Study Guide

Jim Smiley in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

By Mark Twain

Jim Smiley

If you want to be fancy about it, you might say Jim Smiley is a man addicted to gambling. Or maybe he just likes to compete. Either way, he’ll bet on just about anything, including the long shot and the underdog. And he seems to have a lot of luck. Usually, he wins. But more importantly, he has a knack for finding and cultivating animals that appear to be losers or nothing special but, in fact, have the gumption they need to win, often at the last minute.

Still, despite his proclivities towards fooling others, Smiley is a trusting ol’ guy. This is because, though he fools others, he doesn’t cheat them. He just takes advantage of the tendency for other people to underestimate things based on appearances. He leads people on by pretending to be indifferent about the bet, but he never deceives them outright. When he loses the bet on the frog, it’s easy to feel sorry for him, because he’s not a sore loser. When he finds out he’s been cheated, his anger is completely understandable. When Simon Wheeler starts telling the story of the cow, we know there must be a whole boatload more stories about Smiley and his animals. Like the narrator, we’re glad we don’t have to hear them.