Is "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" a satire?
In his short story “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” the humorist Mark Twain satirizes the tall tale genre and those from the Eastern and the Western parts of America.
An essential element of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is satire. In the narrative, people from the Western and the Eastern parts of America are subjected to ridicule as they are presented in exaggerated forms. The stereotype of the well-educated, cultured, and sophisticated Easterner is held up against the uneducated, gullible, and unworldly Westerner. In the humorous twist of Twain’s narrative, it is the sophisticated Easterner, an irritable snob, who is outdone by the garrulous Westerner, Wheeler. Wheeler speaks in a distinct regional dialect that makes him all the more colorful and unusual. He exaggerates with grave dignity as he elaborates on the talents of Daniel Webster, the frog. For instance, Wheeler describes the talents of Smiley’s frog:
[Simon would] set Dan’l Webster down her on this floor…and sing out, “Flies, Dan’l, flies!” and quicker’n you could wink he’d spring straight up and snake a fly off’n the counter there, and flop down on the floor ag’in as solid as a gob of mud….
In both a funny and satirical twist, the Easterner who comes to Wheeler because he seeks Leonidas W. Smiley is tricked into listening to the tall tale of the frog Daniel Webster. He is fooled by the friend who has sent him to Wheeler, and by Wheeler himself, a seemingly backward man who is really an experienced storyteller whose serious manner tricks even the sophisticated listener.
This 1865 short story by Mark Twain is indeed a social satire. His target in this story were people who subscribed to regional stereotypes in 19th century America.
Easterners were stereotyped as snobby intellectuals with formal education and cultural sophistication. By contrast, Westerners were stereotyped as uneducated, uncivilized, and none too bright.
Twain casts his first-person narrator as an Easterner who is played for a fool by a "friend" who sets him up to become a captive audience for Westerner Simon Wheeler, a long-winded raconteur. Within the tall tale Wheeler spins there is another deception going on between a local and a stranger--thereby humorously deepening the satire.
The sophisticated Easterner proves to be gullible and falls victim to both his friend and the clever and entertaining Simon Wheeler.