Storytelling in American Literature: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain and “Daisy Miller: A Study” by Henry James as Patriotic Narratives

January 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Storytelling has become an important literary device found in American Literature. Stories like “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain and “Daisy Miller: A Study” by Henry James use storytelling as the simplest way promote Americanization. by telling these stories orally and written, through the scope of “real Americans” the authors are able to spread their ideals and patriotism. While these stories may not be necessarily true, they do spread the “truths” of the American people.

Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, Twain sets up his story as a tale within a tale. In “Jumping Frog”, the main story line focuses on Mark Twain meeting a talkative old story teller Simon Wheeler. Twain reveals that he believes the purpose of this storytelling was merely designated to waste his time. The tale within this tale is the one Wheeler tells Twain about Jim Smiley and his betting ways. Twain believes that Wheeler’s stories are largely exaggerated, but yet he listens. The essential component within both tales of “Jumping Frog” is satire, the manipulation of stereotypes and the exaggeration to point out the folly of men. In “Jumping Frog”, it seems that Twain makes fun of the tall tale genre and the people of the American West and East. His satire “challenges various stereotypes held by many Americans during this time”. According to the stereotypes within the story, individuals living in the west were considered to be dolts. In contrast, the Americans of the east were educated and considered to be cultured even.

Using satire, Twain twists the expectation and presents the easterner as an impatient snob fooled by those within the story. Continuing his satirical nature, Wheeler is not a dolt but comes across as a good-natured, experienced storyteller whose talent allows him to fool is “sophisticated” listener. Twain continues his examination of American culture by including use of dialect and vernacular language to establish his characters’ identities. For example, when Twain’s character speaks within the story he uses proper English and correct grammar usage. In contrast, Simon Wheeler tells his tale in the vernacular of the West. Speaking with an accent Wheeler ignores grammatical rules. He says “reg’lar”, “feller”, and even “Dan’l” for Daniel. The lives of the American people have been so closely intertwined in Twain’s story, that it seems as though the American people live within the narrative, recounting and examining the meaning of their lives.

Narration plays a very important role in Henry James’ “Daisy Miller: A Study.” “Daisy Miller” is told in third-person objective with pieces of first- person narration. It is through the first-person narration that we hear the actual narrator relaying a story that took place long ago,“I hardly know whether it was the analogies or the differences that were uppermost in the mind of a young American, who, two or three years ago, sat in the garden of the ‘Trois Couronnes,’ looking about him, rather idly, at some of the graceful objects I have mentioned” (James). While the narrator may be telling of a specific event, the tone suggests that it is not being told as fact, but more of a hear-say that has been passed along. The narrator is quick to point out that he/she “hardly [knows]” about the actual events and is ambiguous about when the event happened saying, “two or three years ago”. This ambiguous tone begs the question, should readers believe what the narrator tells them? The ambiguity of the narrator of “Daisy Miller,” makes readers question whether or not the narrator should even be trusted. The story focuses on Daisy, but readers know nothing about the person, who is just as involved in the course of events, telling them “facts”. It is through this narrator that the readers receive any details about Daisy.

By writing the perspective of an observer, James is able to show the discordance of American values in other cultures. Winterbourne, though an American, has been Europeanized, but Daisy, a true American, is considered to be wrong as her mannerisms contrast the morals of European culture. This is evident as Mrs. Costello claims that Daisy Miller is a “dreadful girl” because she goes on a date with Winterbourne after only knowing him for a short minute (James). Daisy does not hold the same European values that Mrs. Costello wishes to instill in Winterbourne, so Daisy becomes a threat to her own Americanism. Again, Daisy is discriminated against at St. Peters as, “a dozen of the American colonists in Rome came to talk to Mrs. Costello…” claiming that “poor little Miss Miller’s going really too far” (James) due to her relationship with Mr. Giovanelli. Unlike Daisy, these Americans have come to accept European values, and reject their own American values. Daisy becomes a threat to their reputation of Americanism. It seems that James wrote “Daisy Miller: A Study” to examine the stereotypes surrounding European views of Americanism. Using his storytelling narration, James seems to be appealing the American people to question how information in shared and question what is to be believed.

Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and Henry James’ “Daisy Miller: A Study” use the element of story-telling to examine the values of the American people and the importance of shared information. By creating characters, narrators, who are brazenly American, these authors spread American ideals using an “American Scope.” Twain and James may beg the question of what they should believe, but they create stories that challenge the stereotypes and reaffirm American values.

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