The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Characters

Mark Twain


Andrew Jackson
Jim Smiley's bull-pup, Andrew Jackson, was used by Jim in various bets. The dog is described as a good dog that does not look like much, and other dogs often seemed to get the better of him in fights. The narrator notes, however, that Andrew Jackson never seemed to be bothered by these temporary setbacks because once a bet was involved, his behavior would change. As the stakes in the bets were raised, Andrew Jackson would bite the other dog in the hind leg and stay there, hanging on, until the owner of his opponent would give in and forfeit the fight. In this way, Jim's bull-pup would win his fights. Andrew Jackson died when Jim arranged for him to fight a dog that did not have any hind legs. The narrator implies that Andrew Jackson was a proud dog and died of embarrassment. Like the former President of the United States with whom he shares his name, Andrew Jackson is described as being determined and strong-willed.

The Fifteen-Minute Nag
The Fifteen-Minute Nag is the name given to Jim Smiley's horse. An old and rather sickly animal, The Fifteen-Minute Nag was used by Jim in many of his bets. The horse suffered from various ailments and did not look as if she could win a horse race. Nevertheless, Jim would frequently put her in races. Although she would start out slow, in the last leg of the race, the nag always seemed to get excited and typically found the energy to win the race.

Jim Smiley
Jim Smiley is the focus of Simon Wheeler's tale. A resident of Calaveras County's Angel's Camp in either 1849 or 1850, Jim is primarily known for his love for betting and will bet on almost anything—no matter how ridiculous. He has even bet on whether people will recover from an illness and on which of two birds will fly away first. It is said Jim would even make a poor bet just so that he could make a bet. Jim was considered a lucky man, however, and frequently won his bets. Jim has several pets: an old horse, a bull-pup named Andrew Jackson, cats, chickens, and a frog named Dan'l Webster, who is the "celebrated frog" mentioned in the title of this story. Jim uses these animals' abilities as the basis for many...

(The entire section is 902 words.)

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Themes and Characters

A cultured easterner relates his recent visit to a talkative old man at a western mining camp. Rather than providing the information that the easterner is looking for, the old man keeps him waiting while he spins a tale about a betting man and his pet frog.

"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" highlights various aspects of late-nineteenth-century American society and culture through the retelling of a tall tale. Central to the story is the idea of conflicting cultures, particularly the clash between the settled, eastern portion of the United States and the still-developing West. At the time Twain wrote the story, the East and its inhabitants had a reputation for being civilized, cultured, and advanced. The West, on the other hand, was still being settled, and people thought of its population as less educated and less refined. By extension, westerners were thought by easterners to be naive and easily duped.

Twain presents these ideas in his story in various ways. Simon Wheeler, for instance, symbolizes the American westerner—a garrulous old man who tells farfetched and highly improbable tales. He speaks in a monotone, supposedly having no knowledge of a good storyteller's techniques for keeping an audience's attention. An uneducated man, Wheeler tells his story in the popular genre of the tall tale rather than in one of the more accepted classic genres taught in eastern schools. He also speaks in the vernacular—that is, in common language, which contains idiomatic expressions, slang, and improper grammar and syntax. Wheeler's use of vernacular language reinforces the idea that the West is populated by crude barbarians with little education or knowledge of good speech.

In stark contrast to Simon Wheeler, the narrator, Mark Twain, comes across as refined and well educated. This Mark Twain is a storyteller also, but in the passages that precede and follow Wheeler's tale, he speaks in proper English. It is obvious that he has been educated in the finer points of grammar and syntax. Twain, however, also comes across as a snob. He is annoyed by Wheeler's diction, and because he finds Wheeler's quaint stories fantastic, he thinks they lack value. Indeed, when Wheeler is called away, Twain sneaks off, unwilling to listen any longer. Twain does not consider Wheeler to be an effective storyteller because the old man does not use the conventions that Twain prefers. He does not realize, however, that Wheeler is actually capitalizing on the stereotype of the uneducated westerner. For instance, although Twain finds Wheeler's voice monotonous, it makes him believe that Wheeler speaks with straightforward earnestness. Wheeler craftily balances the absurdity of his tale with the gravity with which he speaks to keep Twain in the listener's seat.

Deception, an integral part of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," occurs on many levels. In the opening paragraph Mark Twain, the narrator, voices his suspicion that he has been duped by a friend who orchestrated this "chance" encounter with Simon Wheeler. His friend asked him to inquire about a childhood friend named Leonidas Smiley, knowing full well that Twain would instead be subjected to fabulous stories about the famous betting man of Angel's Camp, Jim Smiley. His friend also knew that Twain would be bored and frustrated by the entire experience. Wheeler likewise dupes Twain. He tells him the fantastic and improbable story of Jim—rather than Leonidas—Smiley with a grave demeanor that masks the genuine humor of his tale. By using this mask, Wheeler initially fools the snobby easterner and convinces him that he will be told a serious story. Another instance of deception involves Jim Smiley's bet with the stranger, who wagered that Dan'l Webster was not the best jumper in Calaveras County. Not only did the stranger deceive Jim Smiley by pretending to be gullible, but he cheated by stuffing Dan'l Webster with quail shot to weight him down.

When first published, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" provided relevant and incisive...

(The entire section is 1662 words.)