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Themes

Smiley himself tends to be fairly honest, though it might be possible to argue that his animals allow him to practice deception, since each in turn looks like nothing special or even like it could never win. But that is not the same kind of deceit that the stranger uses when he fills Dan’l Webster with quail shot in order to win his bet. Smiley is righteously indignant, though he fails to capture the stranger and get his money back.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. Is the narrator’s attempt to sneak out of the bar to avoid Simon Wheeler a form of deceit, or is he just trying to keep from hurting Wheeler’s feelings?
  2. What kind of people does the story treat as more trustworthy: people who travel around the country or people who stay in one place?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Though Jim Smiley is the protagonist and we like him, he is no different than the stranger who filled Dan’l Webster with quail shot. Like the stranger, Smiley deliberately deceives people in order to win at gambling.

Though Jim Smiley "deceives" people by betting on his animals that don’t look like they can ever win, his deception is innocent in comparison to the stranger’s. All gambling is an attempt to deceive, so Smiley’s opponents should know what they are getting into.

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