The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Mark Twain was at the height of his writing career during the Gilded Age, or a time of extremes in which writing was based in romantic plots but contained realistic descriptions of American culture. The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County is a quintessential example of this writing style in Mark Twain’s own works. The two voices in the story illustrate with stark realism Twain’s view of society after the Civil War. Jim Smiley represents optimism but slothfully and with ignorance. The stranger represents the sector of society that is blatantly “sinful” or evil and does not hid behind an image of innocence, as does Smiley.
Jim Smiley represents the romanticism of the story in his persona as the wide-eyed homeless man who would bet on anything, given the chance. He foreshadowed the vaudevillian era of American culture, which made the hobo an eclectic and romantic figure in society, and his whimsical “sins” of alcoholism and pandering were seen as humorous.
Jim Smiley’s romantic characteristics include his view of his frog in which he characterizes the frog as “so modest and straightfor’ard as he was, for all he was so gifted”. This giving of human qualities to an animal is a form of romantisism and can be witnessed in other stories of this era, such as Frank, The Wizard of Oz. Ultimately, it is this suspension of reality that incorporates imaginative and non-realistic attributes to the frog that gives us such sympathy for the plight of the weighted frog and enhances the engagement of the reader to the theme of the story. It allows the reader to see how truly awful the stranger is what a monstrous personality he must be to weight the gifted and humble champion frog down with buckshot.
Conversely, the stranger comes to town, looks at the frog and says, “’Well, I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog in Calaveras County’”. The stranger has a realistic view of the frog an fails to see the human qualities that Smiley espouses to the frog. The stranger represents realism and confronting the truth about the frog; that it was a mere frog and void of any particular distinctive breeding. The stranger saw the frog as an opportunity to cheat Smiley out of his money and he was more than happy to take the money and run.