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Justice Is a Central Theme in an Interesting Novel True Grit

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  • Category: Grit

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The Price of Justice

What is true grit? Is it defined as undying courage, sand, or to showing toughness to any problematic situation? The novel True Grit , by Charles Portis, is about a fourteen-year-old girl who is intent to requite her father’s murderer.

In the course of adventure, in True Grit, the central theme is justice, however, there can be different reasons for obtaining justice: revenge, duty, or doing the right thing. No matter what the motivation is for retribution and how it is carried out, Portis shows there is a price to pay for those determined to seek justice. The protagonist of the novel, Mattie Ross, is characterized by strong moral convictions and a vengeance for seeing that Tom Chaney is rightly punished for killing her father at all costs. She wants to see him hanged, but she is willing to go as far as killing him herself. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, a man she believes to have grit whom she hires to help her find Chaney, asks her about the gun she has to which she responds, “It belonged to my father. I intend to kill Tom Chaney with it if the law fails to do so” (Portis 60). This shows the depth of her intention to seek justice and the price is the possibility of having to do something very unseemly to see that it is done. Mattie is a fearless person who is willing to persevere for her convictions.

When she is negotiating payment from Colonel Stonehill for some of her father’s property she tells him of her plan to avenge the killer and he warns her it could be very difficult, but she responds quickly that, “The good Christian does not flinch from difficulties” (Portis 92). Perhaps this reflects that she knows that justice will not come easily, but at this point she has no idea of the high price she will pay. After Mattie eventually does shoot Chaney, and thinks she has killed him, she falls backward into a cavernous pit that becomes a hellish place where she begins to pay her price. The pony, Blackie, who helps pull her to safety after being injured and bitten by a rattlesnake, is driven to death after doing his best to transport her and Rooster to seek help for her bite.

Mattie describes that, “Blackie fell to the ground and died, his brave heart burst and mine broken” (Portis 216). Not only did Mattie lose her beloved, noble pony she eventually had to have her arm amputated, which was a lifelong reminder of the cost to her for seeking justice. The price for justice, however, is not always the same. On the other end of the scale from vengeance is the duty to seek justice because it is a way to make a living – no more, no less. One of the men who Mattie encounters on her journey for justice is a man named LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger who has been tracking Tom Chaney, or Chelmsford as he is known in Texas. LaBoeuf is to return him alive to McLennan County, Texas, to be tried for killing a Texas senator for which he claims he will receive a $500 payment and a $1,500 reward from the senator’s family. He offers to help Mattie, but she is no longer interested when he states his motivations and fails to understand hers when he explains, “It means a good deal of money to me. Would not a hanging in Texas serve you as well as a hanging in Arkansas?” (Portis 75).

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