NEA Big Read
True Grit

True Grit

by Charles Portis

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

  1. Mattie says that she is looking for a man with "true grit" to avenge her father's death. When given a choice of marshals, including one who is "straight as a string" as opposed to Rooster, who is the "meanest," why does she choose Rooster? How do you think she would define the quality of "true grit"?
  2. What evidence can we find that Mattie won't abide mistreatment of anyone because of his or her background? What prejudices does she admit to?
  3. Though Mattie often seems very mature, self-assured, and tough for age fourteen, in what scenes do we see her react in a way more like a person her age?
  4. Rooster admits to killing and stealing and is portrayed as a drunkard. Why does Mattie, an upright and moral Christian, have such affection and admiration for him? Does this reveal a contradiction in her moral code?
  5. Do you think Mattie's account of her adventure, as she looks back at her actions from a time decades later, is an accurate one? Why or why not?
  6. At many points during the action, Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf all "stretch the blanket," exaggerating or lying under certain circumstances. In which situations does the lying seem justified? Do any of these instances of lying or exaggeration change your impressions of the characters?
  7. In what ways are LaBoeuf and Rooster similar in their personalities and in their beliefs about what is right and wrong? In what ways are they different?
  8. There's an old proverb proclaiming that there is sometimes "honor among thieves." In what ways do the outlaws and bandits encountered in the book by Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf display a code of conduct that argues that they're not purely evil?
  9. The language of the book is vivid and colorful, yet often unfamiliar. How does Portis keep the characters' dialogue authentic to the historical period but make it accessible to a contemporary reader?
  10. Near the end of the book, when Mattie encounters the elderly outlaws Frank James and Cole Younger at a "Wild West" show, she is polite to Younger but says to James, "Keep your seat, trash!" Why does she view them differently and what does it say about her memory of her adventure?
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