In "The Cop and the Anthem," what did Soapy realize when he was standing near his childhood home?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the end of "The Cop and the Anthem," Soapy may have been thinking about his childhood home, along with other memories of his past, but he was not standing near it. He was in Manhattan, standing on the sidewalk outside a church where the organist was playing a familiar anthem that brought back a flood of memories. Soapy was thinking about how far he had allowed himself to slide downhill since the days when he was a respectable citizen and a member of the middle class. The music, along with the uncanny failures he had just experienced in trying to get himself arrested, were inspiring him to reform.

He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. 

But he had waiting too long. He had gone too far down the wrong path to be able to turn around and go back. He is brought to this cruel realization when he feels a hand on his arm.

"What are you doin' here?” asked the officer.
“Nothin',” said Soapy.
“Then come along,” said the policeman.

Doing "nothin'" for a homeless man with worn-out clothes and no money in his pockets means "vagrancy" and "loitering." He had strayed too far from his own neighborhood, where bums could get by with sleeping on park benches and panhandling for nickels and dimes to buy food. In this more respectable neighborhood of middle-class, church-going New Yorkers, Soapy was too conspicuous. 

The story may remind readers of O. Henry's "A Retrieved Reformation," in which Jimmy Valentine, a safecracker on the lam from the law, decides to reform in order to win a beautiful and highly respectable small-town girl and become a successful businessman and a solid citizen. Jimmy almost suffers a fate similar to that of Soapy, but Fate gives him another chance.