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In "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calavares County," does Wheeler just like to hear...

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kc76384 | Valedictorian

Posted April 27, 2012 at 6:25 PM via web

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In "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calavares County," does Wheeler just like to hear himself talk, or does he think his listeners can learn something from him?

Mark Twain's "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 28, 2012 at 3:18 AM (Answer #1)

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In the exposition of his humorous story, Mark Twain as narrator observes that the fat, bald-headed and simple Simon Wheeler is sincere in his recounting of his tall tales,

...all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter.

However, since it is later revealed that the narrator has been the butt of a practical joke since there is really no Leonidas W. Smiley, when Wheeler notes that the visitor is from the East, he has some fun with his pedantic new guest by feigning sincerity and naivete regarding the absurdity of his tale. Thus, with his exaggerated story--"you never see a frog so modest and straightfor'ard as he was"--and local dialect and parodic names of frogs such as Daniel Webster, Wheeler creates a burlesque of his "lofty" narrator who feels he must politely tolerate Wheeler.  In affirming this use of the burlesque by Wheeler, critic Paul Schmidt in his essay "The Deadpan on Simon Wheeler," writes,  

Contrary to "Mark Twain's" picture of him as "far from imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story," Wheeler is fully aware that his manner is comic and that he is clowning when he treats the frog in his story like a prima donna. He poses as stupid in order to ridicule what his genteel auditor, "Mark Twain," projects on the vernacular Westerner, in order to show how ridiculously inappropriate the stereotype of the western barbarian is and how wrong the genteel values are which led to its imposition.

Therefore, Wheeler's intention is not to merely weave a tall tale, but to provide a witty Western version of "Mark Twain's" pompous Eastern language that creates a burlesque of the Easterner's " affected speech and insincere manners. Indeed, Simon Wheeler hopes to instruct his listener.

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