Throughout Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain emphasizes regional differences. In the story, an unnamed narrator from the East visits a small mining town in the West, where he gets roped into hearing a long, rambling story from an old man named Simon Wheeler about a gambler named Jim Smiley and his pet frog, Dan’l Webster. Through portrayals of foreign identity and differing communication styles, the story recognizes the cultural differences between the East and West but seeks to preserve and celebrate them both.
By emphasizing the differences between the regions, the story presents the East and West as being culturally distinct and irreconcilable. The very premise of the interaction between the unnamed narrator and the storyteller, Simon Wheeler, is based on an Easterner’s introduction to the West. At the beginning of the story, the reader learns that the narrator has been instructed by his friend “from the East” to visit Simon Wheeler at Angel’s Camp, Calaveras County, in Northern California, to hear a story. One of the characters in Wheeler’s tall tale, the stranger, is a named outsider. This man cheats Smiley by filling Smiley’s frog with gunshot so that it can’t jump, causing Smiley to lose his forty-dollar bet. In doing so, the stranger goes against the grain of the mining community’s small-town values, emphasizing that he doesn’t belong. The man’s dishonesty highlights the validity of retaining skepticism of strangers and underscores the cultural divide that exists between regional areas. Like the man in Wheeler’s story, self-described as “only a stranger here,” who broke the unstated local code of morality by cheating, the narrator is also labeled as a “stranger,” one who is unused to the rules and methods of living in the West and is considered an outsider.
Although the story presents these cultural differences between the East and West as being wholly distinct and irreconcilable, the story asserts that such differences should be celebrated and preserved. Even though the narrator finds Wheeler’s story to be agonizingly off-topic and largely uninteresting, the narrator still takes the time to write down the entire story. In this way, he views the interaction almost as an anthropological endeavor, studying the accent and delivery of the Western storyteller, and consequently implying that these cultural differences are worth recording. The narrator writes his own secondary commentary in grammatically correct, academic English, reflecting his sophisticated Eastern education and scholarly approach to recording stories. In contrast, his depictions of Simon Wheeler include phonetic quotes of Wheeler’s Western dialect. For instance, the narrator records Wheeler as saying, "Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yaller one-eyed cow that didn't have no tail, only just a short stump like a bannanner, and—.” By clearly illustrating the differences in their respective pronunciations, the narrative further emphasizes their lived cultural divide between the East and West. However, by preserving Wheeler’s thoughts and the style of his delivery, the narrator also seeks to preserve Wheeler’s distinctively Western style of storytelling, deeming it different but inherently valuable. The story ends with the narrator cutting off the storyteller, Simon Wheeler, from launching into another story about Jim Smiley because the narrator lacks the desire to sit through another long, “monotonous” story. Once again, the regional differences between the East and West are presented as being irreconcilable—there’s no sense that Wheeler will suddenly pepper his stories with lofty and academic words, while the narrator won’t suddenly find himself captivated by jumping frogs and unrefined tall tales. However, although the narrator finds the content of the story lacking, he is interested enough in Wheeler’s delivery to transcribe it for future readers, which is an effort to preserve the purity of the Western storytelling tradition.
The story highlights the sharp cultural contrast between the East and West in the hopes of celebrating, preserving, and advocating for distinct cultural identities in the United States. Even while emphasizing and honoring these differences, the story also gives some sense that such differences shouldn’t keep the country from being united. Readers simply have to look to Jim Smiley’s pet names to see as much. Smiley’s pet frog is named Dan’l Webster, named after the conservative senator from the East, Daniel Webster, who led the opposition to Andrew Jackson’s policies. Meanwhile, Smiley’s bulldog is named Andrew Jackson, after the southern U.S. President. By welcoming his own versions of those powerful politicians into his family, Smiley symbolically unites the regional divides in the country within the confines of his own backyard.
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Regional Differences Quotes in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
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, and he would go to work and bore me to death with some exasperating reminiscence of him as long and as tedious as it should be useless to me.
He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned his initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.
“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.”