The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How is the humor of the story enhanced by the use of dialect?

    The use of dialect creates humor in literary devices stretching from irony to exaggeration to characterization. The introduction of the dialect of the unsophisticated westerner allows Twain to create funny images like a “whirling in the air like a doughnut” as a way lending Wheeler greater individuality of character. The dialect also serves to intensify the prejudicial bias against westerners as rubes easily bamboozled by the most sophisticated people from the east. This bias allows the dialect to gradually become ironic as it is revealed that the true rube here is Twain, the man from the east.

  2. 2

    In what ways does the story become an example of satire?

    Several aspects of American life and the stereotypes already developing come under the gun of Twain’s satirical targeting. The stereotypes of the westerner as ignorant and ripe for being taken advantage of is the centerpiece of the narrative as expectations are reversed to reveal it is the westerner who dupes the easterner. The already developing mythology of the western frontier of America is also satirized from the perspective of targeting those prone to believing the craziest stories. Wheeler’s tale of jumping frog contests and inveterate gamblers are satirical exaggerations of the view many of those back east had toward the entertainment options on the most primitive fringes of the continent. Those used to opera, Shakespeare and readings by great writers would have viewed frog jumping as precisely the height of culture among the frontier society and presenting it as so is Twain’s method of satirizing no the west, but the gullibility of the east.

  3. 3

    The story uses a “framing device” in which one narrator introduces the person telling the story of another character. How does the framing part of the story differ from the storytelling aspect?

    The narrator uses a more formal language which relies on traditional construction of sentences and eschews both words and punctuation of speaking dialect. By contrast, Simon Wheeler’s narrative is an utter rejection of formality, relying not just on informal word choice, but with conversational structure punctuated by a patois specific to that geographic region. Another interesting diversion that may not be immediately noticeable to some is that the narrator’s description observations about Wheeler’s storytelling abilities characterize the man and speaking in a monotone which offers little in the way of inflection, changes in tenor or volume and that is short on enthusiasm, but long on sincerity. This description in the frame part of the story seems to be directly at odds with the impression created by actual recounting of the Wheeler’s narrative in the body of the story. Wheeler’s narrative is liberally sprinkled with surprising and creative imagery told in the dialect that is notable for mispronunciations like “feller” and “ketched.” Perhaps most notably is that in the section when Wheeler purports to relate a conversation Smiley and the stranger in the camp, he seeks to differentiate the manner in which the two men speak, effectively giving each his own personality. The framing device thus seems to exist primarily for the purpose of creating a disconnect between the narrator and Wheeler in a way that calls into question the narrator’s own account. Like so much else about this story, the narrator seems to be engaging in deceptive behavior, thus deepening the sense that much if not all of this story is intended to be taken as complete fabrication.

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