The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain. Short Story Analysis
In Mark Twain’s, “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”, the language used by the narrator allowed readers to grasp a tiny portion of how socially different people are on the west coast when compared to the east coast. Mark Twain was the epitome of what people would call the ‘southern gentleman’. He was courteous, and well-mannered. One can easily see Twain’s good manners and courtesy with a look at how he starts out his story, “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”.
Rather than write to Mr. A. Ward and confront him about his deceiving words and become angry, Twain simply says that,
I have a lurking suspicion that your Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth- that you never knew such a personage, and that you only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was your design, Mr. Ward, it will gratify you to know that it succeeded(59-60).
Ever the gentleman, Twain continues telling Mr. Ward about the story “old Simon Wheeler” told him about Jim Smiley. Twain makes the reader assume that he is a good, well-mannered man by asking Simon Wheeler to tell him about Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and saying that, “I let him go on his own way, and never interrupted him once”(60).
Simon Wheeler was a simple man whom only wanted to help Mark Twain in his inquiry about Leonidas Smiley but, as simple people are apt to do, Wheeler remembers a different man, named Jim Smiley, and Wheelers tale begins. It is very apparent that Wheeler is a simple man by the way Twain first describes him.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the barroom stove of the little old dilapidated tavern in the ancient mining camp of Boomerang, and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance(60).
It is easy to see how different life is on the west coast compared to the east coast. In Wheeler’s tale about Jim Smiley the reader learns of a man who bets upon anything, “dog-fight…cat-fight…chicken-fight…why if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first,” and “he most always come out [the] winner”(60). Back East, I’m sure there were gambling men around, but I don’t think that it would be as acceptable to gamble on as many things as Jim Smiley did out in California.
Being the simple man Wheeler is, his tale of Jim Smiley seemed to not have any rhyme or reason, other than to pass the time required to tell it. Twain it seemed felt as though Jim Smiley’s tale was told for a reason. The tale had moral value to it that Wheeler probably did not recognize. When “Simon Wheeler heard his name called from the front-yard, and got up to go and see what was wanted,”(63) Twain seized his only opportunity to leave… though Wheeler did say for him to, “Just sit where you are, stranger, and rest easy- I ain’t going to be gone a second”(63). It appeared as though Twain had heard one too many moral tales in his lifetime to have to sit through another agonizing ten minutes to hear another tale.
In keeping up with his intentions to be kind-hearted, Twain thinks, “that a continuation of the history of the enterprising vagabond Jim Smiley would [not] be likely to afford me much information concerning the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started away”(63). Proof that even ‘southern gentlemen’ will eventually get fed up with things that do not interest them, Twain curses Jim Smiley, “good-naturedly”, of course, and bids Wheeler good-day.
The simple social differences between the west coast and the east coast are quite apparent. In the West, gambling, lying, cheating, and rudeness are nothing to waste a second thought upon. But in the East, gambling, lying, cheating, and rudeness are things that are frowned upon. Even when the East invades the West (Twain coming to Boomerang), it’s good-will and cool temperament can disappear and reappear within a moment, as was evident with Twain’s reactions towards Simon Wheeler.
teachers question: Choose one text and analyze it by examining the author’s language and how meaning is constructed. You may also consider the history and culture of the period in your analysis.
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