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On the November 18, 1865 Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" appeared in New York Saturday Press. It was titled "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog." The adventure has additionally appeared as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" and "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". The setting for "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," is a gold mining town in Calaveras County, California. It originated from the ballad of the Gold Rush period, it was one of Twain's earliest writings, and helped him authorize his acceptability as a humorist. "The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County" addresses the culture clash between the American east and west during Mark Twain's life.
While in California, Twain heard a number of tales that provided ideas for later writings. "The Jumping Frog" was originally told in the form of a series of letters. In the story, Twain recounts his visit, fabricated at the appeal of a acquaintance back East, to an old man called Simon. Wheeler tells Mark Twain an adventure about a miner, Jim Smiley. According to Wheeler, Smiley had a passion for making bets. Wheeler relates some of Smiley's gambling escapades, one of which includes a pet frog. Critics frequently make note of Twain's use of amusement and exaggeration. Jim Smiley, who would bet on about anything, trained a frog to jump so good that Smiley wagered his frog would exhaust any other. A drifter takes Jim's bet, even though he does not own a frog and tells Jim to get him a frog. In Smiley's absence, the drifter takes Smiley's frog, and fills it with buckshot. When Smiley plays his frog against the stranger's frog, the frog is weighted down. Unable to jump, the frog loses, and Smiley is cheated out of his wager.
What makes the story so effective is Twain's handling of the story. While telling the story to the narrator, Wheeler prolongs the story by bringing in bogus material. It has little relevance to the main story. The plot of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" starts out with the narrator visiting Simon Wheeler. Simon Wheeler inquires about Leonidas W. Smiley. Wheeler does not remember Leonidas, but he remembers Jim Smiley quite well. The narrator's story about meeting Wheeler frames Simon Wheeler's recollection of Jim Smiley. (Bloom 14)
Jim Smiley is a gambler. He will bet on about anything and most of the time he wins. He takes advantage of the tendency of people to underestimate things based on appearances. He leads people on by assuming to be oblivious about the bet.
"Thish-yer Smiley had a mare the boys called her the fifteen- minute nag, but that was only in fun, you know, because, of course, she was faster than that and he used to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had the asthma, or the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They used to give her two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; 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". (para 5)
"â€¦but any way, he was the curiosest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side; and if he couldn't, he'd change sides. [. . .] Why, it never made no difference to him he would bet on anything the dangdest feller. Parson Walker's wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn's going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley asked how she was, and he said she was considerable better thank the Lord for his inftnit mercy and coming on so smart that, with the blessing of Providence, she'd get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, "Well, I'll risk two- and-a-half that she don't, anyway." (para 4)
Dan'l Webster is named after Daniel Webster the statesman. Dan'l Webster is the frog that Jim Smiley used in his bets. "He's good enough for one thing; I should judge he can out jump any frog in Calaveras county." He defeats all the competition until the day the drifter fills him with quail shot, immobilizing him. The frog burps out some of the quail shot, which makes Smiley aware of what happened. Following Dan'l's final, unsuccessful, jumping contest, Smiley is left speechless by the loss. He is unaware that his challenger has fully filled Dan'l Webster with quail-shot, preventing the animal from moving: "The new frog hopped off lively, but Dan'l didn't give a heave, and hysted up his shoulders--so--like a Frenchman, but it warn't no use--he couldn't budge; he was planted as solid as a church ..." (Venturino 593)
Mark Twain values, not the architectonic effect of a tale, but the art of the paragraph, the sentence, the illuminating incident. Twain himself later told his wife he thought it "the best humorous sketch America has produced yet," and the "Jumping Frog" has lived in the anthologies since. Writing in his autobiography, Twain recalled that his story "certainly had a wide celebrity . . . but I was aware that it was only the frog that was celebrated. It wasn't I. I was still an obscurity."
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Bloom, Harold. Bloom's Major Short Story Writers Mark Twain. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 1999. 75. Print.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Competition Quotes." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 26 Apr 2011.
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Venturino, Steven J. "The Notorious Jumping Reader of Calaveras County: Twain, Blanchot, and a Dialectic of Storytelling." The Midwest Quarterly 49.4 (2008): 374+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A181858479&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=avlr&version=1.0>
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