Who Are the Characters in the Story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"?
"The Saturday Press," a weekly literary newspaper run by bohemian Henry Clapp Jr. launched Mark Twain’s literary career with the publication of his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in its final edition on Nov. 19, 1865. Using a frame narrative structure, the narrator retells a story he’s heard from a talkative resident of Angels, an old mining camp in California. Although the piece is only a few pages long, the tale involves a number of characters.
The Narrator “I”
Twain wrote this short story using the first-person narrative technique, which tells the story through the narrator's eyes and in his voice. Little information is given about this character. We only know that he’s been asked by a friend to inquire at the camp about a former resident, the Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley. As the story unfolds, the narrator realizes that his friend has played a trick on him. His innocent inquiry reminded the long-winded miner, Simon Wheeler, about the similarly named Jim Smiley. Trapped by the conventions of politeness, the narrator is forced to listen to Wheeler’s endless tales about Jim. Readers are similarly trapped, although they are in on the joke from the beginning. In the opening paragraph, the narrator suggests his friend may have invented Leonidas Smiley so that the inquiry would induce Wheeler’s incessant storytelling.
The character of Simon Wheeler can be described as the narrator of the story within the story. Twain describes Wheeler’s personality as good-natured and garrulous, and his physical appearance as fat, old and bald-headed. Other clues to Wheeler’s character are exhibited through his behavior. Wheeler is a man who likes to talk, a characteristic evident in the way he corners the narrator so that he cannot leave without being rude. Twain’s use of dialect and colloquialisms within the dialogue gives clues that Wheeler is not an educated man, using words and phrases such as “thish-yer Smiley,” “ketched a frog,” and “he cal’klated to edercate him.”
Jim Smiley is the subject of Wheeler’s earnest storytelling. He’s described as a lucky gambler who would bet on anything, even if he had to flip sides to find any takers. Although described as lucky, Jim does encounter his share of bad luck. For example, Jim has a small bull pup that wins every dogfight he’s in, until the last one ends in his death. In the case of the titular jumping frog, Jim is easily tricked into leaving his frog in the hands of his competitor, who force-feeds it quail shot until it’s too heavy to jump. Jim loses and pays the $40 bet before discovering the trickery. However, Wheeler still leaves the narrator with the impression that Jim is “an enterprising vagabond.”
A number of characters make singular and brief appearances in the story. Wheeler mentions that the mining camp once had a parson by the name of Walker, which serves as confirmation that the narrator’s friend invented the character of Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley. Other than the narrator, Wheeler, and Jim Smiley, one other character speaks dialogue in the story. That character is known only as “feller, a stranger,” the man who cheated in the frog-jumping contest. Some may even regard the frog, named “Dan’l Webster” by Jim, as a character as well, along with the handful of other animals mentioned throughout the story.
A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch writes fashion, travel, interior design, education and entertainment content. Bartsch earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University. She's written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.