The Cop and the Anthem by O. Henry

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Why did O'Henry chose the title "The Cop and the Anthem"?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The cop and the anthem represent, respectively, false and genuine salvation. Soapy the tramp wants to get sent to prison so that he'll have somewhere nice and warm to stay over the winter, thus saving him from his current plight. But it's a false salvation because it won't really change Soapy's life for the better. After he's let out of prison, he's liable to wind up back on the streets. Then he'll find himself in the exact same situation come next winter.

The anthem reminds Soapy of a much simpler, happier past, when he had hopes and dreams and clean clothes. As he stands by the church door listening to that sweet melody, Soapy has an epiphany, a sudden realization of what he needs to do if he's to change his life for the better. The anthem, and all it represents, offers the hope of genuine salvation. But then a police officer comes by and arrests Soapy, who's sent to prison the next morning. Soapy has been saved from his present predicament, but it's a false salvation.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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O.Henry chose this title for his short story because it points to the main sources of the irony that make the story what it is.  The whole point of the story is the irony at the end and it is cops and an anthem that provide the irony.

Throughout the story, Soapy wants to get arrested but can not.  This is a pretty funny situation.  But the situation becomes really ironic right at the end of the story.

At the end, he stands outside the church listening to an anthem he remembers from his youth.  He is inspired by the memory of better times and decides that he will reform his life.  Right then a cop arrests him for vagrancy, just as he had previously wanted.

So, both cops and anthems frustrate Soapy's ambitions in ironic ways.  This is why the story has this title.

 

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