True Grit

True Grit

true gritCharles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America’s foremost comic writers. True Grit is his most famous novel–first published in 1968, and the basis for the movie of the same name starring John Wayne. It tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father’s blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

Essential Questions:

  • In what way is True Grit an example of a quest story?
  • How do authors create complex characters?
  • What are the characteristics of a true hero?
  • Why do film directors make the decisions they do when adapting the novel to a movie?

 The Quest Story

A quest is a journey towards a goal. It is a plot device used frequently in literature. Dorothy was on a quest to get back to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, as is Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings. The objects of quests require tremendous effort to achieve; the hero must overcome many obstacles and travel long distances through exotic locations that involves great danger. Watch this brilliant video explaining the formula of a Hero story. Note the stages of the journey that the hero takes. We will be looking at True Grit as an example of a hero story.

Elements of a Quest Story:

  1. A precious Object and/or Person to be found and the purpose of finding this object or person is fulfilled.
  2. A long and perilous journey to find it.
  3. hero. The precious Object cannot be found by anybody, but only by the one person who possesses the right qualities of breeding or character.
  4. Test or series of Tests by which the unworthy are screened out, and the hero revealed.
  5. The Guardians of the Object who must be overcome before it can be won. They may be simply a further test of the hero’s mettle, or they may be malignant in themselves.
  6. The Helpers who with their knowledge and magical powers assist the hero and but for whom he would never succeed. They may appear in human or in animal form.

Setting:  The Wild West

True Grit is set in Arkansas in the years that Rutherford Hayes was president which is 1877-1881).  As president, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction, began the efforts that led to civil service reform, and attempted to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction.  He is also well known for major legislation aimed at assimilating Native Americans to white culture.  In order to have a better understanding of the United States during this time, we will be conducting some research and presenting a description of one aspect of the time period.

Resources for Research on Historical Context

Mistakes to Avoid in Power Point Presentations and How to Make Slides That Really Communicate Your Idea  

Historical Figures Mentioned in the Novel

  1. Judge Isaac Parker
  2. Grover Cleveland
  3. Woodrow Wilson – page 70
  4. President Hayes – page 84
  5. Quantrill – page 92
  6. Bloody Bill Anderson – page 92
  7. Governor Al Smith
  8. Joe Robinson
  9. General Sterling Price (name of Rooster’s cat)
  10. John Wesley Hardin – page 118 when LaBoeuf was defending the Texas Rangers


  1. Going Snake District(Cherokee Nation) – page 51 
  2. Going Snake Massacre 
  3. Fort Smith
  4. Pfitzer Soap Works – page 82 – mentioned when Stonehill was going to sell the horses to be turned into soap.
  5. San Bois Mountains – page 122

Bible Passages

Luke 8:26-33 when discussing the evils of cats and seeing Satan in their sly faces (32) I Corinthians 6:13; II Timothy 1:9, 10; Peter 1:2 19,20; Romans 11:7 (115)

Science Connection

We learned that during this time period, small pox was a deadly epidemic. Learn how smallpox was eradicated in this informative Ted-Ed video.

Stage:  Call to Adventure  (pp. 11-73)

  1. Reread the final statements of the convicted criminals and compare the characterization of these criminals with the infamous outlaws we studied for wild west research presentations.
  2. Reread the sheriff’s description of the available federal Marshalls that can help Mattie find Tom Chaney on page 26-27.  Why does she pick Rooster Cogburn?  List the advantages and disadvantages of her choice.  Who would you have chosen?
  3. Which parts of a quest story are already set in place for our hero, Mattie Ross?

assignmentThe Art of Negotiation (pp. 33-43) Explain why Mattie wins her argument with Stonehill.  What persuasive techniques does she use?  Consider the following persuasive strategies as you read the scene.  

Analysis of an Argument Open Response Grading Rubric

Persuasion Techniques 

    1. Focus on what’s in it for them — In 99% of all situations, people will care more about what they have to gain then what you have to gain. So direct most of your communication efforts on them and their needs.
    2. Only give them two choices: your proposition or something less desirable — Though this is a well-known persuasion technique, it is frequently ignored by many of us. Instead of letting the person’s mind wander off and think about a million alternatives to what you are offering, give them two choices: your proposition or something less desirable. This tactic may seem blatant and obvious but it will work as long as you don’t overdo it and you are offering something valuable and unique.
    3. Give an example of how your idea worked for someone else who’s just like them — People are more likely to be persuaded by your offer if they know it was beneficial to someone else who shares their characteristics. Once they know it’s helpful to others who are just like them, they will have adequate “social proof” to assume that it must be beneficial to them.
    4. Emphasize things that you know they will agree with and then move on to your proposition — When you persuade someone to agree to enough small and safe ideas, they will gain trust in your bigger and more ambitious ideas. Once you introduce the proposition that you really want to talk about, they’ll be more likely to agree with it because they’ll already be in an agreeable state of mind.
    5. Elaborate on its scarcity to inflate its perceived value — Elaborate on how easy it would be to find someone else who would take up on your offer. If their perceived value of your proposition is high enough that the pros outweigh the cons, they’ll have a greater sense of urgency in agreeing to your idea.
    6. Focus on their needs and the void that only you can fill — In the most respectful and congenial manner possible, talk about what is missing from their life which they undoubtedly desire and then talk about the qualities that you possess that will fill that void. Though this is one of the most effective strategies you can use, make sure not to focus on their problems too much because you might hurt their feelings. Touch on their need lightly and then talk about why you’re the best person to resolve it.
    7. First talk about what interests them — One of the best ways to persuade people is to first talk about what pumps them up. Ask intelligent questions about their interests, talk about why those interests interest you, and that person’s mind will be more receptive to what you want to express to them.
    8. Use indirect communication — If the person you are trying to persuade is resistant or the proposition you are trying to propose is highly ambitious, being too direct with them may not be the best idea. Perhaps, it will be far more effective to give them several oblique innuendos that will gently guide their thoughts to the direction you want them to go. That way they will believe that they came up with the very ideas that you’ve been slowly feeding them over time.
    9. Talk about the benefits and the advantages before you talk about the proposition — If you go straight to the proposition, people will naturally build resistance to what you’re saying because you’re expressing something that they haven’t gotten use to. Instead, talk about the benefits and the advantages first to build their curiosity and anticipation.

directors chairFrom Book to Film The Director has control of all aspects of the film.  He works closely with all other experts to create the movie.  One of the people he works closely with is the Cinematographer who uses a video camera.  He or she is the person who films the movie.  

In this scene consider the following cinematographic techniques and compare the film version of the scene with what occurs in the book.  

      1. Casting and Acting- How well do the people who play the parts of the characters realize their parts?  Note non-verbal actions in the scene, such as body language and facial expressions.
      2. Script Writing- how closely the screenplay follows the novel.
      3. Camera Framing– what you seen on the screen mostly described by what is in the shot:

Shot: In terms of camera distance with respect to the object within the shot,  There are basically 7 types of shots: 1.  extreme close-up 2. close-up 3.  medium close-up 4.  medium shot 5.  medium long shot 6.  long shot 7.  extreme long shot or distance shot

4.  Soundtrack- musical accompaniment, sometimes containing a theme song.

Compare the scene in the movie to the novel version by considering casting and acting, and script editing.  In what ways is movie version to the book?  What changes did the director of the film make?

 Stage: Assistance (pp. 73-125) 

 “They tell me that you are a man with true grit.”   (pp. 48-62)

Why does Mattie hire Rooster Cogburn?  What does she learn about him during his testimony?  Read the section and then fill out the graphic organizer in order to clarify your own judgment about this character.  Is he trustworthy?  

directors chair

From Book to Film The scene in which Mattie first meets Rooster Cogburn is artistically rendered in the Coen brothers (2010) version of the film because the cinematographer uses his tools effectively.


1.  Camera Framing– what you seen on the screen mostly described by what is in the shot:

Shot: In terms of camera distance with respect to the object within the shot,  There are basically 7 types of shots: 1.  extreme close-up 2. close-up 3.  medium close-up 4.  medium shot 5.  medium long shot 6.  long shot 7.  extreme long shot or distance shot

Camera Movement 

Pan– horizontal movement Zoom– vertical movement Bird’s Eye Shot– vertical movement with camera above action Point of view Shot: (Often abbreviated as ‘pov’). A shot which shows the scene from the specific point of view of one of the characters.

2.  Lighting and Sound 

Cameo Lighting– a spotlight that accentuates a single person and maybe a few props in a scene. It creates an ‘angelic’ shot, such as one where God is shining down and a light shines down onto this person.

Soundtrack- musical accompaniment, sometimes containing a theme song.

3.  Script Editing 

4.  Casting and Acting 

Read the article titled, “When The Movies Get it Right” and summarize the reasons this reviewer gives for his approval of the adaptation of the famous courtroom scene.

“You can’t serve papers on a rat.”  (pp. 62-73)

According to Rooster Cogburn, how is this statement both literally and figuratively correct?  Is Rooster Cogburn trustworthy?

“You will push that saucy line too far.” (pp. 74-84)

Explain why Mattie gives LaBoeuf such a hard time.  Use the Meet LaBoeuf graphic organizer to analyze the scene.  Identify where the miscommunication occurs and decide whether or not Mattie is a reliable narrator in her assessment of the Texas Ranger.  

Stage:  Departure

This ain’t no coon hunt!” (pp. 85-100)

Explain why Cogburn agrees to Mattie’s terms to accompany him into Indian Territory.  Is he trustworthy? 

Evaluate Cogburn’s motivation to help Mattie find Chaney.  

Maybe you would like to see some real hoorawing?” (pp. 100-122) Explain why Cogburn allows Mattie to come along.  

big ideasCompare Cogburn and LaBoeuf. While reading, collect ideas on the brainstorming Cogburn LaBoeuf Comparison Chart

The Cinematography of True Grit 

  1. Montage–   Simply, editing.  It is a technique in film editing in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information.  It is a technique in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information.
  2. Voice-over- Any off screen voice, as that of a character in a narrative.
  3. Mise-en-Scene- refers to that part of the cinematic process that takes place on the set, as opposed to editing (which takes place afterwards). Literally, the “putting-in-the-scene” which are all the considerations that happen before the cameras start rolling.
  4. Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sound- Diegetic sound comes from INSIDE the movie.  Non-Diegetic Sound comes from OUTSIDE the movie.

From Book to Film

Crossing the River Scene

Coen brothers 2010

Hathaway 1969

Stage:  Trials

What is this girl doing here?”   (pp.  125-154) Quincy and Moon Scene Analysis

“There is no beat of a good friend”   (pp. 154-165) Rooster Cogburn- Hero or Villain?

“I wanted to be a cavalryman (pp. 165-179)  assignmentAnalyzing Complex Characters

Watch the following Ted-Ed video on practicing insight and understanding complexity in interpreting characters in literature.    

After viewing, compare LaBoeuf’s military record with Cogburn’s by looking at age of enlistment, motivation to enlist, battles fought, and who they associated with.  

Military Service Comparison Graphic Organizer Military Service Comparison Grading Rubric. big ideas

In order to explain why Cogburn is so evasive about his wartime service it is necessary to review the historical references to the battles that each experienced.  Read Quantrill’s Biography  and watch Episode Four:  Anarchy from Ken Burns’ The West.  (on disk three).

Then read the article Battle of Five Forks and watch or important details of these historical references.

“She has won her spurs, so to speak.”  (pp. 179-188) Explain how Cogburn, LaBoeuf, and Mattie all act as expected.  Why might LaBoeuf be considered a dynamic character? “What have you done when you’ve bested a fool?”  (pp. 188-197) What ails Rooster Cogburn?  Explain his actions in this scene.

Tom ChaneyStage:  Approach “The man was none other than Tom Chaney!”(pp. 198-208) Stage:  Crisis “Don’t provoke me.  You will find yourself in that pit.”  (pp. 208-223)

Stage:  Treasure “It was the body of Tom Chaney” (pp. 224-240)  Stage:  Result “I am in your debt for that shot, pard” (pp. 240-248)

end picture 2 Stage: Return and Resolution (pp. 249-end) “I avenged Frank Ross’ murder over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground.”   Final Test Study Guide

The Cinematography of True Grit

True Grit: Scenes for Cinematographic Techniques Analysis

Shooting Contest

I Bow Out

Facing Tom Chaney

I Will Kill This Girl

Bold Talk for a One Eyed Fat Man


The Soundtrack

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The Plight of the Native Americans 

Mattie searches for Chaney in Indian Territory and in this setting the novel glances at the undeclared war that was waged on Native Americans in the era of the Manifest Destiny doctrine.  Here is a Ted Talk that uses images to tell that story from the perspective of the Lakota tribe.  How is the Native American saga different from that of the white man? True Grit: The Video Game 

(from Wikipedia) A quest in role-playing video games—including massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and their predecessors, MUDs—is a task that a player-controlledcharacter, “party” or group of characters may complete in order to gain a reward. Rewards may include an increase in the character’s experience in order to learn new skills and abilities, loot or treasure, in-game currency such as gold coins, access to new locations or areas, or any combination of the above.

Quests are typically grouped in to one of four categories: kill quests, gather quests, delivery quests and escort quests. However, quests can include more than one mission, such as gathering something and transporting it somewhere. Quests can be linked together to form quest series or chains. In this manner, quests are used to provide the player with further background to the setting their characters are in. This mechanism is also used to advance any story or plot the game might have.


Turn True Grit into a video game that shows all parts of the quest journey.

Project Requirements

  1. Exposition

Make an iMovie trailer that would introduce call to adventure, characters, and setting.

2.  Setting

A ThingLink map of the journey.

3.  Trials

Use StoryBoard This to design levels for the video game and explain the task at each level.



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