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.

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Photo Gallery: Research photographic archives to find period photos of the principal settings of the novel: Dardanelle, Arkansas and environs; Fort Smith, Arkansas; and the northeast corner of the Indian Territory. Create an exhibit illustrating what life was like in these areas in the late nineteenth century, with emphasis on the differences among them in terms of terrain, development, and overall levels of "civilization." Write captions explaining the photographs. Display the exhibit in the school's library, at a local museum, or another Big Read venue.
  2. A Girl's Life: Questions have been raised from time to time about whether Mattie's adventures are realistic or not. Divide the class into groups to research autobiographies and memoirs of women who grew up in the time and places of the novel's setting to discover whether experiences like Mattie's actually occurred. Alternately, are there young women or men today who have gone on quests similar to Mattie's? What were they trying to achieve?
  3. Film Screening: View DVDs of the two feature films that have been made from the novel, and compare the two. Which one is more faithful to the book? Taking them on their own terms, which one do you think is the better movie? Which performer—Kim Darby or Hailee Steinfeld, John Wayne or Jeff Bridges, Glen Campbell or Matt Damon—comes closer to realizing each of the major characters as you have imagined her or him?
  4. Courtroom Drama: Have students perform a staged presentation of Rooster's testimony in Judge Parker's court. With the assistance of local attorneys or judges, address how a modern courtroom might respond to Rooster's testimony—or the idea of justice as it appears in the novel.
  5. New Frontiers: The novel True Grit is a Western in the truest sense: the action unfolds in the Old West, where life is hard and people are defined by a code of honor. Assuming the idea of the Old West remains a source of fascination today, create a presentation or performance that explores modern frontiers. Could technical innovations such as the Internet be considered a frontier, for example? What qualities do people pursuing new frontiers share with the characters in True Grit? Are there modern examples of "frontier justice"?
  6. The Western Tradition: Compile a montage of images—stills from movies and television shows, covers of magazines and Western novels, etc.—showing how the Old West has been portrayed in American culture over the last hundred years and more. Provide captions and commentaries to show the ways in which views of the development of the West, its values, and its principal figures have evolved in connection with changes in broader social attitudes. How might the characters in True Grit respond to life in the twenty-first century?
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