Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Mark Twain, who had made his living as a Mississippi steamboat pilot before the Civil War and had gone on to be a printer, a journalist, and a sometime prospector, could hardly have imagined that his comic tale “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which appeared originally under the more modest title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” was to change his life forever and establish him in a career which was to lead to him becoming one of America’s greatest writers.
Certainly the tale is moderately amusing, but it seemed to catch the imagination of the American reader, and Twain was to follow it up with equally artful stories and lecture tours which were to make him well known some time before the artistic success of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Part of the reason for the success of the story lies in its moderation, its seeming lack of artfulness. Good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler tells the story to the unsuspecting Mark Twain, who is, in fact, trying to find out about an entirely different man, the Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley. What he gets is a rambling, disjointed, ungrammatical tale of Jim Smiley, who sometime back in 1849 or 1850 had provided the locals with entertainment with his antics as a gambler.
Style is a strong element in the power of the tale. Twain sets himself up as the straight man for the dead-panned raconteur, who, once he gets started, is...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The narrator, urged by a friend from the East, decides to call on Simon Wheeler, a good-natured and garrulous old fellow who resides at Angel’s Camp, a northern California mining settlement. His errand is to inquire about a certain Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley, but he, the narrator, is already half persuaded that Leonidas W. Smiley never existed. Asking about him will only result in releasing a torrent of Simon Wheeler’s boring reminiscences about Jim Smiley.
Simon Wheeler, a genial man, fat and bald-headed, wears a look of perpetual simplicity and tranquillity. As the narrator suspects, Wheeler cannot place Leonidas W. Smiley, but he does recall the presence of a fellow by the name of Jim Smiley who, some years previously, had been an Angel’s Camp inhabitant. Wheeler’s tone never changes, his voice never wavers from a pattern of earnestness and sincerity as he launches into his tale. He never registers anything but the utmost respect and admiration for the two heroes whose adventures he relates.
Jim Smiley, according to Simon Wheeler, was “always betting on anything that turned up.” He would lay odds on either side of a bet, and if he could not find a taker for the other side, he would simply change sides. He bet on horse races, dog fights, and chicken fights. If he had had the opportunity, he would have bet on how long a straddle bug’s flight was between one destination and another—then he would have followed the bug all the...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was first published in the November 18, 1865, edition of the New York Saturday Press, under the title "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog." The story, which has also been published as "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," is set in a gold-mining camp in Calaveras County, California, and has its origins in the folklore of the Gold Rush era. It was one of Twain's earliest writings and helped establish his reputation as a humorist.
"Jumping Frog" was originally told in epistolary form—that is, as a letter—though some reprints of the tale have since omitted this letter-frame convention. In the story Twain recounts his visit, made at the request of a friend back east, to an old man named Simon Wheeler in a California mining camp. Wheeler tells Twain a colorful story about another miner, Jim Smiley. According to Wheeler, Smiley loved to make bets; he would bet on nearly anything. Wheeler relates some of Smiley's more famous gambling escapades, one of which concerns a pet frog. Critics frequently cite this story as an example of a tall tale and note Twain's use of humor and exaggeration. They also emphasize the tale's satirical focus on storytelling and existing cultural differences between the western and eastern regions of the United States.
In the story Twain has gone to see Wheeler at the urging of a friend back east who is searching for information about a boyhood companion...
(The entire section is 1343 words.)
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" has an "as-told-to" framework. A talkative man named Simon Wheeler relates to Mark Twain (the narrator) the story of a gambler named Jim Smiley and the amazing animals Smiley used in his schemes. Twain has gone to see Wheeler at the urging of a friend back East who is in search of information about a boyhood companion named Leonidas W. Smiley. Leonidas W. Smiley had supposedly become a minister and gone to a western mining settlement called Angel's Camp. The narrator notes he has come to believe there is no such person as Leonidas W. Smiley, and that the inquiry was designed to provide Wheeler with an excuse to talk about Jim Smiley. The narrator finds Wheeler in a run-down tavern in Angel's Camp and politely asks about Leonidas W. Smiley. The name means nothing to Wheeler, but he thinks almost immediately of Jim Smiley and begins filling his visitor with tales of this bizarre character.
Jim Smiley, according to Wheeler, was a man who would bet on anything. "Why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first," Wheeler says. Wheeler recalls that Smiley had a slow, sickly horse that would surprise everyone by winning races, and Smiley frequently won money with that horse. Smiley's bulldog pup, named Andrew Jackson after the strong-willed U.S. president, also had an amazing talent. Andrew Jackson the dog was not...
(The entire section is 606 words.)