What characteristics of regionalism are in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mark Twain spent a period of time in the Wild West of the mid-to-late 19th century, and regionalism plays a key aspect of his classic short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Twain's regional dialect is the most obvious example. Virtually all of the repartee between his main characters, Simon Wheeler and Jim Smiley, displays distinctive colloquial dialogue specific to the rural California setting of the time.

Twain begins as the storyteller but soon introduces the narrator, Wheeler, giving him a distinctive, backwoods, uneducated air. But, he, too, is a prevaricator of epic proportions.

There was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of '49--or maybe it was the spring of '50--I don't recollect exactly... but any way, he was the curiosest man about always betting on any thing that turned up you ever see... If there was a horse-race, you'd find him flush, or you'd find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he'd bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first--or if there was a camp-meeting, he would be there reglar, to bet on Parson Walker, which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was, too, and a good man. 

Twain's use of deliberate bad grammar and misspelled words help to create the realism of the characters and atmosphere of the California gold rush mining camp. The subject of Wheeler's story--a jumping contest between two frogs--also illustrates the regional aspect of territorial, pre-statehood, semi- lawless California.

Well, thish-yer Smiley had rat-tarriers, and chicken cocks, and tom-cats, and all of them kind of things... He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he cal'klated to edercate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump... Why, I've seen him set Dan'l Webster down here on this floor--Dan'l Webster was the name of the frog--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 again as solid as a gob of mud..."

Twain's tall tale concludes with a humorous surprise ending--Dan'l loses when the stranger fills his belly with buckshot--followed by the start of another tall tale, at which point Twain reemerges and concludes the story himself.

   At the door I met the sociable Wheeler returning, and he button-holed me and recommenced: "Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yeller one-eyed cow that didn't have no tail, only jest a short stump like a bannanner, and..."
   "O, curse Smiley and his afflicted cow!" I muttered, good-naturedly, and bidding the old gentleman good-day, I departed.

This colloquial style was very unusual for the times and the short story proved to be a groundsbreaking effort for the young author. 

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