The Cop and the Anthem by O. Henry

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Explain the title of the story "The Cop and the Anthem". What does it mean?

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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O. Henry seems to have been a little careless about giving titles to his stories. Many of the titles could be improved on. No doubt he wrote the stories first and thought about titles later. He might not even have invented all his own titles but left it up to the editor to do so or to change whatever working title the author had given the story. Editors will often take that upon themselves without even advising the author. On the other hand, an editor can make the story look attractive to the readers by commissioning an illustration from a commercial artist. For years O. Henry was turning out one of his stories every week. He must have been chronically working under deadline pressure, because there was a blank space in the publication just waiting for him to fill up with words. This, plus his heavy drinking, could account for the fact that his titles are not always inspired.

The cop in the title is, of course, the cop who arrests Soapy for vagrancy and loitering. The anthem is the music being played by the organist inside the little church. There is supposed to be an ironic contrast between the two. The cop is Soapy's nemesis and represents the law, while the anthem represents Soapy's better nature and his desire to reform. Church anthems are always intended to inspire good thoughts in the hearers, and this particular one had an especially strong effect on Soapy because of all the troubles he had experienced on that cold day.

It is always a mistake to look for "meaning" in a short story or in any work of art. A short story, like all works of art, is intended to convey a "feeling." We feel pity for poor Soapy because he seems to have lost his only chance to pull himself up out of the sordid way of life he has been leading for years. We identify with him in realizing that he can't win, whatever he tries to do. He is a loser and this latest experience only confirms his "feeling" of being a loser.

The story reminds me of the moral that Nathaniel Hawthorne added to what I consider his best short story, "Wakefield," which is included in his well-known book Twice-Told Tales, a classic of American fiction

Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place...

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Blake Douglas eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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