The silk umbrella that Soapy attempts to steal symbolizes the deceptive nature of appearances as well as fact that there is no meaningful difference between the haves and have nots in O. Henry’s story. Markers of wealth and status, such as the umbrella, are arbitrary and tenuous, and the status granted by these objects throughout “The Cop and the Anthem” can be stripped away just as easily as it is given. When Soapy enters the cigar store, markers of societal status greet him immediately. The man he steals the umbrella from is described as “well-dressed,” the umbrella itself is made out of silk, and the entire scene takes place in a store that sells cigars, which are largely upper-class indulgences. Much in the same way that Soapy misidentifies the window shopper and the police misidentify Soapy as a Yale student, Soapy fails to identify the cigar-store man as a thief. When Soapy questions who the umbrella’s rightful owner is, the cigar-store man backs down and outs himself as having stolen it, a fact which likewise makes Soapy inadvertently and reluctantly rise up as the owner of the umbrella. However, the umbrella’s power as a symbol of wealth and status is only useful to Soapy insofar as he can use it to get himself arrested. Once the argument with the cigar-store man is resolved and Soapy has recognized the umbrella as his possession, he “hurl[s] the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation,” indicating that the umbrella does not possess any inherent power itself.
The Umbrella Quotes in The Cop and the Anthem
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.