I believe True Grit might be the first western I've ever read. I'm not typically into westerns, movie or book version. The heroes are a little too clear cut, the heroines are a bit too reliant on their menfolk, and those who don't wear white skin are depicted as poorly as those who don't wear white hats. True Grit seems to be somewhat of an exception, and since I more or less enjoyed the movie I was willing to give the novel a go.
Interestingly, Mattie is kind of a reflection of the western (genre) dichotomy. At least at the beginning of the novel, she has a very clear cut idea of what is right and what is wrong. Her worldview is what gives her "grit," but also shows a bit of naivete in the face of danger, as well as the realities of the world she lives in. In this case, that is a world where the law is not readily enforced because there is a lack of information on what those laws are and a lack of enforcement agents. Cogburn and LaBoeuf each represent the kind of agents that were available. While LeBoeuf's heart was likely in the right place, both were interested in the fortunes that tracking down outlaws would bring them, and LaBoeuf was also interested in the
As Mattie becomes more accustomed to the motives and behaviors of Cogburn and LaBoeuf, her ideals begin to become more realistic, but also remain idealistic, which is part of what makes her such an appealing character. Even though she learns to accept that Cogburn and LaBoeuf had and have different reasons for joining law enforcement agencies, she still respects that they do their job to the best of their abilities. So while their motivations may not be respectable, the fact that they deliver criminals to justice is still seen as respectable in her eyes, and she comes to respect these lawmakers as men and not idealized figures.
Yet, Mattie also has a wise(ass)ness to her that would be unusual in almost any 14 year old of past or present. She seems to have an innate knack for business, and also displays a willingness to put herself in a situation in order to prevent others from being in said situation themselves. In a way, Mattie almost personifies the qualities of a western, which makes True Grit a very interesting story for those interested in the genre, but perhaps not interested in a simplistic dichotomy.
Dayna Ingram has a nice review on her Goodreads account. Yes, that Dayna Ingram.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.