Does the story say something about life in a big city?  "The Cop and the Anthem" by O. Henry

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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O. Henry's short story "The Cop and the Anthem" does, indeed, depict the callousness and detached attitudes of many urban people.  When Soapy enters the restaurant the head waiter immediately zeroes in on him as an "undesirable" and "conveyed him in silence and haste to the sidewalk."  After all, anyone who detracts from the appeal of the restaurant is immediately removed since he can cost the business customers.  Likewise, although the less pretentious restaurant serves Soapy, with no concern about his improverished state, he is roughly thrown into the dusty street when he cannot pay.

That Soapy cannot get himself arrested, of course, comprises the ironic humor of O. Henry's tale; but, at the same time, it points to the number of true miscreants that populate a big city such as the street walker and the umbrella thief. Yet, when Soapy enters the church and listens to the church anthem, or moving short sacred choral work presented during a worship service, he examines his life and resolves to improve himself.  However, just as he steps out of the church, he is arrested for doing "nothing."  With a humorous twist to the old question "Where is a policeman when you need him?" Soapy is arrested now that he does not want to be.  The policeman appears when he is not wanted--how typical of the feeling of many city dwellers!

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