(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Jim Baker’s Bluejay Yarn” was first published as chapter 3 of Mark Twain’s travel narrative A Tramp Abroad (1880). In that version, the actual narrative is preceded by an introduction, which appears at the end of chapter 2, in which the narrator of A Tramp Abroad introduces Jim Baker as “a middle-aged, simple-hearted miner who had lived in a lonely corner of California among the woods and mountains a good many years, and had studied the ways of his only neighbors, the beasts and the birds, until he believed he could accurately translate any remark they made.” Also in the introductory section, Jim Baker elaborates on his high opinion of jays, offering the opinion that they are “just as much a human as you be,” and concluding that “a jay will lie, a jay will steal, a jay will deceive, a jay will betray; and four times out of five, a jay will go back on his solemnest promise.” The narrator affirms that he knows this to be true because Jim Baker told him so himself, thus establishing his own naïveté and gullibility. This beginning establishes a “frame” for the story.

Some editors print the introductory material as part of “Jim Baker’s Bluejay Yarn,” although others include only the material from chapter 3 of A Tramp Abroad that is discussed below. Because the story materially benefits from establishing Jim Baker’s character and his views on jays, it is best to read a complete version.

Jim Baker’s “yarn” cannot be captured in a simple summary of events, because, as Twain pointed out in an essay entitled “How to Tell a Story,” a “humorous story depends for its effect on the manner of the telling,” rather than on its contents. Thus, the events of the story are unimpressive unless presented with the droll style of the master storyteller. Even when read aloud, the yarn falls flat unless it is artfully presented. Being such a master raconteur, Jim Baker must be “heard” as he elaborates this tale of an excessively ambitious bluejay whose reach far exceeded his grasp.

Baker begins in a matter-of-fact way by establishing his authority as an expert on bluejay behavior by setting the story at a time in the past “when I first begun to understand jay language correctly.” Being the last remaining soul in the region, Baker no doubt gained his knowledge of jays by doing just what he describes in the story: watching bluejays from his front porch. In fact, he seems to have nothing else in particular to occupy his time, so on this Sunday morning, Baker says, “I was sitting out here in front of my cabin, with my cat, taking the sun, and looking at the blue hills, and listening to the leaves rustling so lonely in the trees, and thinking of the home away yonder...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)