In Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” an old man named Simon Wheeler tells the unnamed narrator, an out-of-towner, a long and boring story about a man named Jim Smiley and his pet frog, Dan’l Webster. Wheeler depicts Smiley as a passionate gambler who is willing to place a bet on anything—once, he even openly bet money that the local parson’s wife would die from her illness. Although Jim Smiley is not particularly well-educated (or, in the case of the parson’s wife, not particularly tactful), he approaches his profession as a gambler with integrity, as seen through the way he trains his animals and conducts his bets. Although Smiley’s strong moral compass makes him easy to take advantage of—as the stranger does at the end of the story—his integrity is ultimately rewarding, as it earns him continued acceptance in the community and, presumably, continued business from his peers. Meanwhile, the stranger’s utter lack of integrity bars him from joining the community, permanently deeming him an outsider.
Smiley’s hard work and integrity allow him to be a successful member of his community, despite his unusual profession as a gambler, earning his money from the losses of those around him. While Smiley’s animals are deceptive in appearance because they don’t look like they could win, Smiley is an honest man and simply trains his animals effectively. For example, his bulldog, Andrew Jackson, looks unassuming and weak, but he’s incredibly well trained: “to look at him you’d think he wan’s worth a cent […] But as soon as money was up on him, he was a different dog; his underjaw’d begin to stick out like the fo’castle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover, and shine savage like the furnaces.” Likewise, Smiley’s frog, Dan’l Webster, also seems “modest,” but Smiley is dedicated to training it so that it’s truly the best jumper. Wheeler explains, “[Smiley] ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he cal’klated to edercate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet he did learn him, too. He’d give him a little punch behind, and the next minute you’d see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnut see him turn one summerset, or may be a couple, if he got a good start.” Even though Smiley is a gambler, he’s not a cheat, and he’s genuinely dedicated to training his animals so that they will win in a competition—and consequently win Smiley money.
Prior to the stranger’s visit, Smiley’s integrity is not a hindrance, because everyone in his town seems to adhere to the same unspoken moral code. It’s only when an outsider comes into town, standing outside of the town’s value system, that Smiley’s integrity makes him vulnerable. When he goes down to the swap to find the stranger a frog of his own (so the two can have a frog-jumping competition), Smiley entrusts his precious frog with the stranger, never dreaming that the other man would harm his pet. A firm believer in a fair competition, Smiley is aghast when the outsider stuffs Smiley’s frog full of “quail-shot” so that it can’t jump—and consequently, so that Smiley loses the bet. Smiley is also appalled with the stranger runs away with Smiley’s losing bet of forty dollars, which the stranger clearly did not win fair and square. While Smiley never assumed that the stranger would break the unspoken code of honorable morality practiced in the area, the other man did not feel himself beholden to honesty in an area in which he would face no consequences. By nature of just passing through, the man stands outside of the moral code. This naivety allows Smiley to be taken advantage of when he fails to predict the stranger’s wrongdoing.
Although Smiley loses the bet with the stranger, he maintains his honesty and membership in his community. In contrast, the stranger earns forty dollars but must flee before the consequences of his actions catch up him, thereby isolating himself from the possibility of belonging to a community. It’s clear that the stranger runs away immediately after collecting the money from Smiley, because as soon as Smiley realizes that the stranger cheated, “he was the maddest man he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketchd him.” In contrast, by maintaining his honesty, Smiley is able to stay in the town and benefit from a stationary lifestyle. Rather than running from the law like the stranger, Smiley presumably is able to continue placing bet after bet in his town and be “lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner.” Because he refuses to cheat in his bets, Smiley leads a popular and prosperous life in his town, even though he continually wins money away from his fellow townspeople. Even though Smiley may not be the quintessential role model, the story sings his praises, illustrating to the reader the value of living honestly no matter what.
Integrity and Community ThemeTracker
Integrity and Community Quotes in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
“Any way that suited the other man would suit him—any way just so's he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still he was lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner.”
“Parson Walker's wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn't going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley up and asked him how she was, and he said she was considerable better-thank the Lord for his infinite mercy and coming on so smart that with the blessing of providence she'd get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, ‘Well, I'll resk two-and-a-half she don't anyway.'”
“Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do 'most anything—and I believe him.”
“And the feller studied a minute, and then says, kinder sad-like, ‘Well, I'm only a stranger here, and I ain’t got no frog; but if I had a frog, I'd bet you.'”