The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

By Mark Twain

Annotated Paragraph

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. As I said before, I asked him to tell me what he knew of Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and he replied as follows. I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once

When reading short stories and poems as readers we often look for the literal meaning, what did he/she say and what does it all mean? These questions will ultimately bring us to the stories or poems literal meaning, while analyzing the text and reading in between the lines can establish the literary meaning instead. In this paragraph I have chosen the literal meaning is that the gentleman that he is getting the information from was a very serious man. This we understand in the very first line of the paragraph and it continues up until the end of the paragraph. Scratching the surface we can draw this conclusion and leave it there or we can say that the real point of this paragraph was to show that sometimes a funny story can have a serious denotation even if its connotation is not usually classified as “serious or important”. His choice of words and how he ordered them was very important in this interpretation of the reading. He first sat us down with the narrator and together we both got backed down into a corner by a weird older man. He then focuses in on the seriousness of his face and the sincerity in his voice and at the end he shares with us that he never interrupted him from speaking, almost hinting at the fact that we shouldn’t either. I see this paragraph as a place of reference for the rest of the story. It allows us to understand that even though it might make you laugh, its primary function was not to just make you laugh but to ultimately teach you something in the process. How the author sets up the syntax we are able to take the place of the narrator and feel the story for ourselves which helps us understand the stories literary meaning opposed to just it’s literal meaning.

– Or was this all apart of Twain’s plan to paint a picture of a serious older man that backs our narrator into a corner and proceeds to tell him a story about a man that he never wanted to hear about. Twain is able to paint the picture of a serious character but he seems to really be referring to this character as a joke. We find Simon Wheeler (our older man) asleep at the back of a bar when our narrator approaches him,. From this I see that Twain wants to show us that maybe something may be wrong with this character. The story takes place in the middle of the day, too early to be drunk and fast asleep if you ask me. So Twain’s emphasis on how the demeanor of Simon Wheeler right  before he tells the story of Jim Smiley is used more to show the humor that will unfold as he begins to speak.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1    Kevin L. Ferguson // Nov 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Hi Jerry,

    One thing I hoped to see more was a focus on individual words. You do “hover” two, but you just give the denotation for those and don’t really discuss the connotations or how these words connect with other words to create meaning. To put that another way, I feel like I miss the “evidence” that led you to your analysis and conclusions–do more than just “scratch the surface”! It’s hard to be convinced by your analysis because you can’t employ any specific evidence to support your claims.

    For example, the New Critic would want to know about the apparent contradictions or tensions in this paragraph–how do the denotation and connotation of individual words work against each other? How does the author resolve these tensions and contradictions into an “organic unity.”

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