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The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

by Mark Twain

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What is Simon Wheeler's storytelling manner in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?

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One key feature of Simon Wheeler's storytelling in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is that it is rambling. His sentences are long and winding, which reflects Wheeler's inability to focus the details of his narration. In order to ultimately deliver a story about a pet frog, Wheeler first reflects upon Jim Smiley's horse and pet dog, which have little to do with the ultimate point.

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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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How does the author develop the character of Simon Wheeler in the "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?

The way the character of Simon Wheeler is developed is primarily through the tone that Twain has him recount his hilarious "tall tale" about the aforementioned frog. Note what the narrator tells us about his method of storytelling:

Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair and then sat me down and reeled of the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about this story, he regarded it as a really important matter and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.

The best comedians of course are able to deliver their most hilarious lines with a completely straight face. The contrast between their solemn manner and the absurdity of their material adds greatly to the humour, and this is precisely how Twain develops the character of Simon Wheeler as a great stand-up comic. So, Twain primarily develops the character of Simon Wheeler through quickly making it clear that he is a master storyteller and incredibly funny.

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What is one key feature of Simon Wheeler's storytelling in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?

One key feature of Simon Wheeler's storytelling is that he is long-winded, or rambling.

The narrator has been asked to visit Simon Wheeler and to inquire about a certain man named Leonidas W. Smiley. Simon Wheeler responds by backing the narrator into a corner and blockading him there with a chair, holding him captive as he begins to relate a tale about an entirely different man named Jim Smiley.

The narrator is then forced to endure various details of a man's life whom he never asked about in the first place. Simon Wheeler is full of "earnestness and sincerity" as he spins his tall tale, which the narrator listens to without interruption.

Even the way the narrator begins his story indicates that this will be quite a discursive tale:

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, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume warn't finished when he first came to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiosest man about always betting on any thing that turned up you ever see...

The sentence continues on from this point as one idea successively morphs into the next, and Twain utilizes long sentences that mimic Wheeler's sense of winding recollections. Wheeler focuses on unimportant details time after time as he ultimately attempts to convey a story about Jim Smiley's pet frog named Dan'l Webster. Before Wheeler can get to that main point, however, the narrator is forced to endure painstaking details about Smiley's horse and his "bull pup." Wheeler even emphasizes the fine points of the fighting career of that pup, who was named Andrew Jackson.

What do horses and dog fighting have to do with the man's pet frog? Very little, which is part of the characterization of Wheeler's storytelling. He includes every detail that he can recall which is even remotely related to Jim Smiley's pet frog, convinced that the narrator is fascinated by his tale. When Wheeler is forced to take a break, he assures his listener, "Just set where you are, stranger, and rest easy I ain't going to be gone a second."

As the narrator attempts to make an escape, relieved by the interruption, he is caught once again by Wheeler, who launches into a new tale about Smiley's cow. Again, Wheeler proves that his storytelling tactics involve long, winding details with no particular sense of focus.

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How does the author develop the character of Simon Wheeler in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?

In this excellent and classic example of a tall tale, the character of Simon Wheeler dominates in the way that he relates and shares his hilarious tale of the celebrated jumping frog. Key to this development is his use of tone or attitude towards what he says. Throughout his tale, Wheeler speaks with a calm, serious tone which adds to the humour because it contrasts sharply with the absurdity of the tale. A key description that Twain gives us about his character is as follows:

Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair and then sat me down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he turned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a rally important matter and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.

It is the use of words such as "backed me into a corner" and "blockaded," which present Simon Wheeler as trapping the narrator in so that he has a captive audience, that add to the tone employed by Simon Wheeler to create a hilarious tale.

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