Mark Twain’s Celebrated Jumping Frog: Localism and the Expansion of America

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer


Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, was one of America’s first great writers. He went from being a simple humorist as one of his early careers to becoming one of America’s greatest philosophers and novelists at the time. The time period he lived in had a huge influence on his way of writing and on his way of thinking, as “He wrote at a time when America was in the midst of tremendous westward expansion” (Pearson Web). Twain wrote several great works, ranging from short stories in newspapers to great novels, such as the classic: the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


Another example of a great work of Twain’s is his story, The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Mark Twain uses a southwestern vernacular and localism as his way of writing; and The Notorious Frog of Calaveras County is no different. The story is an example of how Twain expresses what he knows and lessons that he has learned. In the story, the narrator is told by the locals of Angel’s camp to ask a man, Simon Wheeler, if he had ever heard of a man named Leonidas W. Smiley. Wheeler is notorious for his “monotonous narratives” (Levine 115) and his ability to talk for ages. The narrator goes to talk to him and when asked, Wheeler goes on to tell him about a man named Jim Smiley, not Leonidas. The narrator immediately begins to regret his decision. He goes on about how “[Jim] was the curiousest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see” (Levine 116) and about how full of himself Jim Smiley was. He told a story about how Smiley had a puppy one year that he used to win dog fights. The puppy used to bite the other dogs’ back legs; and even though almost everyone thought of his as the underdog, he still won almost every time. He told another story of the same kind about a horse that Jim got one year that he used in horse races. The horse would always be lagging behind, so people thought she would lose. But as it turns out, the horse won every single race. These are the reasons why Smiley felt so confident. He was never let down. However, one day an outsider comes to town. At the time, Jim had a frog that could “outjump any frog in Calaveras County” (Levine 118). He was sure that he could win a bet against the newcomer that the frog was the best. So he left his frog with the stranger, went to get a frog for the stranger, and came back ready to compete. Little did he know, the stranger had given Smiley’s frog a “double handful of shot” (Levine 118). Jim Smiley trusted the stranger and ended up losing at his own game. At the end of the story, the narrator gets fed up with the rambling of Simon Wheeler and tuned him out, simply because it was not what he wanted to hear.

Jim Smiley’s trust of the stranger is a prime example of localism. He got used to the way that everyone around him thought and how they reacted to his “talent”. Jim Smiley had become accustomed to the types of people and the way his world worked around him. He was unaware of the outsider’s point of view. Wheeler says “And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest man…”, talking about Smiley’s reaction to the stranger ruining his bet.

The Incoming Western Ways

This also leads to an example of America’s western ways. The expansion of America opened new doors for many new opportunities and “as the idea of the West expanded in the public imagination, it became… a society that operated on the other side of the law (Naden Web). The stranger represents the new ideas that came with finding new land and having new ideas from the West. Mark Twain greatly proved his ideas and mindset about the incoming Western ways. By writing about a man who believes that he is the best of the best, he showed that it is not good to be overly confident. Because, when Smiley lost, he “was a good deal surprised, and he was disgusted too”(Levine 118). Twain is showing the surprising changes of the Western society. The structure of the story also showed a resemblance to 19th century America because of the way Wheelers old mining camp was and because “Simon does appear, at least in the narrator’s opinion, to be simple” (Trudy Web). It just shows how much the times were changing and how much Mark Twain noticed it.

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