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The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County


American writers of the nineteenth-century such as Charles Chesnutt, Sarah Orne, Henry James, Jack London and Mark Twain among others have been widely celebrated and renowned because of their incredible literature work that depicted the life of Am...Read More


~Posted on Mar 2019

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American writers of the nineteenth-century such as...

American writers of the nineteenth-century such as Charles Chesnutt, Sarah Orne, Henry James, Jack London and Mark Twain among others have been widely celebrated and renowned because of their incredible literature work that depicted the life of Americans during their era. Whether the plot was about slavery, women, men, expatriates in the western frontier, or even the post civil war south and Europe, they have been able to deliver nothing but the best. When America was experiencing a major transformation from the agrarian economy to an industrial powerhouse, American literature was also witnessing a huge transition from the influence of romanticism to embracing realism. Romanticism was used initially to celebrate freedom, the spirit of individualism and the pursuit of worldly ideals. Realism would now focus on the daily life struggles of people. William Dean Howells began the movement of literary realism in the 1870s which reached its climax in the 1890s and 1900s before a new generation of American writers sought to focus on writing about a life they knew in a truthful and accurate manner. Realism is not just a movement to individual American writers but also a literary form that is realized in the use of language of the writer, the kind of characters they choose to create as well as their choice of setting ("The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County Summary - Enotes.Com")

One of the literary works during this historical period is “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” This book was written by the legendary Mark Twain and was originally published in 1865 after which it brought him national attention and great access as a writer. Literary elements that are central to Twain’s dexterity include shrewd symbolism, plot, writing style, allegory, imagery, setting, point of view and tone among others. In the book, the narrator (Mark Twain) retells a story that he heard from a bartender named Simon Wheeler at the Angels Hotel located in Angels Camp, California, a gambler called Jim Smiley. Old Simon Wheeler tells the narrator an amusing story Smiley who has a trained frog.  Being the notorious gambler he was, Jim was swindled one fateful day when a stranger fed his dog buckshot thus making smiley lose a bet. At an urging by a friend, the narrator visits a chatty old man named Simon Wheeler who lives in a mining settlement known as Angel’s camp. From him, the narrator hears the story of a man, Jim Smiley, and his famous jumping frog. Smiley perpetrated several betting schemes before training his frog. One of these betting schemes includes one that involves a bull-pup named Andrew Jackson, who usually won dog fights through latching onto one of the hind legs of his opponents. Elsewhere, a stranger bets Jim $40 that Jim’s celebrated frog cannot jump any better than an average frog. While the back of Jim is turned, the stranger manages to fill Jim’s frog with buckshot. Jim doesn’t realize this until when he loses the bet, and he has no means to win the money back.

This story is told in a frame narrative with a writing style that is clever and colloquial. The narrator makes use of educated diction by explaining how absurd Simon Wheeler is. Simon Wheeler narrates the inside story and his tall tales about Dan’l Webster, and Smiley are told by using an uneducated vernacular. To begin with the title, the story was published as “The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County.” It was published as “Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog and also “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” All these three are typical “tall tale” titles that suggest a myth about an amazing frog. All the three titles do not hint at the political undertones in the story, which can be found in the name of the amazing frog called Dan’l Webster and a feisty dog Andrew Jackson. Also, the narrator describes his character Smiley in an intriguing way where he describes him: "If he even seen a straddle bug start to go anywhere, he would bet you how long it would take him to get to wherever he going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road." It was this sense of style that made Twain a famous writer during this time and paved the way for more of his literary works.

Most good stories make good use of a fundamental list of ingredients such as conflict, suspense, climax, the initial situation, denouement, complication, and conclusion. Great writers like Mark Twain shake up the recipe and add some spice. A conflict is clearly seen when Smiley makes bets with both an old dog and an old horse. Right from the start, we learn that Smiley loves to gamble, but he also likes to bet on animals that do not seem like they have a good chance of winning. On one hand, he has an old asthmatic mare that does not look like it can win races but always manages to top in the last few seconds of the race. “..and he used to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had the asthma,.. but always at the fag-end of the race she'd get excited and desperate- like, and come cavorting and straddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air, and sometimes out to one side amongst the fences, and kicking up m-o-r-e-dust, and raising m-o-r-e racket with her coughing and sneezing and blowing her nose and always fetch up at the stand just about a neck ahead, as near as you could cipher it down.” ("The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Competition Quotes") This is the mare that never seems to win, yet it does. On the other hand, “he has a dog named Andrew Jackson that does not also look like he can win a fight, in fact, he loses fights until there’s money put on the table.” There’s also denouement where Wheeler gets interrupted from his story-telling. When he’s interrupted from finishing the story, he urges the narrator to wait. When he returns, he tries to continue his tall tale but then the narrator interrupts and says, “Not quite good-naturedly, I need to go.” There are other good ingredients, but at the conclusion, the narrator leaves the saloon while thinking his quest was fruitless.

Andrew Jackson and Dan’l Webster have been used by the writer in a symbolic manner. Symbolism is an artistic style or movement that uses indirect suggestion and symbolic images to express mystical emotions, ideas, and states of mind ("Symbolism - Examples And Definition Of Symbolism"). These symbols are used to signify qualities and ideas that are different from their literal sense. The names for the “educated” frog and the dog hint at some possible political undertones. The dog that did not look like he amounted to match but was feisty when it came to fighting was named after Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States who happened to be a westerner. He believed in democracy for all and was a man of the people. Daniel Webster was once an attorney who became one of the leading American statesmen who served as a senator and secretary of state. He was known for being an excellent narrator who ran thrice for president but fell short. In our short story, a common frog without a name beats the educated frog (which is Dan’l Webster). The moral of the story is that the uneducated, common frog managed to beat the educated frog through cheating.  Alternatively, given the politics of Webster, it might be possible to read further into this and suggest that the tale is subversively advocating for equality for all Americans.

Realism is all about recreating life in literature and is a form of literature that believes in fidelity to actuality in its representation. Just as Mark Twain uses it, it seeks a one-to-one relationship between representation and the subject. It also aims to interpret the actualities of whichever aspect of life, free from idealism, subjective prejudice or romantic color. It is directly opposite to the basis of romanticism. It puts an emphasis on the real over the fantastic. It uses the characters from everyday life to treat the commonplace truthfully ("Romanticism, Realism And Naturalism").





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