The Cop and the Anthem


O. Henry

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The Cop and the Anthem: Style 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

O. Henry’s writing style in “The Cop and the Anthem” is descriptive and lyrical, full of figurative language and unique turns of phrase. Take the following passage, for example, as Soapy ventures out to find a restaurant from which he can steal a meal:  

Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering café, where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.

In the first sentence in this passage, O. Henry metaphorically compares the asphalt of the street to a “level sea” into which Broadway and Fifth Avenue “flow.” He goes on to use imagery when describing the café as “glittering” and then, rather than simply stating that Soapy considered the place to be a high-class institution, he uses elevated language to describe how the café served “the choicest products of the grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.” In other words, it is a place that served expensive wine (made from grapes), as well as a place where people (who emerged from a protoplasm) wear fancy clothes (made from silkworms).

While O. Henry’s lofty writing style may seem to be at odds with the subject of his story—a homeless man—it is likely that he used this style on purpose. With this juxtaposition, O. Henry is making the point that there is no real difference between people with wealth and people without it. The narrator captures Soapy’s thoughts in an eloquent manner because he is just as deserving of such treatment as a more upper-class protagonist. O. Henry is likely also hinting at the possibility that Soapy is an educated man who fell on hard times, and therefore indirectly encouraging his middle- and upper-class readers to consider that the current social system does not protect anyone from socioeconomic decline.