One-Eyed Gods and One-Armed Gods
Does True Grit tap into an ancient myth?
It took men like Cogburn to tame the wilderness and its outlaws and establish order. (To say nothing of appropriating the land of the native peoples who first inhabited that wilderness—True Grit is curiously short on Indians, despite being set in Choctaw territory.) They paved the way for the stable, business-friendly climate of the America in which Mattie will grow up, where laws and contracts will rule. Though she's forced to act outside the law to exact vengeance on her father's killer, Mattie appreciates the institutions of civilization. "I love my church and my bank," she says in Portis' novel, a line that Cogburn could never utter. Order has been established, now it needs a steady hand to manage it and business-oriented individuals to thrive within it. Mattie was born at the end of the Civil War and is only about 38 when Rooster dies in 1903. Her life illustrates just how fleeting the Wild West's moment really was—but her lost arm is a reminder of what it took to subdue it.
Paul Devlin is a regular contributer to The Root and the editor of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones (2011).
Still from True Grit © 2010 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.