The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Themes

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Themes

East vs. West

The story is set up to present an oppositional relationship between the uncouth, uneducated, and unsophisticated image of the Westerners versus the exact opposite image of those back East. Simon Wheeler is the very personification of the robust westerner who is a great character, but would be utterly out of place among the sophisticates of those living back East. And yet the tables are turned when it appears the educated storyteller from the East is duped into sitting and listening to interminably rambling tales by the supposedly easier duped frontiersman.

A Celebration of Storytelling

The jumping frog is surely less celebrated here than the man telling the story of the jumping frog. This story is above all else a tale about telling tales. The character of “Mark Twain” is duped into listening to the monotonous digressions of Wheeler in much the same way that the reader is duped by Twain. Nothing really happens in the story, there is no plot, there is no resolution of a conflict…it’s just a series of interesting sidebars to a larger narrative that goes entirely unexplored. And yet, who can put it down until they get to the end? The story shows off the magical lure of storytelling by revealing that if you’ve got a greater teller, you don’t necessarily need a great story. Not in the traditional sense with all the conventionally expected elements, anyway.

Life Is Game of Chance

Jim Smiley is the central character of the narrative and he is pretty much a compulsive gambler. He is said by Wheeler to be a person willing to wager on anything and, indeed, he is even willing to make a bet on a human being’s life. Everything to this guy is an opportunity to calculate the odds or, at the very least, take a wild chance on a big payoff. The same can be said for Wheeler: he is taking a chance that his listeners won’t grow tired of his rambling storyteller style and up and leave at any point in exactly the way that Twain does. And, of course, Twain takes the chance of finding out information about the mysterious Leonidas W. Smiley from Simon Wheeler and he loses big time. Every decision that everyone makes in their life is, at a certain level, a gamble and life is a big game of chance.

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