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Mark Twains Jumping Frog

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1572
  • Category: Twain

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In “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Mark Twain creates some memorable characters. The longer a character appears, the more sides you see of them and the more believable they become. They contrasted with what Easterners of the era expected, which made them even more appropriate, realistic, and likable. The main protagonist in the story is a man in Simon Wheeler’s narration named Jim Smiley. Showing many sides to his character, Jim is obviously a round character, showing emotions including joy, confusion, and anger. At one point, it is shown that he can be rather happy-go-lucky. About one third of the way through the story, Simon directly characterizes Smiley, saying, “Any way, that suited the other man would suit him – any way just so he’s got a bet, he was satisfied” (Twain). It implies that he had been very pleased in the past, and was likely in a very upbeat mood as Simon’s tale began. He is also directly characterized as being very clearly annoyed. Simon Wheeler says near the end of the story that after he finds that his unnamed opponent had cheated, “… he was the maddest man…”. The contrast between how he feels at this point and when the story began is clear. This roundness gives the protagonist more dimension and a more believable feel.

Despite being round, however, Smiley is a static character. Though the story does not clearly state it, one can reasonably assume he experiences little to no change of heart throughout the entire story, remaining addicted to gambling. A quote from the beginning of the story sets his initial mentality, Simon wheeler stating clearly, “… he was the curiousest man about always betting on anything…”. Simon says that he would bet on practically everything. One can reasonably state that Jim Smiley is the same by the end of the story based on sentences from the story’s end. An example of this is after Jim finds out that his opponent cheated and ran away with forty of his dollars, “he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never caught him.”. The quote shows that he still wants the money they gambled on, even though he won many gambles before. This idea also shows that throughout the story, the motivation for his actions is money. Whether he gambles for money so he can buy the supplies he needs at the camp or he is simply greedy is unclear. One can tell that he wants or needs money based on the rather heavily stressed gambling he consistently does. Even during the exposition, Smiley says, “… why, if there was [sic] two birds sitting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first…”.

It says that he would go to great lengths to bet and win money. It is also revealed that Jim kept animals with which he would occasionally bet. In the middle of the story, Simon Wheeler reveals, “Well, this-yer Smiley had rat-terriers, and chicken-cocks, and tom-cats, and all them kind of things, till you couldn’t rest, and you couldn’t fetch nothing for him to bet on but he’d match you”. It reveals that Jim Smiley had what was needed to be able to bet at almost any time. The story’s main antagonist does not have a known name. He neither shows multiple moods nor undergoes a change through the story, making him both flat and static. The stranger only shows one calm, smug mood. He shows this as he enters the story about two-thirds of the way into the story, saying to Smiley about his frog, “‘Well, I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog’”. It shows that he is initially doubtful about what the frog is able to do. After sabotaging the bet by filling the frog with lead, before Smiley finds that he cheated, he leaves, repeating, “‘Well, I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog’”.

He remains within the same mood and state of mind during these two quotes, and throughout the whole story. Like Smiley, what motivates him is money once a bet is started between the two. Very shortly after Smiley encounters him, in response to Smiley offering a bet, “‘Well, I’m only a stranger here, and I ain’t got no frog; but if I had a frog, I’d bet you” (Twain). Unlike Smiley, however, this stranger is perfectly fine with cheating to win his bets. While Smiley goes to fetch a frog for the man to bet on winning, the man “…took a teaspoon and filled [Smiley’s frog] full of quail shot…”. It proves that the man is willing to engage in foul play to win money. Characters like these that show up in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” are, according to critics, in stark contrast with those from the East and what those in the East expected the West to be like at the time this story was written. It is also notable that when the story was first published, people all across post-Civil War United States found it absolutely hysterical, from the narrator’s situation to Simon Wheeler’s talkative personality to several of the story’s lines.

“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is set in a fitting place: California in 1849 or 1850, in a town known as “Angel’s Camp,” a time and place which leaves little else for the town’s population to do than occupy themselves with small tasks such as gambling. Each section of the setting is clearly given in the text. For example, the fact that the story takes place in Angel’s camp is clearly stated when the narrator says, “I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the bar-room stove of the old dilapidated tavern in the ancient mining camp of Angel’s,” later referring to the area as “Angel’s Camp” (Twain). By setting the story so far to the West, Mark Twain gives the story a bit more of an informal feel. It can also be easily concluded that the story takes place in 1849 or 1850 because Simon Wheeler gives the year in the exposition, saying that his story takes place, “in the winter of ’49 — or maybe it was the spring of ’50…” (Twain). This combined with how the short story as a whole was written in 1867 places the year at 1849 or 1850 (Twain). The time period gave the audience, still recovering from the Civil War, something they can relate to, perhaps even letting them remember a better time. The two combine to create an informal, light-hearted mood and set the audience up for the story’s humor, which, in the post-Civil War United States, they really needed .The story contains a major conflict that the audience finds humorous.

It is well defined, enjoyable, and rather realistic. The primary conflict is man versus man, that is, Smiley versus the stranger. It is the most obvious one in the book, since, as the stranger said, “… if I had a frog, I’d bet you…”. The bet is able to take place because Smiley caught a frog for the stranger to bet on. Though there is no minor conflict specified, there is likely to be a minor conflict implied when Smiley trained his animals. The story’s narration indicates that Smiley is good at training animals. One example is in regard to the frog that the story is about. Simon Wheeler says, “…and so he never done nothing for these three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet you he did learn him, too”. The amount of time he spends training the frog and the success that results shows that Jim Smiley can train animals well, but might have had some difficulties in doing so. What is more impressive is that Smiley has a lot more animals than the frog. According to Simon Wheeler, “Well, Smiley had rat-terriers, and chicken-cocks, and tom-cats, and all them kind of things,” A horse, a dog, and a cow of his are also discussed in Jim Smiley’s recollection, all of which possessing unusual habits that help Smiley win a variety of bets. Assuming he had put as much time and energy into training these other animals as he did the frog, this potential conflict would be a large one.

Conflicts including these and many others play a large role in the story, as this quote indicates from Short Stories for Students indicates, stating, “Central to the story is the idea of conflicting cultures,” referring to another minor conflict in the story, that being the stark contrast between the educated Eastern narrator and the comparatively uneducated Western story teller, Simon Wheeler. In summary, Mark Twain enforced the themes within this short story using several literary devices in a way where one needs to completely analyze his work to find most of them. For example, the characters play a role in the overall satire by contradicting what people’s stereotypes of the time period had been. Also notable is that the setting shows the story’s historical context, which must be understood for readers to see the true humor of the story. It is also easy to see when reading the story that the details of the story’s conflict show just how much of a tall tale the main plot is.

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