The Cop and the Anthem


O. Henry

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The Cop and the Anthem Summary

“The Cop and the Anthem” begins with the arrival of winter in New York City. Soapy decides he must leave his bench in Madison Square Park and get himself arrested so he will be taken to Blackwell’s Island, where he will be given a warm place to sleep during the winter.

Soapy’s first effort at getting arrested finds him entering an expensive restaurant with hopes of ordering a decadent meal and being arrested for “insolvency.” When a waiter spots his frayed trousers, however, he is thrown off the premises before he can even sit down. When he then smashes a storefront window with a cobblestone, the responding police officer refuses to recognize Soapy as the culprit.

Throughout the story, Soapy fails to get arrested not because he can’t commit a crime, but because other individuals refuse to identify him correctly. A second attempt at scamming a restaurant finds Soapy thrown out on the street once again by two waiters, and his efforts to harass a window-shopping woman on the street also prove futile when the woman, suggested to be a prostitute, happily responds to his advances. After trying and failing to get arrested for publicly insulting a police officer—who mistakes Soapy for a drunken Yale student—Soapy attempts to steal an umbrella from a well-dressed man in a cigar store only to discover that the man had in fact stolen the umbrella himself.

Discouraged, Soapy sulks off and finds himself outside the gate of a church. There, Soapy hears a beautiful anthem being played within the church, and after listening to this song he resolves to turn his life around and become a functioning member of society once again. However, as soon as he makes this resolution, a police officer arrests him for loitering and he is sentenced to jail time on Blackwell’s Island the following day.