The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Metaphors and Similes

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Metaphors and Similes

Leonidas W. Smiley

Right out of the gate, the narrator warns us that Leonidas W. Smith is a myth. He flat out says that: “I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth.” To situate what would at first appear ready to be a major character in the story in such undiluted metaphorical terms is a rarity for fiction and surely the placement of this statement is intended to be a warning from Twain not to take everything we are about to read to literally. It is almost as if he is putting up a disclaimer that metaphor is the controlling literary conceit in the story that follows and that even, perhaps, precious little of it should be taken as literal description of fictional facts.

Andrew Jackson

The dog named Andrew Jackson is associated with tenacity, humble origins and the idea that hard work along with pluck and little luck could bring success. This makes the dog into a perfect metaphor for what the idealized vision of Jacksonian democracy at the time when it was thought that Pres. Andrew Jackson was the personification of true equality within a democratic process. (This view neglected to take into consideration Jackson’s genocidal treatment of indigenous tribes and pro-slavery ethos, of course.)

Dan'l Webster

The frog named Dan’l Webster becomes one of Twain’s more humorous metaphor, but only to those today who have a deep understanding of U.S. history. At the time the story was first published, however, a great many readers would have made the metaphorical connection between the frog who could not make that one last great leap to win the contest and the celebrated American statesman who could not make that great leap into the White House he so desired. Webster failed to become President despite running three different times and many attribute that failure to gain the only prize the eluded him on a lack of modesty about his own intellectual gifts which drives home the metaphorical connection to the frog.

Simon Wheeler

Wheeler’s gregarious, larger-than-life personality given to tall tales told in an uneducated manner presents him as a metaphor for the entire myth of the Westerner. The readers of Twain’s back East for the most part only knew what those people taming the frontier out west were like from stories appearing in magazines. Already by the time Twain published this story, the myth of the crude, uneducated but entertaining westerner was becoming cemented as part of the frontier legend.

Gambling

The entire story is constructed around the tale of an inveterate gambler willing to wager on anything. Almost literally. The idea is therefore forwarded with nearly every sentence that all of life is—in one way or another—for somebody at some level a metaphorical game of chance. Every decision made by someone—such as the decision for the narrator to sit down and listen to Simon Wheeler—is a gamble. In the narrator’s case, of course, a losing gamble.

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