Sample English Research Paper on Exaggeration in Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”

Lying as urgent necessity frequently appears in Twain’s writings but is defined in his short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”  Twain in this frame story locates a man named Simon Wheeler in a mining camp and inquires if he knows a Leonidas W. Smiley. Wheeler does not, but he begins a rambling reminiscence about a gambler named Jim Smiley. According to Wheeler, Smiley would bet on horse races, dog or cat fights, the success of revivalists at camp meetings, the likelihood of death for ailing people, and anything. He was remarkably successful in his gambling career, but Smiley’s downfall came when he initiated a frog jumping contest with a stranger. While Smiley rushed to the swamp to fish a frog to the stranger, the stranger filled Smiley’s frog. When Smiley returned, and the contest started his frog failed to move from its spot. Only after the stranger left did Smiley realize he had been cheated. Twain makes his escape just as Wheeler starts into a story about Smiley’s one-eyed cow with no tail. In this short story, Twain utilizes exaggeration to demonstrate the contrasts of human nature through characters and styles.

Twain utilizes exaggeration inform of a lie to bring out the truth. The story uses exaggeration to misrepresent the subject it describes. By misrepresenting the truth, Twain can gain the interest of his audience and highlight a human truth through the lie. The need to emphasize truth through lie is supported when Twain describes  Jim Smiley’s traits by noting that “If there were a horse-race, you’d find him flush or you’d find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he’d bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first…” (Twain 11). Twain demonstrates Jim Smiley’s addiction in his writing by transforming truth into absurdity through exaggeration. When lying about Smiley’s characters to the audience, Twain is portraying the madness nature of humankind. Readers interact with humankind’s madness through the sadness of a man who is addicted to gambling.  Specifically, this madness signifies the mysteries of life and challenges the readers to change from within. The brutal truths learned in Twain’s work allow readers to grow personally and gain new perspectives on those around them.

Perhaps the assumption that lies is a truth hidden in a stretch of the truth propelled Twain to utilize the art of exaggeration. Wonham believes that, although exaggeration is a false illustration, exaggeration leads to truth (18-19). According to Wonham, the purpose of Twain’s exaggeration is to portray a false or “incongruous” image, and it is this literary lie that develops truth. Wonham observes that “The teller’s absurdities serve to reinforce the identity of the cultural elite by celebrating through the imaginary knowledge that is the product of experience” (24). An instance of this knowledge is developed when Twain creatively uses the language of the west.  Twain purposefully utilizes inventive punctuations, loose sentence structure, and misspellings. For example, he uses concepts such as “would be there reg’lar to bet on Parson Walker,” (13) “blessing of Prov’dence she’d get well yet,”(13) and “Thish-yer Smiley had a mare–the boys called the fifteen-minute nag…” (Twain 11) Twain’s understanding of the West becomes exaggerated but no less real and exciting to those reading the novel.

Developing a narrative allows the actions and facts to be exaggerated because the narrator only heard the story and is channeling the story to the audience. He was never part of the action. By narrating the action rather than being involved in the action, Twain can alter the story with a free conscience. His lie is not his exaggeration but an exaggeration from a retold narrative. By separating himself from the story, readers can not question Twain’s credibility. However, the readers are more open to lies because it appears like the truth told as he received it. Twain received the story from Wheeler who is convinced is a perfect story teller. According to Twain description of Wheeler, When he was backed into a corner by Wheel and forced to listen to his narrative, “He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice…he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressiveness and sincerity, which showed me…he regarded it as a really important matter…” (Twain 10) Twain controls  Wheeler story, and the readers can laugh at situation knowing that is a lie but blaming Wheeler not Twain, the messenger of the story.

Because Twain’s truth was deepened through exaggerations, his story demonstrates absurd flaws and idiosyncrasies of human behavior as well as the lows and highs of a human emotional roller coaster.  Twain’s work has captured readers’ attention because of its true depiction of the duality of man’s nature, a nature that is at once sincere and deceitful, good and bad. Through the use of exaggerations, Twain puts into words that are ugly but salient human behavior which no photograph can present.  

Works Cited

Twain, Mark. The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories. NewYork City, NY: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.

Wonham, Henry B. Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.