In "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" why had the narrator's friend suggested he ask Wheeler about Leonidas Smiley?

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In the introduction to the story written in the form of a letter to an acquaintance, a Mr. A. Ward, Mark Twain clearly expresses his suspicion that Mr. Ward has set him up for a prank. He declares:

...I have a lurking suspicion that your Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth -- that you never knew such a personage, and that you only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was your design, Mr. Ward, it will gratify you to know that it succeeded.

Twain suggests that Leonidas W. Smiley, supposedly a young minister who lived in the town of Boomerang, did not exist and that Mr. Ward deliberately referred him to "old Wheeler," who would, obviously, not know who he was talking about. Wheeler, however, a man who seemingly loves telling a story, was encouraged by Twain's visit and told him a lengthy, monotonous tale about someone he did know--a Mr. Jim Smiley.

Twain claims that his written rendition is a replica of the story exactly as Mr. Wheeler told it. The narrative is clearly bland and long-winded, which adds to the humor. Twain patiently sat through the whole tale as an act of kindness to the narrator. He did not once interrupt Mr. Wheeler and it seems as if the speaker so relished hearing his own voice that he did not stop either.

The interruption at what seems to have been only the middle, or somewhere thereabouts, of this exhausting tale, seems to have been a blessing. Mr. Wheeler was called away and Twain decided to leave for the reason given below. He states to Mr. Ward:

But, by your leave, I did not think that a continuation of the history of the enterprising vagabond Jim Smiley would be likely to afford me much information concerning the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started away.

However, he was accosted by the returning Mr. Wheeler, who seemed determined to continue his narrative about the remarkably obsessive gambler. Twain, though, had had enough and recorded the following response:

"O, curse Smiley and his afflicted cow!" I muttered, good-naturedly, and bidding the old gentleman good-day, I departed.

As he states in his introduction, it seems that the prank worked and he appears to have been quite annoyed by the whole affair.

bcsaund's profile pic

bcsaund | Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Mark Twain writes with a humorous tone throughout his short story "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." The narrator suggests that his friend ask Wheeler about Leonidas Smiley for the same reason...to be funny. The narrator's friend is  setting him up because he knows what the outcome will be. There is no such person as Leonidas Smiley. When asked about him, Wheeler is reminded of Jim Smiley and begins to tell the narrator the story of the gambling Jim Smiley. The narrator is literally cornered by Wheeler unable to escape the rambling story until Wheeler is interrupted. The narrator is finally "free" realizing that his friend has successfully gotten the best of him.