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The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

by Mark Twain
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What is Simon Wheeler's manner as he tells the story of Jim Smiley in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?

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The story that Simon Wheeler tells the narrator in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was not original with Mark Twain . It was, nevertheless, the first story that caused Twain to "leap" into national attention as a writer. How could Twain distinguish himself by telling a...

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The story that Simon Wheeler tells the narrator in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was not original with Mark Twain. It was, nevertheless, the first story that caused Twain to "leap" into national attention as a writer. How could Twain distinguish himself by telling a story that wasn't his own? He did it with the unique manner of storytelling he used.

Twain himself aptly described the manner in which Simon Wheeler tells about Jim Smiley's escapades when he expounded upon the differences between the American humorous story and the British comedic tale or the French witty story. The French and British stories are funny because of their content; the American story is funny because of the way it's told. The American version may wander around seemingly aimlessly with a kind of bubbling energy. Its humor depends upon the storyteller being almost gravely serious and never letting on that he thinks his story is at all funny. Simon Wheeler exhibits that quality, especially when he shows tearful reverence for Andrew Jackson, the bull pup whose career ended in ignominy when he fought an opponent that had no hind legs to grab.

According to Twain, the teller of the humorous tale often puts in extraneous details, tells things out of order, or gets mixed up while speaking. This creates the impression of a bumbling yet lovable character, and that is the charm of the tale and a large part of its humor. In this case, Wheeler's entire story is a rabbit trail. The narrator had asked about Leonidas Smiley, and Wheeler launches into a circuitous narrative about Jim Smiley. And although the story is ostensibly about the frog jumping contest, Wheeler takes his good old time getting to that story and comes to it only by way of multiple other examples of Jim Smiley's gambling escapades.

Wheeler tells the story in a wordy, rambling, bumbling, and unpolished manner—just as the humorous American story should be told, according to Mark Twain.

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In the humorous short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain, the unnamed narrator, at the request of a friend, approaches an old man named Simon Wheeler in a tavern and asks about a person called Leonidas W. Smiley. Wheeler traps him in a corner and instead tells him about someone named Jim Smiley, an inveterate gambler who owned a racing horse, a fighting bulldog, a jumping frog, and other animals that he bet upon.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator describes Wheeler as good-natured and garrulous, which means that he is annoyingly talkative. Wheeler tells the story in a straight-faced manner, without smiling, frowning, changing his voice, or expressing enthusiasm. He does, however, manifest earnestness and sincerity, as if the story is not a ridiculous tall tale but rather something of profound interest and importance. The narrator gets the impression that Wheeler admires Smiley and the man who tricked him in the frog-jumping contest.

After telling the tale of Jim Smiley, Wheeler is interrupted by a call from the front yard. The narrator takes the opportunity to leave rather than hear more stories about Jim Smiley and his strange animals.

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Simon Wheeler is an old man who loves nothing more than spinning a good yarn. His stories are completely incredible, bordering on the ridiculous. But because he can keep a straight face as he tells these stories, he's able to seem superficially plausible. One gets the impression that old Simon likes the sound of his own voice; perhaps this is the only form of entertainment he has at his time of life. In any case, if he's to indulge in his favorite hobby of story-telling, it's imperative for him to tell his shaggy dog tales with as much conviction as possible.

But what works with the habitués of a tavern in a remote Western mining town doesn't cut much ice with more sophisticated folk from back East. The unnamed narrator is decidedly unimpressed by Simon's tall story, which he regards as monotonous and absurd. Nevertheless, he does stay long enough to hear the old man's story about Jim Smiley and his menagerie of extraordinary animals, so there's clearly something in Simon's demeanor that keeps the narrator listening against his better judgment.

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In "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," the narrator tells a story that he says he heard from another man, Simon Wheeler. In telling the tale of how a third man, Jim Smiley, was fooled regarding the jumping frog, Simon Wheeler began by speaking in a level tone. He maintained a nearly expressionless countenance even when talking about the most far-fetched events. Wheeler made the story seem credible by keeping a poker face—what is called “lack of affect." Wheeler encouraged the narrator to believe the story of Smiley by remaining calm. Mark Twain says that Wheeler had a look “of winning gentleness and simplicity." The narrator assumes that Wheeler is not intelligent and is the type of person who believes everything he hears.

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