The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Quotes


I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley…


This remark, made by the narrator, foreshadows the rambling tale of the “notorious jumping frog,” made all the more humorous by the fact that the narrator is essentially a hostage audience, forced to listen to the entire tale against his will.

He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice…he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressiveness and sincerity, which showed me…he regarded it as a really important matter…


Twain, notorious for torturously long sentences, sets the stage for Wheeler’s narrative by describing in-depth the tone in which it was delivered. As we read the tall tale, we imagine it as the narrator “heard it”; almost a continuous run on sentence with Wheeler jumping from point to point without so much as pausing for breath. This allows the reader to feel as if he/she is listening to this story firsthand.

“…If there was a dog-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he’d bet on it; …if there was two birds sitting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; or if there was a camp-meeting, he would be there reg’lar to bet on Parson Walker, which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was too, and a good man.”

Simon Wheeler

This quote, in which Wheeler describes the gambling habits of Smiley, is a classic example of Twain’s ingenious dialogue. It is hard to imagine such a talented writer concocting such a disjointed and meandering sentence. Yet because it is so raw in nature, we can easily imagine a person saying it.

“He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he cal’lated to educate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump.”

Simon Wheeler

This quote, if seen separated from the rest of the story, could not possibly be mistaken for anything else but a line from a tall tale. All of the “ingredients” are present: distinctive dialect, regional mispronunciation, and of course, a healthy dose of exaggeration.

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