The Cop and the Anthem


O. Henry

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Themes and Colors
Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime Theme Icon
The American Dream  Theme Icon
Society, Power, and Class Theme Icon
Community and Home  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Cop and the Anthem, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Poverty, Homelessness, and Crime

Essential to “The Cop and the Anthem,” O. Henry’s story of a homeless man’s ill-fated attempts to get arrested in order to avoid sleeping in the cold, is an examination of the cruelties and inescapable realities faced by underclass citizens at the turn of the twentieth century. Soapy, the story’s protagonist, intentionally commits a string of crimes in order to be taken to the “insular haven” of jail on Blackwell’s Island, where he can…

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The American Dream

Several of the words that Soapy uses to describe Blackwell’s Island, including “refuge” and “haven,” are reminiscent of the language that inspired waves of poor and homeless individuals to seek out the United States in the hope of a better life. Yet even as the “American Dream” promises prosperity to all who work hard, Soapy’s experiences point to the American Dream as being far more selective and undemocratic than it pretends to be. Even if…

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Society, Power, and Class

The fact that it’s nearly impossible to judge characters based on class indicators in O. Henry’s story suggests that these indicators are both flawed and arbitrary. As in much of O. Henry's work, markers of social status are often misread and can prove misleading. For instance, Soapy mistakes a prostitute for a well-to-do young woman and finds himself confused for a rowdy Yale student. Soapy also seems to speak and think eloquently, and the language…

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Community and Home

The central conflict of “The Cop and the Anthem” is the fact that Soapy will die if he is unable to find a home. He is not alone in this conflict, as he is one of the “regular denizens of Madison Square” who must depart every year and find a new place to lay his head. In fact, “The Cop and the Anthem” is a story in which almost every character seems to be in…

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