Study Guide

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Contrasting Regions

By Mark Twain

Contrasting Regions

I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the bar-room stove of the old, dilapidated tavern in the ancient mining camp of Angel's, and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up and gave me good-day. (Para 2)

The educated, well-healed easterner describes the simple, rustic westerner in our first subtle contrast between American regions. By taking note of Wheeler’s "winning gentleness," is the narrator being a generous guy, or is he just being condescending?

Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat me down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the 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 any thing 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. To me, the spectacle of a man drifting serenely along through such a queer yarn without ever smiling, was exquisitely absurd. (para 2).

The narrator tries to demonstrate his superiority to Simon Wheeler through his description of the man. Though the narrator doesn’t yet realize it, Wheeler is about to embark on a long yarn. His earnest expression belies his underlying cunning and cleverness, his ability to keep the narrator captive throughout his absurd tale. The joke, in other words, will be on the sophisticated easterner.

The feller took the box again, and took another long, particular look, and give it back to Smiley, and says, very deliberate, "Well, I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog." (para. 13)

Though this quote doesn’t specifically contrast the West with the East, the stranger is articulating the truth of democracy – one frog is just as good as another. Western America is just as good as the East.

[Here Simon Wheeler heard his name called from the front yard, and got up to see what was wanted.] And turning to me as he moved away, he said: "Just set where you are, stranger, and rest easy I an't going to be gone a second." But, by your leave, I did not think that a continuation of the history of the enterprising vagabond Jim Smiley would be likely to afford me much information concerning the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started away. (para. 21-22)

Why does the narrator try to sneak out of the bar? In these kinds of situations, we’re used to think of the sophisticated easterner as having all the knowledge and power in comparison to the provincial rube (Wheeler). But, actually, the narrator, who was recently "blockaded" into a corner, is pretty powerless. He realizes that now might be his only chance for escape. He can pretend to be all casual and proper about it, but he’s really just desperate to get away from Wheeler.