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I hear and understand your bafflement at Twain’s story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” In true Twain Fashion, the story seems to be a rambling of sorts. Additionally, the structure does not follow the neat beginning, middle, and end with a clear resolution tied neatly with a clear thematic bow that we have come to expect from fiction.
And so many of you have asked, “What am I supposed to get out of it?”
Confusion of course! This confusion is part of the fun that Twain had with his audience. He makes things sound deceptively simple. Essentially, it’s a story about a guy telling the story about a guy who tells a story about a frog. But, oh it is so much more! Let’s use our rhetorical appeals in narrative notes to help us explore the the connection to “The Lowest Animal,” Realism as a literary movement, and our universal concept: JUSTICE.
CENTRAL THEME: Why does the first narrator tell the story of his encounter with Simon Wheeler? Why does Simon Wheeler tell the story of Jim Smiley? Compare the theme(s)? What does each story SATIRIZE?
ETHOS: Notice the difference between the two narrators’ speech, point of view, and stories. Why does each tell their story? What is the difference between the language of these two stories and how does the difference in dialect or vernacular affect our impression of each narrator? Which do you find more credible and Why?
PATHOS: Note the HYPERBOLES in the abundant imagery and figures of speech. What emotions do these inspire from the reader? More specifically how does it create a comic tone and reveal humor?
LOGOS: Think about the structure of the story. What are the stories’ plots? How does the resolution of Wheeler’s story help us understand the relationship between “COMPETITION” and “JUSTICE“? How does the outcome of the first narrator’s story do the same thing?
CALL TO ACTION: What is the outcome of the frog race and what does this competition reveal about Twain’s views on the relationship between “COMPETITION” and “JUSTICE”?
If you still need more help check out this LEGO Adaptation.
Hope this helps!