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A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain t...

Have you ever heard of a short story called The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain? Until last week, I had not heard of it either. It was one of the reading assignments for my American Literature II class and became the subject of a Realism Concept homework assignment. It is a short read – about a half hour or so but it tickled my fancy.

Twain begins by saying the man who tells him the story is very monotone, “he never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he turned his initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm;”

Twain then tells the story relayed to him about a man who will bet on anything and everything. If he could not get you to bet against him, he would change sides and try again. He was very lucky and came out the winner most of the time. He had many animals he trained in order to place bets. He finds a frog and trains him to jump and claims his frog can jump further than any other frog in Calaveras County. He wins every bet he places until… Well you will have to read the rest of the story.

Mark Twain is one of the forefathers of the realism era of literature. The Civil War and the Industrial Revolution brought a different view of the world to Americans. Writers wrote about and for everyday ordinary people which explains the popularity of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. This realism era transcended into television with the popularity of “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie.” Both of these shows were adapted from books written by authors of the realism era – the life and times of the common people of America. The dreams of high society, servants, and days filled with beauty and leisure are gone.

Reading gives people a chance to escape to a place they have never been before and live a life they will not otherwise get a chance to live. In Twain’s day money was short, work was hard, and pleasure came from the simple things in life. Lines between right and wrong were not quite so blurred as they seem to be today. One could read about the struggles and fantasies of others knowing they were not alone.

What have you read by Mark Twain? What other writers do you enjoy reading? Please leave me a comment with your thoughts and suggestions.

Twain, Mark (2007) The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. In N. Baym (Ed.), The Norton Anthology of American Literature (7th ed., Vol. C, pp 104-107). New York; W. W. Norton.