Young Mattie Ross asks: Who is the best marshal? Bill Waters is the best tracker. He’s part Comanche. The meanest is Rooster Cogburn; a pitiless man, double tough. Fear don’t enter into his thinking. I’d have to say the fairest is L.T. Quinn; he always brings in his prisoners alive. Now, he might let one slip by every now and then, but… The Western stands between the lawless Indian & the spineless liberal.
This is her story, who went out to shoot her father’s murderer. That shows grit. She hires a drunken marshal said to be ruthless. A Texas Ranger offers to join, but she rebukes him, because she wants sole ownership of the killing–she despises his braggadocio & points out, his failure so far does not recommend him; he has opportunity to spank her. Mattie is remarkably lucid for someone so eager to kill, & as resourceful as she is weak.
A story of revenge is a story of justice. Self-reliant as Southern girls may have been, who is less likely to seek just punishment than a girl? Revenge is the end of this world & the return of an older one, with heroes & monsters. – In the city, she settles her father’s affairs with shameless savvy, witnesses a public execution, & proposes to pay a marshal to go into Indian lands after the murderer. Cogburn thinks she does not belong in the wilderness, but she is relentless about being uncivilized.
This is a story about people not being in their right place. The dead cannot rest & go unburied. This girl moves from her home, through a city, into the wilderness, & all the way to the pit of vipers, because she wants revenge instead of redemption. Whether she learns mercy is at least doubtful, but this is a very Christian story, where the heroes are dwarfed rather than magnified by playing God, laughing at life & death.
Mattie is more relentless than these men whom she compels to serve by her neediness. She forces both marshal & Texas Ranger, once they stop mocking her, to protect her. There is a remarkable show of their weaknesses, though they hunt men for a living, & of her inability to bring out the best in them, for all her savvy, but by getting in trouble.
This is brought out repeatedly in very ugly killings that suggest men without the sacred authority of law are at once mere bodies, prey to man & beast, & ghosts haunting the world, doing the unthinkable. There is only one honorable fight, & manly excellence is marred by Mattie’s desire to kill. She may be too human for her inhuman adventure, & this may cause them to put their grit in the service of saving her life.
An examination of hard-heartedness