The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Themes
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Written by Timothy Sexton
Go to practically any state in America, head to public place frequented by locals and start badmouthing those who live in the neighboring state and, chances are, you will soon be accepted as one of their own. Everybody manifests some sort of snobbery toward those from another geographical area in one way or another. It could range from thinking that all Southerners are illiterate hillbillies to viewing everybody who lives on the rich side of town as always getting preferential treatment. At the heart of this story is the subtle complexity of such generalized assumptions as it examines the clash between Westerners viewing Easterners as cultured but snobbish and Easterners viewing Westerners as rough and unrefined. Such a view typically engenders among the snobbish that though the unrefined be tough, they are also easily duped and manipulated. Twain plays with this complexity by having his snobbish qualities manipulated by the uncouth Westerner to play the Easterner for the fool.
Mythologizing the West
The frontier existence of the American west was already being mythologized when the story appeared and this was even before Hollywood got in on the act. While not as directly concerned with twisting reality to present the history and figures involved in settling the land and taming the region as the Western Dime Novels that created the cowboy stereotype, the story definitely contains elements about what frontier life was like that met with expectations already engendered among Eastern readers.
The Character of the West
The humor of the story provides a fascinating glimpse into another way that the West remains fundamentally different from Atlantic states that represents America’s oldest European influence. The person capable of telling a story and entertaining his audience was in great demand as the frontier was settled. If you wanted to be entertained for the evening in Boston or Atlanta or even one of the smaller cities and bigger towns, your options were considerably greater than a mining camp or just about anywhere else on other side of the Mississippi. The oral tradition was alive and well as entertainment media out west and the more eccentric the storyteller, the greater the entertainment value. By contrast, that sense of culture and respectability back east where the storyteller was not the only show in town might not have deemed such a pers0nality as well-mannered and acceptable. The concept of the West being a home to more eccentric sensibilities while the Eastern character is more conforming to societal norms remains in place even today.
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