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True Grit | Quotes


The buildings are made of fieldstone and all the windows need washing.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 1

Mattie is describing Fort Smith, Arkansas, and how different it is from Little Rock, the one Arkansas city she has experienced. She thinks Fort Smith looks like it belongs in the Indian Territory and not in Arkansas. However, her use of the present tense here shows how she takes her perceptions of the world as permanent and universally shared. She has been narrating in the past tense ("I noticed the houses in Fort Smith were numbered"), but then she switches to present tense. It is possible the buildings are still made of fieldstone 50 years later, as she narrates—though it seems unlikely the windows still need washing in 1928. But for Mattie the world remains as it was to her, and the feckless people of Fort Smith have likely not learned to wash their windows.


I have never been one to flinch or crawfish when faced with an unpleasant task.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 2

Mattie is accurate in this assessment of her character; she accepts the hand she's dealt. In context Mattie is speaking of having to go to the undertaker's immediately after watching the gruesome botched execution. However, Mattie's statement applies to her actions throughout the novel. She does not shrink from doing what is necessary, including pursuing her father's killer in the Indian Territory.

Although Mattie is right about this, in other ways she lacks self-awareness. She cannot understand that her ghost stories seem like childish prattle to the grown men she travels with. She cannot see that her own rejected historical article on Judge Parker really is "long and 'discursive,'" just as the editors say. But this lack of self-awareness also lets her live her life as she sees fit, including burying her admired friend Rooster in the family plot.


Preacher, go to your Bible and read Luke 8:26–33.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 3

Mattie looks at the ponies her father traded and considers their role in her father's death, but then she thinks "these pretty beasts ... knew neither good nor evil." She then adds that she has known "some horses and a good many pigs" that were evil. She goes further and says "all cats are wicked"; for anyone who disbelieves her on this point, she refers them to Luke 8:26–33.

This brief citation is an example of Mattie's self-certainty. She believes the Bible says what she thinks it says; its meaning is self-evident and Mattie does not need to explain it. In fact the verses Mattie cites in support of her view "all cats are wicked" contain the story of the Gadarene swine. In this incident from the gospel according to Luke, Jesus cures a madman of demoniac possession by casting the demons out of the man and into a herd of swine. The possessed swine then rush off a cliff and drown. A Bible story about one herd of possessed pigs does not prove Mattie's argument about "all cats," but Mattie is not bothered by this. Her own perceptions are universal, she thinks, "Who has not seen Satan in [cats'] sly faces?"


"[Every day] a blameless traveler [is] set upon and cut down in some sanguinary ambuscade."

Colonel Stonehill, Chapter 3

Colonel Stonehill is talking to Mattie about the rampant criminality of white outlaws in the Indian Territory: "The civilizing arts of commerce do not flourish there." Stonehill's ornate, old-fashioned language both obscures and sensationalizes what he is talking about. "Sanguinary escapade" is fancy Latinate diction for "bloody ambush." Stonehill's manner of speech thus obscures his meaning slightly. At the same time, his list of the outrages that happen "every day" in the Territory also reinforces the conventions of the Western: Mattie is about to embark on a trip into the lawless, dangerous West.


I noticed by the lamplight that his bad left eye was not completely shut.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 3

Here Mattie is describing Rooster. She can make out a "crescent of white" at the bottom of Rooster's left eye socket. Although two film adaptations of True Grit have depicted Rooster with an eye patch, from this description it seems he does not wear one.


You go tell John Wesley Hardin about the Ranger troop. Don't tell me and sis.

Rooster Cogburn, Chapter 6

LaBoeuf has been telling of his exploits as a Texas Ranger; he is proud to be a Ranger. In response, Rooster brings up the name of a controversial outlaw captured by a Texas Ranger in 1877.

John Wesley Hardin was a notorious Texan gunman and killer. He was pro-slavery and anti-Union and killed at least eight Union soldiers and four policemen who were chasing him on murder charges. Because of this Hardin was something of a Confederate folk hero. Rooster is implying being a Texas Ranger is nothing to be proud of since they sided with the law and against Hardin the pro-slavery outlaw hero.

Hardin served 18 years in prison after his capture by the Texas Ranger. In a dramatic irony Rooster makes reference to a historical figure whose full life story he does not know. In 1895 Hardin was shot in the back of the head by a Texas thief-turned-policeman. Rooster, speaking in 1878, cannot know this, but his reference to Hardin strengthens the theme of lawmen and outlaws.


I am still traveling on the one-day parole ... I reckon that jayhawker is waiting yet.

Rooster Cogburn, Chapter 6

At the end of the war when Rooster and Potter hear "they had all give up in Virginia," Rooster and Potter ride into the city of Independence (presumably in Missouri) and give themselves up. They are in the custody of a Union Army officer who has Rooster and Potter swear loyalty to the United States government, an unpleasant task Rooster refers to as "swallowing the puppy." The Union Army officer then lets Rooster and Potter go on a one-day parole after securing their promise they will return in the morning to be questioned by a Kansas major about "bushwhacking."

That was in 1865 and 13 years later, in 1878, Rooster is still a parole violator and fugitive from that "jayhawker" or anti-slavery officer. Thus, his entire career as a lawman runs parallel with his career as an outlaw.


You can't rob a thief, can you? I never robbed no citizens.

Rooster Cogburn, Chapter 6

Mattie tells Rooster that Colonel Stonehill says Rooster worked as a "road agent," a highway robber. Rooster says it is a rumor, but then he says it's "little more" than talk. The "little" bit behind Stonehill's rumor is that Rooster robbed "one of them ... high-interest banks" in Las Vegas.

Although Mattie says "It is all stealing," Rooster distinguishes between robbing a citizen and robbing a thieving institution. (Presumably the bank charges a high interest on loans, rather than paying a high interest on savings.) Mattie's harsh condemnation of stealing stands in contrast to Rooster's fast and loose ways with moral standards. However, Mattie is also trying to split hairs with moral standards. Although she claims to want heavenly justice dealt out to Tom Chaney, she also wants personal revenge on him.


This is like women talking.

Rooster Cogburn, Chapter 6

LaBoeuf accuses Rooster of "trying to put on a show for this girl Mattie" and raise himself in Mattie's esteem while causing her to dislike LaBoeuf. Rooster says something similar when LaBoeuf tells him "you are mistaken about me." Rooster responds, "I don't like this kind of talk. It is like women talking."

Whether it is the reference to emotions or concern for how one is regarded by others, Rooster rejects this kind of talk as not masculine. If he is any example, he seems to approve of only two modes of speech for men: laconic wit and rambling braggadocio.


This is the famous horse killer from ... Texas. His idea is to put everybody on foot.

Rooster Cogburn, Chapter 6

Rooster is speaking of LaBoeuf to Captain Finch. He refers to LaBoeuf's having shot Ned Pepper's horse in the botched ambush the night before. Although LaBoeuf's premature shot spoiled their chance to catch Ned Pepper at the dugout, Rooster comically presents it as LaBoeuf's law enforcement innovation. Putting everybody on foot by killing their horses will "limit their mischief."


Everything is against me.

Tom Chaney, Chapter 7

Initially Chaney says "Everything is against me" when Mattie shoots him at the creek. Later he repeats this complaint when the other robbers are leaving on horseback, abandoning him with Mattie. The statement shows how small Chaney's moral imagination is—he can think only of himself. Although he wreaks havoc on the Ross family by killing Frank Ross, he thinks of himself when Mattie confronts him with what he has done. In reply to Mattie, he adds, "Nothing has gone right for me," even though the things that have gone wrong are his own fault.


My family has property and I don't know why I'm being treated like this.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 7

Mattie says this in a huff to Ned Pepper in the presence of the other robbers. This is an example of Mattie's reckless lack of self-awareness—she cannot hear how she sounds to other people. Unpropertied members of a criminal gang are the last people likely to be impressed by the statement "My family has property." But Mattie's indignation is also admirable; she is certain she does not deserve this ill treatment, and she is willing to fight back.


I had not thought before of this disfigured robber having had a childhood.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 7

Mattie is speaking about Ned Pepper. When he throws down the loot down from the mail train robbery and shouts, "Christmas gift!" Mattie recognizes the saying as a childhood Christmas morning ritual, "the game being to shout it first."

Mattie is unused to considering other people as having a life that precedes and follows her interaction with them. She is not selfish or self-pitying, like Chaney, but she is narrowly focused on attaining her goal of capturing Chaney. So it comes as a surprise to her that Ned must have had a childhood. However, Mattie soon squares this with her view of Ned Pepper. She assumes, perhaps correctly, he was an ill-behaved child: "I expect he was mean to cats and made rude noises in church."


Hurrah for the man from Texas! Some bully shot!

Mattie Ross, Chapter 7

After LaBoeuf shoots Ned Pepper from a long distance, saving Rooster's life, Mattie's enthusiasm shows how far she has come in her estimation of LaBoeuf since Chapter 5, when she judged him "a vain and cocky devil." In the final events of the story LaBoeuf and Mattie are reconciled. However, Mattie's earlier, harsh judgment of LaBoeuf was not wrong. Immediately after Mattie shouts "Hurrah for the man from Texas," LaBoeuf is "pleased with himself" and focuses on reloading his rifle. While the vain LaBoeuf's attention is on himself and his aim, Chaney sneaks up with "a rock about the size of a new cooking pumpkin" and smashes LaBoeuf's head.


Time just gets away from us.

Mattie Ross, Chapter 7

This is one of Mattie's final remarks before she concludes her "true account of how I avenged Frank Ross's blood." The brief statement is melancholic; Mattie has been speaking of Rooster's end and LaBoeuf's disappearance from her life. She is also speaking as an old woman of things that happened in her girlhood.

The span of True Grit separates it from the kinds of entertainment it parodies. The campfire ghost story of "The Midnight Caller" and the Westerns and detective stories Mattie refers to all probably focus only on the adventure. True Grit adds two longer perspectives to its adventure story: one at 25 years afterward, when Mattie learns of Rooster's death, and one at 50 years afterward, when Mattie tells her story.

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