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What is the theme of "The Cop and the Anthem," a short story by O. Henry?

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essss | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 26, 2011 at 5:45 PM via web

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What is the theme of "The Cop and the Anthem," a short story by O. Henry?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 26, 2011 at 6:56 PM (Answer #1)

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In considering the theme of O. Henry's ironic short story "The Cop and the Anthem," one is reminded of the adage, "Be careful of what you set your heart upon, for it will surely be yours."  With the winter weather about to set upon New York, Soapy, a homeless man, seeks a warm shelter for a few months. In previous winters, he has been homed in the penitenary at Blackwell Island.

Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire.

However, he seems "doomed to liberty" as his attempt to be jailed after eating at a good restaurant and failing to pay backfires when he is not permitted entrance.  Then, when he throws a brick through a storefront,the policeman does not think he is the culprit because he has not run off. When Soapy gains entrance to another restaurant, and informs the waiter that he has no money, so he can call a "cop," the waiter instead has Soapy thrown out of the restaurant. So, Soapy decides to act the "masher" by approaching a nice-looking woman while a policeman watches him. But, to his dismay, the woman accepts his proposition.  With yet another failed attempt to be arrested, Soapy turns disconsolately toward Madison Square and his park bench; however, as he walks past an old church he hears an "anthem" played that reminds him of  "mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars" which effect a sudden change in Soapy:  "He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again."

Ironically,he feels a hand on his shoulder and a policeman asks him what he is doing.  When Soapy replies "Nothin'" the policeman arrests him, and later the judge sentences him to three months on Blackwell Island, Soapy's original wish.


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