In Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," who are the protagonist and antagonist of the story?

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you're looking for a good guy pitted against a bad guy, you're going to be disappointed. The story is not meant to be taken seriously but is a homespun yarn, even a 'tall tale.' The person coming closest to being the protagonist is Jim Smiley, who wins an absurd bet but at the same time makes a fool of himself:

"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. 

Notice the "tale within a tale" formula in the story line, adding to the story's folklore effect. American humour distinguished itself by diverting from the British idea of quick and witty verve (with a play on words if possible) to long, drawn-out storytelling where the humour was in the awkward manner therein rather than in the use of puns or any "catch phrase" at the end.

On this subject, it would be worthwhile to check out Twain's essay "How to Tell a Story."

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