In "The Cop and the Anthem," why didn't the policeman arrest Soapy though he shouted like a drunkard?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Soapy tries many times to get arrested. Winter is coming on, and he knows he can get sentenced to three months in a warm jail on Blackwell's Island with three meals a day for committing a misdemeanor. But he is getting desperate because he can't seem to get himself arrested in spite of his pulling all the stunts that have worked for him in the past. Finally he tries "disorderly conduct" practically under the nose of a policeman who is "lounging grandly in front of a resplendent theatre."

On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the welkin.

The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen.

"'Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin' the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy, but no harm. We've instructions to lave them be."

Since the story takes place in the fall, the reader will understand that the Irish cop is talking about a football game. The cop mistakes the name Harvard, Yale's bitter rival, for Hartford, a city in Connecticut. The New York City police department was heavily staffed with men of Irish descent, and many of them were actually recent immigrants from Ireland at that time. O. Henry does a good job of suggesting an Irish-American-New York accent with such words as "Tis" and "lave." The cop obviously didn't take a very good look at Soapy before he turned his back on him, or he wouldn't have mistaken him for a Yale student. No doubt the students and faculty members at both Yale and Harvard were amused by this incident in the story.

The short stories of O. Henry may all seem dated now, but they capture the flavor of his times and the atmosphere of New York City around the turn of the last century. This was still the "horse-and-buggy era." Streets were lighted at night by gas lamps. Cops patrolled their beats on foot (which was why some people called them "flatfoots" and also "gumshoes"). O. Henry's best stories continue to be read because they are well crafted, entertaining, "street smart," humorous, characterized by compassion for the downtrodden, and because they have been enriched by a sort of golden patina with age.

gvansaru | Student

The police didn't arrest Soapy though he shouted like a drunkard because he thought that Soapy was also one the college students who would do no harm to anyone.They had order not to do anything to the students.