An American Experience

An American Experience

Literature in the late 19th Century was affected by changes in society. These changes included the abolishment of slavery, the Industrial Revolutions, and an increase in urban populations. Literature got away from focusing on heroes and started to focus on everyday people. This was “The Realism Movement”. Stories were authored to be relatable to the common man and were set in everyday situations with regular characters. Mark Twain’s “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and Henry James’ “The Pupil” are examples of stories about everyday people. The common message within these two stories are average issues found in the culture of the everyday person. “The Notorious Jumping Frog” and “The Pupil” both have the message of deception and perseverance.

Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is written in the form of a tall tale. This was a popular “story format in the late eighteenth century since most American frontiersmen employed it to show-off their exploits as well as to deceive gullible Easterners” (IvyPanda. 2020, May 21., para.12). The story itself is based on deception, so the fact that Twain chose to write this in the form of a tall tale, that was used to deceive, was poetically fitting.

The realism of Twain’s story was a “focus on common people” … exemplifying “the ordinary, everyday characteristics of the realism movement by using the literary elements of setting, characterization, and the common dialect used in the dialogue” (Eduzaurus. 2020., para. 3). Although the basic literary elements are “common”, the animals in this tale are given amazing powers to compete in Smiley’s events and win his bets for him. For example, the dog Smiley, called Andrew Jackson, was described as “to look at him you’d think he warn’t worth a cent, but to set around and look ornery, and lay for a chance to steal something” (Twain, M., ) and would later be said to be able to fight for a year. Smiley seemed to have a knack for picking animals with sleeper qualities who would win his bets.

The message of perseverance can be seen in Twain’s tale with the portion of the story about the frog itself. Jim Smiley worked at getting his frog to be the best jumper in the town. As he was an avid better, he wanted to be sure that he had the best jumping frog with which to win any bet his frog was involved with.

Similarly, James’ “The Pupil” was about a young boy with health issues and a not so great family. The parents hire Pemberton to be the boys tutor. They then leave the tutor in charge of the boy, Morgan, and leave responsibility for him with Pemberton. The family is deceitful in their dealings with Pemberton in regard to payment for his services. They create a sense in the beginning that he will be paid handsomely but as time went on, he wasn’t paid and had to argue to get any portion of what was owed to him. The family were gypsies and lived a nomadic life. No one really knew how they got along and how they paid for board and travel. What was known, is that they neglected Morgan and his tutor as well.

An example of the neglect is seen when James describes Morgan’s clothing. His parents are more concerned with clothing the elder siblings to show them off and they didn’t want to show Morgan in public as it would ruin their façade. The story goes on to show the two sides of this family: the public persona and the harsh reality of life at home. In an article titled, “A Note On Child Neglect In American Victorianism: Henry James’ ‘The Pupil’”, the author addresses this duality. “James presents the two sides of the family: one, the family’s public appearance in the social sphere, and the domestic one at home. The spheres hold two conflicting value systems” (Kocsoy, F. Gul., 2016., Vol.15, Iss. 2, p451–460). This family’s whole life is a lie. Not only are they deceitful to Pemberton about his pay and his role, they are deceitful to their child and to the world.

Pemberton had perseverance for the sake of Morgan. He had taken a liking to the boy and became concerned for his well-being. Pemberton persevered in the role of tutor despite the shabby conditions and little to no pay. When he finally was able to get away, he was tricked by Mrs. Moreen to come back under the pretense that Morgan was very ill. He cared so much for the boy and was so concerned that he went back to check on him. He was dedicated to Morgan enough that he talked about taking charge and running away with him. Sadly, Morgan’s heart gave out and he passed away.

In conclusion, these stories are very different on the surface, but very similar in content. Both stories center around deceit and perseverance. In Twain’s story, the deceit is less detrimental to the characters than in James’ story. In Twain’s story, the frog got the worst of it. Further study and historical context reveal a duality within this tale as well. One of Easterners vs. Westerners. As stated, the Westerners would trick the gullible Easterners. Likewise, James’ story conveys extreme and detrimental deceit as the tutor and moreover, the boy, are affected by the neglect and fraudulent life of his parents. The tutor was the only person who cared about Morgan. The silver lining of the end of the story is that Morgan did not die alone with his hateful family, but with the one person near him who cared about him.


Eduzaurus. (2019). The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County As An Example of Realistic Literature. Realism in “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. Retrieved from,literature%20during%20the%20nineteenth%20century.

IvyPanda. (2020, May21). Mark Twain’s “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”: Themes Analysis. Retrieved from

Kocsoy, F.G. (2016). A Note On Child Neglect In American Victorianism: Henry James’

“The Pupil.” Gaziantep University Journal of Social Sciences, 15(2), 451–460.

Retrieved from Ashford Library

I am 52 years old and live in California. I have two grown sons and a beautiful granddaughter. I am currently attending an online university.

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Poetry Clark

I am 52 years old and live in California. I have two grown sons and a beautiful granddaughter. I am currently attending an online university.