Use of Three-Layered Lesson in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Length: 1182 words (3.4 double-spaced pages)
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The first person whose gullibility is revealed in the story is Jim Smiley. The narrator is told by a friend in a letter to go to Simon Wheeler, the narrator of Smiley's story, and ask about a friend if his named Leonidas W. Smiley. Wheeler says that he does not know anyone by that name, but instead knows a man by the name of Jim Smiley. He goes on to talk about this odd Mr. Smiley. He discusses the fact that Smiley could never resist either side of any bet, and he almost never lost. Wheeler goes into a story about a fighting hound that Smiley used to own named Andrew Jackson. The dog is described as appearing somewhat worthless but being extremely effective in fights. Andrew Jackson's technique was to grab on to a hind leg of the other dog and grip tightly until the other dog surrendered. Smiley once put the dog in a fight against another dog without any hind legs. Andrew Jackson was confounded by this and ended up being badly injured and dying as a result of the fight. Being gullible means being easily cheated. For Smiley to put his dog against another without hind legs was him being gullible. Unless Andrew Jackson completely changed his tactics, there was no way he would win the fight. This event is just a precursor to the gullibility that Smiley exhibits when he challenges a stranger to a frog jumping contest. The stranger says that he would put up any frog against Smiley's frog, Dan'l Webster, but that he just does not have one.
Smiley gives him the box that holds Dan'l Webster and asks the stranger to wait while he finds him a frog. While gone, the stranger fills Dan'l Webster's stomach with quail shot. When Smiley returned with another frog, Dan'l Webster had no chance of winning. Smiley's gullibility leads to his defeat.
The next person whose gullibility is highlighted by Clemens is the narrator of the story. His name is never revealed, but we do find out plenty about this character. He is obviously of a different social class than Simon Wheeler and considers himself to be more socially refined. The first sign of the narrator's gullibility is revealed when he expresses in the first paragraph that he believes he was tricked into asking Wheeler about Leonidas Smiley, with his friend knowing full well that the question would lead a long yarn about Jim Smiley. Right after that revelation, the narrator also reveals that he never once stopped Wheeler from telling his story about Jim Smiley, even though that was not the person that he asked about. In the story of Jim Smiley, many strange details are revealed that would lead almost anyone to believe that the story was fabricated. The story of Andrew Jackson and his fight with the two-legged dog is one of the earliest parts of Wheeler's narrative, and it is the first sign that the story itself may be a stretch. The naming of the animals, after famous politicians of the time, added humor to the story, but also added doubts as to the validity of the whole thing. When Wheeler gets to the frog jumping competitions, the story becomes even more absurd. Grown men taking and making bets on the distance that a frog will jump just seems ludicrous. At this point, Wheeler is called by someone and asks the narrator to wait just a minute for him. The narrator decides to leave, considering the fact that he was not getting any information about the man that he actually asked for. On his way out, Wheeler stops him and tries to tell him about Smiley's yellow, one-eyed cow without a tail. The narrator gently blows this story off. He seems to finally be realizing that the story that Wheeler had told him was probably pretty exaggerated, if true at all. Just staying and listening as long as he did proved that he is gullible.
Finally, the last victim of the story is the reader. I found myself falling into the trap that Clemens sets up. Like the narrator, I found myself drawn into the story of Jim Smiley. At points that I listed above, I did begin to get the picture that Wheeler's story was probably not completely accurate. Even so, I kept reading the story, waiting for it to lead to a conclusion or final idea. Once the story was finished, I realized that the whole thing was not pointing towards a lesson or conclusion at the end of the story, like many do. Clemens leads readers in this direction to point out their own gullibility. Like I previously stated, the story does have a lesson to it, however.
When taken into account as a whole, Clemens' story tells us that everyone is susceptible to gullibility. Not only is the old town miner Jim Smiley gullible, but so is the seemingly more refined narrator. Further illustrating Clemens point, Wheeler, a fat, balding man with an accent, is the person who seemingly deceives this narrator. Also, the reader, disregarding social class, is drawn into the story and mislead by the direction of the story. Clemens is illustrating the fact that anyone can be fooled and anyone can do the fooling. This is something that we should be aware of. Although Clemens' message is more comedic than precautionary, it is still bringing this fact to the reader's attention. The humor in this story is obvious. This should be noted because many short stories before this did not aim to be humorous. This is only part of the genius of the story. The three-layered lesson of the story is what I appreciate the most. Clemens uses a character within another story, the narrator of the story, and even the reader to illustrate the generally gullible nature of human beings.