LaBoeuf even reconcile with each other. Rooster thanks LaBoeuf for killing Ned Pepper, saying, "I am in your debt for that shot, pard." The triangle has been unstable throughout, with at least one member pulling away or quarreling with another, but in Chapter 7 the three finally reach complete harmony. This harmony, however, is also the end of their relationship, which dissolves with the accomplishment of their goal.

Chaney is never glimpsed during the pursuit of Ned Pepper; the horse he stole, Judy, is not at the dugout, and neither is Chaney. All Mattie—and the reader—has had to go on are other people's reports of Chaney. When Chaney finally appears, he conforms to Mattie's description of him as a "cur," but he is also strikingly unimpressive. He is not a charismatic bank robber, like one of the James Gang, amazing the public with feats of derring-do. He is mired in self-pity, complaining, "Everything is against me" and "Nothing is going right for me." He also seems not to realize the gravity of his crime in killing Frank Ross, saying mildly, "I regret that shooting."

His pathetic appearance, however, is sometimes a trick. "That was his cur nature," says Mattie, "to change from a whining baby to a vicious bully." At the creek he says he cannot stand up and Mattie must help him. Even though she declines to help, he uses the distraction to make his move, hitting her on the head with a piece of wood. His choice of combat move also reveals his character: Rooster shoots Ned in open battle, but Chaney cold-cocks his opponents, first hitting Mattie and then LaBoeuf on the head. Chaney's trick with Mattie, pretending to be helpless, recapitulates his murder of Frank Ross. He had showed up at the Rosses' farm, looking helpless. As Mattie says to Chaney, "You killed my father when he was trying to help you." Chaney's cowardly attacks on Mattie help readers accept the bullet she shoots Chaney with is "a lead ball of justice."

The pit Mattie falls into is a symbolic underworld. It is populated by serpents and dead men—first the unknown corpse, and then the newly dead Chaney. The gun's recoil knocks Mattie into the pit; symbolically, killing Chaney is a moral fall that pushes Mattie into an underworld limbo. She describes her fall as death, and as she tumbles into the pit she feels her "spirit ... floating out of [her] body, escaping through [her] mouth and nostrils." Hanging on to the bone that keeps her from dropping through the hole in the pit's floor, Mattie is "shakily suspended in space." She returns to life and earth with the combined efforts of Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Little Blackie.

Twenty-five years later, Mattie seems not to care if people think of her as "a cranky old maid." But she does care what people think of Rooster; she tends to his reputation after his death. The newspaper clipping Little Ross sent Mattie had read, "HE RODE WITH QUANTRILL! HE RODE FOR PARKER!" mentioning both the Confederate guerrillas and his service as a marshal. "Parker" refers to Judge Isaac Parker, who presides over the trial of Odus Wharton in Chapter 3. The headstone Mattie has inscribed ignores his association with those "murdering thieves," Quantrill's Raiders. Instead, the headstone describes Rooster only as "A RESOLUTE OFFICER OF PARKER'S COURT."

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