Mark Twain was an American author that became well known around the world for his satirical and humorous writing. The piece that launched the beginning of his successful career was written in 1865 and is titled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. This story centers on a Western man recounting a tall tale about a jumping frog while a man from the East has to suffer through it. This piece is a strong example of the types of satire Twain would use in his writings. In this story, Mark Twain uses characterization and irony as satirical elements, and he uses satire to demonstrate a ridicule of American society during the time in which this story was written.
The two main characters in this story are from different regions of the United States, one from the East coast and the other from the West. During the mid-nineteenth century, there were different qualities that people associated with being from either coast of the continent. Easterners were seen as well-educated, civilized and refined. In contrast, the Westerners were ignorant, naïve, and foolish. The characterization of each person in the story help to display the difference between the two regions. A direct quote from the Eastern narrator describing his first sight of Simon Wheeler, the Westerner, states:
“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.”
This description of the sight of Simon Wheeler shows that the Eastern man thinks of him as a simpleton with a gentle demeanor. Another form of characterization that Twain uses to display the differences between the two characters is the way both of them speak. For example, the first thing that the narrator said to Wheeler when they met was
“…a friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished companion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. Smiley Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley a young minister of the Gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of Angel’s Camp. I added that, if Mr. Wheeler could tell me anything about this Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel under many obligations to him.”
The use of proper English and sophisticated words suggests that he appears to be educated and civilized. Also, the manner in which he speaks portrays a sense of superiority that the narrator seems to feel over Wheeler. Simon Wheeler’s speech is much different from the narrator’s. There is a lot of jumbling and mispronunciation of words, which Mark Twain uses to his advantage when writing this story. A simple sentence said by Wheeler regarding the catching of a frog is a such:
“He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he cal’klated to edercate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump.”
The difference between the speech of each men is apparent and displays an obvious difference in the two coasts, as well as furthers to demonstrate the stereotypes of each region. The use of characterization in this piece is satirical in the sense that what you would expect of each character turns out to be the exact opposite in the outcome of the story.
Irony is when an event occurs during a situation when the complete opposite is expected. In the case of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, the irony is subtle but contributes to the satirical nature of the piece. As stated previously, in previous centuries there seemed to have been defining differences between people from the west coast and the east coast. You would expect the Easterner to be fully competent in understanding the story that Wheeler tells about jumping frogs, and Wheeler just to be telling some crazy tall tale that had no meaning. In reality, the refined Easterner appears to be egocentric and irritated with Wheeler and his exaggerated tale. The narrator actually appears foolish and is deceived by both Wheeler and his friend who told him to ask about a Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley. Similarly, the supposedly rash Wheeler is ultimately shown to be a pleasant and practiced storyteller. The methods he uses when telling the story is simply a disguise that allows him to fool the narrator, who is supposed to be a highly-educated listener.
Both the characterization and ironic satirical elements help to demonstrate the underlying theme of the entire piece of writing. Mark Twain is mocking American society by demonstrating the perceived differences that people assume about people living on the other side of the country. The common conception that the Westerners and fools and Easterners are geniuses were often used as justifications for acting certain ways back then. A specific but subtle quote within the story states how Twain believes that there is no drastic difference between the types of people living on either side of the country. This quote states:
“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.””
Even though this doesn’t directly show the difference between the two regions, the person is expressing that the two frogs are essentially the same – there is no superior frog. This leads to the conclusion that Western American is equally as good as Eastern America.
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