The Cop and the Anthem

by

O. Henry

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Cop and the Anthem can help.
The protagonist of “The Cop and the Anthem,” Soapy is a homeless, street-smart man who is trying to escape the harsh New York City winter by getting arrested and taken to Blackwell’s Island, where he will be given a warm bed. His efforts to do so, however—by scamming a restaurant, insulting a police officer, harassing a window-shopper, and stealing an umbrella—all prove futile. O. Henry’s languages suggests that Soapy is an intelligent man of refined tastes. He is further defined by his savvy and confidence when it comes to navigating crime and homelessness in New York City, but these same traits ultimately fail him in his effort to get arrested. These failures, in turn, reveal Soapy’s vulnerability, which is also what makes him an earnest, sympathetic character by the end of “The Cop and the Anthem.” When he hears a church organ playing an uplifting anthem, Soapy is moved to change his life and re-enter society as the man he once was. This ability to change, and his failure to achieve this change on his own terms, make Soapy both a comic and a tragic figure within the story. O. Henry uses Soapy’s story to highlight discrepancies in the American Dream and critique rigid class prejudice.

Soapy Quotes in The Cop and the Anthem

The The Cop and the Anthem quotes below are all either spoken by Soapy or refer to Soapy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Modern Library Editions edition of The Cop and the Anthem published in 1994.
The Cop and the Anthem Quotes

For years the hospitable Blackwell’s Island had been his winter quarters. Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island.

Related Characters: Soapy
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and without uproar to a policeman.

Related Characters: Soapy, The Police
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat black, ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to him by a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day.

Related Characters: Soapy
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

The policeman’s mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue.

Related Characters: Soapy, The Police
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

A young woman of a modest and pleasing guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly interest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards from the window a large policeman of severe demeanor leaned against a water plug […] It was Soapy’s design to assume the role of the despicable and execrated “masher.”

Related Characters: Soapy, The Window Shopper
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

“’Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin’ the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noise; but no harm. We’ve instructions to lave them be.”

Related Characters: The Police (speaker), Soapy
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.

Related Characters: Soapy, The Window Shopper, The Umbrella Man
Related Symbols: The Umbrella
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

And the anthem that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had known it well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.

Related Characters: Soapy
Related Symbols: The Church Anthem
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Soapy
Related Symbols: The Church Anthem
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

“Three months on the Island,” said the Magistrate in the Police Court the next morning.

Related Characters: Soapy, The Police
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Cop and the Anthem LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Cop and the Anthem PDF

Soapy Character Timeline in The Cop and the Anthem

The timeline below shows where the character Soapy appears in The Cop and the Anthem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Cop and the Anthem
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
The American Dream  Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Community and Home  Theme Icon
On his bench in Madison Square, Soapy begins to feel the chilling effects of winter and decides he must leave his bench.... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Community and Home  Theme Icon
The newspapers under his coat no longer keep Soapy warm, but he resents the enforced humility of many of the citizens charitable institutions. He’d... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Community and Home  Theme Icon
Soapy thus resolves to get himself arrested in order to obtain lodging at Blackwell’s Island for... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
At a shop window lit up brightly with “cunningly displayed wares,” Soapy hurls a cobblestone through the glass and shatters it. When a police officer arrives at... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Community and Home  Theme Icon
Despite thinking himself above it and considering the role despicable and execrated, Soapy decides to assume the role of a “masher,” a man who harasses women on the... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Panicking at the thought that “some dreadful enchantment” might have rendered him immune to arrest, Soapy attempts to engage in disorderly conduct and get arrested by shouting drunken gibberish at a... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
As his desperation deepens and his actions become increasingly flighty and desperate, Soapy somewhat resignedly enters a cigar store, where he approaches a well-dressed man lighting a cigar... (full context)
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
The American Dream  Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Community and Home  Theme Icon
Dejected and discouraged, Soapy arrives at an iron fence surrounding an old church. The tone of the story shifts... (full context)