The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County Summary

Mark Twain

The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County

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The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County Summary

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“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is a short story published in 1865 by Mark Twain. It was his first big success and brought him wider recognition. In the story, the narrator retells a story that he heard from a bartender, Simon Wheeler..

The narrator is in town to interview a man named Leonidas W. Smiley. He is looking for an old acquaintance, Simon Wheeler, who might know where Leonidas is. The narrator finds Simon at a mining camp, and when he asks about Leonidas, Simon doesn’t seem to know who he is. Instead, he begins to tell the story of a different man named Jim Smiley.

Jim is a gambler at heart and will take a bet on anything, from horse races to the health of someone’s wife. One day, he catches a frog he names Dan’l Webster, and over the course of three months, he trains it to jump.

One day, when a stranger visits the camp, Jim boasts that Dan’l can out-jump any frog in Calaveras County, and offers the man a $40 bet. The stranger isn’t impressed. He says he’d probably take the bet, but he doesn’t have a frog, and most likely, any old frog could out-jump Dan’l. At that, Jim runs off to catch a frog leaving Dan’l with the stranger. While Jim is gone, the stranger pours lead shot down Dan’l’s throat.

When Jim returns with a frog, they set the frogs down and let them loose, but Dan’l doesn’t budge. The stranger’s frog jumps away, and a disgusted and shocked Jim pays the stranger the $40. When the stranger leaves, Jim realizes that the frog is acting strangely. He picks up the frog to inspect his sluggishness and feels that he is heavier than normal. When Dan’l belches out a double handful of the lead shot, Jim realizes that he’s been cheated and chases after the stranger. He doesn’t find him.

At this point, Simon excuses himself to go outside. The narrator realizes that Simon probably has no connection to Leonidas at all and gets up to go. Simon stops him at the door and offers to tell him another crazy story about a one-eyed, stubby-tailed cow. The narrator declines, unwilling to get into another pointless story, and leaves.

Part of the humor of the story is the line between cunning and deceitfulness. Jim is able to win most of his bets because he is clever, but he isn’t a liar. He doesn’t cheat to win. However, in the story, he is outsmarted by a stranger, who crosses the line, and cheats to win his bet.

This deceit mirrors in part Simon and the narrator. Simon is a lonely old man who tricks the narrator into staying and listening to a crazy story that has nothing to do with his purpose for being in the mining camp. At first, we are led to believe that Simon is unaware of his inability to tell an effective story, boring his listener with his earnest monotone. However, as the story progresses, we find that Simon is far more self-aware as he quickly sizes up the narrator and finds a way to keep him captive.

The story is an example of Realism. In the Romantic period of literature preceding Realism, characters were honorable and without flaw. They were idealized humans with lofty intentions. They also rarely experienced cultural conflicts. In Realism, however, sometimes people are just dishonest, and sometimes a mining camp is just a mining camp. The clash between the narrator from the East and Simon from the West is particularly striking in the way they choose their words and the cadence of their speech.

This story’s structure is known as a “frame” story—a story within a story. It begins as the narrator is looking for someone else, but evolves into a tall tale about a celebrated jumping frog. This allows Twain to satirize both the uneducated people of the West, but more importantly, the supposedly educated and refined people of the East who arrive in the West to find their training and education all but useless to them.

This cadence allows Simon Wheeler to hold the attention of the narrator for so long. The narrator believes him to be an oblivious old man when, in fact, he is craftily balancing the absurdity of his tale with an earnest and grave tone. The narrator believes the story will lead him to his target of finding Leonidas, but in the end, the story only serves to keep the narrator a captive of Simon’s attention. It is only when Simon excuses himself, the narrator realizes he is being tricked.

Though the story satirizes the differing cultures of east and west, it passes no judgment on the people from either. We are meant to root for the frog, and for the cleverness and ingenuity of the American spirit.