Consider the "West" in the works, "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," by Twain and "The Outcasts of Poker Flats" by Harte. What is different; what is similar?    

1 Answer | Add Yours

tamarakh's profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Both Mark Twain's story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and Bret Harte's short story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" are both works in the Western genre and portray culture in the California West. However, aside from the similarity in setting, both being set in California gold-mining camps, the two stories are very different.

One of the biggest differences is Twain's use of satire. Satire is used to attack or criticize any stupidity or vice, often through stereotypes and exaggeration. Twain uses satire to poke fun at the Western stereotype that holds Westerners to be uneducated, unsophisticated, and foolish to the point of being gullible. In Twain's satire, instead it is the narrator from the East Coast who turns out to be the gullible one in the story. Twain, the narrator, has come to the Calaveras gold-mining county at a friend's urging because his friend wants to learn what has become of his childhood friend, Leonidas Smiley. Twain inquires of an old Westerner, Simon Wheeler, about Smiley. Wheeler tricks Twain into believing that he has a serious, important story about Smiley and convinces Twain to listen. Instead, Wheeler spins a long, tall tale about a gambler named Jim Smiley and his jumping frog. Twain soon realizes that Leonidas Smiley does not really exist, and that he has been duped by his East Coast friend into meeting Wheeler to be fed this ridiculous tale; Wheeler further dupes Twain by convincing Twain to listen and by feeding him the tall tale. Twain's satire presents a polished, educated East Coaster as the gullible one, while the uncouth, uneducated Westerner is actually the clever one.

Harte does not use satire to present the West, instead he uses comic relief. Instead of showing the reader that the stereotype of the Westerner is just a stereotype, as Twain does, Harte fortifies the stereotype and uses the narrator to poke further fun of the stereotype. In Harte's story, the citizens of Poker Flat mining camp have decided to rid the county of trouble makers, and exile a gambler, a prostitute, the prostitute's madam, and a drunken thief. The exiles must find shelter and head for the next camp, Sandy Bar, further into the mountains. Sandy Bar is a day's journey and the banished have very few provisions, plus it is winter, and snow is expected. Harte chooses to use sarcastic narrative to emphasize the direness of the lawless group's situation, plus, to emphasize the lack of the group's propriety and common sense. One example of Harte's humorous, sarcastic narrative is the line:

Mr. Oakhurst seldom troubled himself with sentiment, still less with propriety; but he had a vague idea that the situation was not fortunate.

A second example is the line:

But they were furnished with liquor, which in this emergency stood them in place of food, fuel, rest, and prescience.

Both of these sarcastic lines help to paint the exiles as brainless, corrupt individuals that fit the Western stereotype.

Therefore, one significant similarity between Twain's and Harte's stories is the use of the California gold mine setting, and one significant difference is the way that both authors choose to either annihilate or fortify the Western stereotype.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,911 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question