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)
Multiple themes are in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” These include gambling, cunning and cleverness, competition, and lies and deceit just to name a few. Jim Smiley is a gambler. He will bet on about anything and most of the time he wins. He takes advantage of tendency for other people to underestimate things based on appearances. He leads people on by assuming to be oblivious about the bet, but he never deceives them outright. When he loses the bet on the frog, it’s easy to feel sorry for him, because he’s not a sore loser. When he finds out he’s been cheated, his anger is absolutely understandable. Dan’l Webster is named after Daniel Webster the statesman. Dan’l Webster is the frog that Jim Smiley used in his bets. He beats all the competition until the day the drifter fills him with quail shot, immobilizing him. Then he burps out some of the quail shot, which clues Smiley in to what happened. Following Dan’l’s final, unsuccessful, jumping contest, Smiley is utterly baffled by the loss. He is unaware that his challenger–“the stranger,” an alien reality who “collides” with Calaveras County–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) Dan’l is defined by movement –he is, after all, the notorious jumping frog of Calaveras County: we would expect his negative “different reality” would arise from immobility and a paralysis that both contains Dan’l and comprises him.
The successful mixture of dialect, delay, deadpan tone, and absurd detail makes this story a fine example of the tall-tale tradition in American literature. 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.”
Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers Mark Twain. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 1999. 75. Print.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County: Introduction.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 8 April 2011.
Twain, Mark. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Magill Book Reviews. Salem Press, 1995. eNotes.com. 2006. 8 Apr, 2011
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.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Novel Guide. Thomson Gale, 2006. Web. 8 Apr 2011.