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Teacher's Guide to "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain

By Trent Lorcher

Whether you call it "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" or "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" this teacher's guide is for you. It includes a "Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" summary, "A Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" analysis and much more.

The Notorious Administrator of Wastemytime County School District

In compliance with the request of an administrator of mine, who sent me in an e-mail, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Mr. Teachtoolong, and inquired after my administrator's favorite writer, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my administrator never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that, if I asked old Teachtoolong about him, it would remind him of the infamous Mark Twain, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it certainly succeeded.

Mr. Teachtoolong shared with me his Mark Twain lesson plans, which included a "Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" summary, a "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" analysis with a look at setting in "The _______ Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," conflict in "The _____ Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and some other items of little interest to me.

I now share them with you.

"The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" Summary

Daniel Webster 

I have provided a "Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" summary, not because I don't think you can understand it, but I'm guessing you have 323 essays to grade, 1,674 progress reports to fill out, and 265,374 items of paperwork to complete to make sure you're in compliance with the latest government regulations and don't have the time.

Summary

The narrator, an obviously educated individual from the East, has been requested to ask Simon Wheeler about an old friend. Wheeler has no idea who the friend is, but he does know someone with a similar name, of whom he tells several pointless stories:

Jim Smiley liked to gamble and was "uncommon lucky." He would bet on anything. Simon Wheeler tells of Smiley's horse, the "15-minute nag," who would always make a miraculous comeback at the end of a race. Smiley owned a bull pup named Andrew Jackson, who engaged in dog-fighting. Andrew Jackson's special move of biting the other dog's hind legs prevailed every time, except for the time he fought a dog whose hind legs had been cut off by a circular saw.

Jim Smiley owned a frog, Daniel Webster, who Smiley claims could out jump any frog in Calaveras County. A stranger tells Smiley that Daniel Webster is an ordinary frog. Smiley challenges the stranger, goes down to the swamp, and returns with a competitor frog. Meanwhile the stranger fills Daniel Webster's mouth with quail shot. Weighed down and unable to jump, Jim Smiley's frog suffers defeat and Jim Smiley suffers humiliation and anger.

"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Caleveras County" Analysis with Teaching Suggestions

A "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Caleveras County" Analysis produces the following observation and discussion topics:

  1. Setting in "The _____ Jumping Frog of Calevaras County" - The story's narration takes place in Angel's mining camp, a stark contrast to the origins of the narrator and his friend who has instructed him to search for a friend who may or may not exist.
  2. Characterization - the contrast between the narrator and Simon Wheeler forms the central conflict in "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and adds to the humor of the story. Use a compare/contrast chart (the one linked works best). Ideal categories include:
    • Manner of Speech - The narrator uses an elevated vocabulary. Old Simon Wheeler sounds like a hick.
    • Behavior - The narrator just wants information. Simon Wheeler has little to do but talk all day.
    • Origins - The narrator is an educated Easterner. Simon Wheeler is an uneducated miner.
  3. Realism and Local Color - Examine what makes the encounter (not the actual stories about Jim Smiley) realistic. "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" exemplifiesTwain's deft use of local color and dialect.
    • The manner in which the narrator and Simon Wheeler speak necessitates the need for a translator. Instruct students to interpret Wheeler's lines for the narrator and the narrator's lines for Wheeler. I've included examples below.
  4. Help students analyze the story's humor with this analyzing humor in literature lesson plan.

"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Caleveras County" Analysis: Sample Translated Sentences

Calaveras County 

The conflict in "The _______ Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" revolves around the cultural gap between its two main characters. The following translations, I hope, can resolve this conflict in "The _______ Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"

Narrator: "In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result."

Translation: This feller friend o' mine somehow thinks you might know this other feller named Leo Smiley. The curiousest thing happened.

Wheeler: "He had a little small bull pup, that to look at him you'd think he wan's worth a cent, but to set around and look ornery, and lay for a chance to steal something. But as soon as money was up on him, he was a different dog; his underjaw'd begin to stick out like the fo'castle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover, and shine savage like the furnaces."

Translation: He had a canine with little apparent value other than to appear angry and sullen and engage in thievery. Whenever bystanders attempted to exact monetary gains through the canine's skill in combat, he metamorphosed into an entirely different animal. His lower mandible jutted forward like the spire of a nobleman's castle, and his dental appendages would glimmer like a queen's diadem.