True Grit And The Revenant: A Contrast Of Classic And Revisionist Westerns I Oxford Open Learning
True Grit

True Grit And The Revenant: A Contrast Of Classic And Revisionist Westerns

True Grit and The Revenant are two acclaimed novels that have gained popularity through their adaptations into films. Although both stories are set in the western frontier during the 19th century, and revolve around a protagonist who is seeking revenge against those who have wronged them, each serve as great examples of the differences between the romanticism of the traditional and the darker realism of revisionist westerns.

True Grit, written by Charles Portis in 1968, is a coming-of-age story that follows the young protagonist Mattie Ross on her quest to avenge her father’s death. Mattie hires U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her track down the killer, Tom Chaney. The novel explores themes of justice, revenge, and morality, and portrays a world where violence is prevalent and justice is often delivered through the barrel of a gun.

In contrast, The Revenant, written by Michael Punke in 2002, is a survival story that follows the frontiersman Hugh Glass as he seeks revenge against the men who left him for dead after he was mauled by a grizzly bear. The novel explores themes of survival, vengeance, and the brutality of nature. It portrays a world where man is at the mercy of the unforgiving wilderness and where violence is a means of survival.

Characters And Plot

The main characters in both books are vastly different. True Grit‘s main protagonist, Mattie Ross, is a determined and intelligent young girl driven by her need for justice. She is a strong and independent character unafraid to stand up to men and often able to outsmart them. On the other hand, Hugh Glass in The Revenant is a seasoned frontiersman who has a deep connection to the wilderness. He is a survivor who is driven by his need for revenge and will stop at nothing to achieve it.

True Grit is a novel driven by its strong characters. Whilst Mattie Ross is the strong-willed and determined young woman seeking justice for her father’s murder, she is supported by the novel’s other main character, Rooster Cogburn, a gruff and rugged US Marshal seeking the same thing. Together, Mattie and Rooster make for a formidable team, and their interactions are some of the highlights of the novel.

The Revenant is plot-driven. Set in the wilderness of the American West, and the harsh and unforgiving environment plays a significant role in the story. Hugh Glass, the novel’s protagonist, is a fur trapper who is left for dead by his companions after being attacked by a grizzly bear. His journey to survive and seek revenge against those who abandoned him is the primary focus of the novel. The emphasis is not on the characters, but on the harsh world they live in.

Violence In True Grit And The Revenant

Another significant difference between the two novels is their approach to violence. True Grit is a novel that is filled with violence, but it is also one that explores the consequences of that violence. Mattie Ross witnesses several violent events during the course of the the story, and these events have a profound impact on her character. In contrast, The Revenant is a novel that revels in its violence. The novel’s descriptions of the grizzly bear attack and the subsequent revenge plot are graphic and visceral, and they serve to highlight the brutal nature of life in the American West.

Style And Point Of View

One of the primary differences between True Grit and The Revenant is their narrative style. True Grit is written in the first-person point of view, with Mattie Ross serving as the narrator. Not to accuse Mattie of being unreliable, but did events really play out as she tells it? Or is it possible her interpretation of events was misted by her own stubbornness? Pure conjecture of course, but a question worth asking.

In contrast, The Revenant is written in the third-person point of view, with the narrator following its protagonist. This difference in narrative style has a significant impact on the reader’s experience of the story as there’s no room here for any potentially unreliable narration. It is simply a pure and brutal telling of a desperate survival tale.

The Romantic Versus The Real

When compared, the differences between the two novels highlights the change in modern attitudes towards the Western genre. True Grit, the traditional classic, is a story full of quirky characters and tells how they alone tackle the frontier and come out on top, with throwaway and comforting tales of bravery, hope, and American values. The Revenant, however, is a much dirtier, cynical, and grittier rendition of the Old West. It is a much more accurate depiction of a time when justice was about as rare as heroes. Back then, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly didn’t exist, but rather only the Morally Grey.


This is the last of 3 articles looking at the Western on screen and page. The first and second can be found by clicking here and here respectively.

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