The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country as an Example of Realistic Literature

May 5, 2021 by Essay Writer

Realism in “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country”

The min-nineteenth century was a time of change in society and literature in America. The realism movement was causing authors to focus on common people with customary lifestyles. No longer was literature emphasizing the impressive accomplishments of upper class heroes. Authors began to tell the stories of the ordinary, middle to low class societies and their ways of living. Great American authors such as Mark Twain made strong influences on how society was viewed through their literary works. “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country” by Mark Twain exemplifies the ordinary, everyday characteristics of the realism movement by using the literary elements of setting, characterization, and the common dialect used in the dialogue.

The realism movement took place in America during the mid to late nineteenth century and changed the face of popular literature. Before this movement began, literature primarily focused on high society and the heroic deeds of unattainable characters. Realism inspired authors to tell stories that would be relatable to an ordinary audience with every day settings and characterization. Frank Norris, in his work “Zola as a Romantic Writer” defines the realism moment when he writes, “This is the real Realism. It is the smaller details of every-day life, things that are likely to happen between lunch and supper, small passions, restricted emotions, dramas of the reception room, tragedies of an afternoon call, crises involving cups of tea” (557). The realism movement created literature that focused on the common man and stories that told the experiences of regular people. Mark Twain’s short story “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country” is an example of the realism movement’s influence on American literature during the nineteenth century.

“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country” exemplifies the common, everyday characteristics of realism by using the literary element of setting. The broad setting of the story, Angel’s Camp, California, was a mining town that would have been a very ordinary scene during the gold rush from 1848-1855. Mining towns sprouted up all over California and were filled with simple manual workers who knew how to mine the gold. This broad setting demonstrates the characteristics of the realism movement by describing a location that would be relatable to common people of the time period. The specific setting of the story, the tavern, is another example of a setting relatable to ordinary audiences. The text does not spend much time creating a description of the setting because the target audience would have been very familiar with this scene. The most description given is when Twain illustrates “the barroom stove of the dilapidated tavern in the decaying mining camp of Angel’s” (101). This simple picture would have been enough to give common audiences of the time a full understanding of the setting of the story because it was in environment they were accustomed to. The realism movement focused on displaying the lifestyle of people who would live in simple setting such as Angel’s Camp. Twain expertly uses the literary element of setting to portray this story in the light of realism.

“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country” exemplifies the common, everyday characteristics of realism by using the literary element of characterization.

Although the story is rather whimsical in nature, being based on a wager between jumping frogs, its characters are very realistic and down-to-earth. The character of Simon Wheeler is described as “fat and bald headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance” (Twain 101). Simon Wheeler is exactly a character one would expect to meet in a tavern in an old mining town. His qualities are illustrated as simple and ordinary in both appearance and personality. The character of Jim Smiley is described as a man who was “ always bet on anything that ever turned up” (Twain 102). Gambling is a common addiction that many people fall prey to, and therefore, many could relate to. The realism movement inspired authors to create characters that reflected ordinary character in real life settings. These main characters are examples of how Twain used characterization in his story to create the element of realism.

“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country” exemplifies the common, everyday characteristics of realism by using the literary element of the common dialect used in the dialogue. The conversations between the characters are portrayed in an English dialect local to the area and time period with all of its unique idioms and inflections. An example from the text is the conversation when Simon Wheeler is describing Jim Smiley to the narrator and says, “He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldn’t be no solit’ry thing mentioned but that feller’d offer to bet on it” (Twain 102). The use of double negatives and contracted words such as “solit’ry” and “feller’d” give the audience a sense of the speaker’s grammatical use and accent. These types of local dialects were typically spoken by ordinary individuals who had gone without the educational opportunities of the upper class. This way of speaking would have been familiar and understandable to common audiences. The realism movement focused on capturing the local flavor of the languages of ordinary people. Twain used the local dialect as a device to create realism within his story.

The realism movement opened the art of literature to new opportunities and new goals. Realism caused even fictional stories to hold historical value because they realistically recount the lifestyles of common people during the time periods in which they are set. Mark Twain, in his story “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country,” uses realism to capture the people and environment of a mining town during the California gold rush. He effectively uses literarily elements such as setting, characterization and dialogue to bring his version of realism to life. “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country” is not only an entertaining story, but is also a window into the past and into the society that existed in California during the mid nineteenth century.

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