History of creation and publication
O. Henry’s short story “The Cop and the Anthem” was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in September 1904. It was later included in O. Henry’s 1905 collection, The Four Million, which featured a selection of his most popular stories from the previous year. The story follows Soapy, a homeless man who attempts to get arrested so he can spend the winter in jail and avoid sleeping on the streets. He fails to commit any crime that would warrant an arrest and is eventually forced to face his situation with dignity and courage.
The story has been widely praised for its humor and insight into human nature, as well as its exploration of themes such as poverty, homelessness, and resilience. It has been adapted for stage productions, radio plays, television shows, films, cartoons, video games, comic books and even musicals over the years since its publication. In 2010 it was selected by TIME magazine as one of “The 10 Best Short Stories Ever Written.”
Genre and literary direction
“The Cop and the Anthem” by O. Henry is a short story in the genre of realism, with elements of humor and satire. It is part of the literary direction known as American Literary Naturalism, which focuses on characters struggling against their environment and social conditions.
Theme, idea, plot, composition
Main theme is the power of determination and ambition.
Central idea: a homeless man, Soapy, is determined to go to jail in order to have a roof over his head and three meals a day during the winter months.
Soapy is a homeless man living on the streets of New York City. He has no money or job and spends his days trying to find ways to survive. One day he decides that he will try to get arrested so that he can spend the winter months in jail where he will have a roof over his head and three meals a day. He attempts various petty crimes but fails each time as the police officers are too smart for him. Finally, when all hope seems lost, Soapy hears an anthem being played by an orchestra in Madison Square Park which gives him hope and strength as it reminds him of his past life when he was respected by society. With newfound determination, Soapy finally succeeds in getting himself arrested at last.
The story is composed of four parts; introduction (Soapy’s background), rising action (his attempts at getting arrested), climax (the anthem) and resolution (his arrest). It follows the traditional narrative structure with an exposition, rising action, climax and denouement which helps build suspense throughout the story until its conclusion.
* Soapy: The main character of the story, a homeless man living in New York City who is determined to get arrested so he can spend the winter in jail.
* Jim: A police officer who is trying to arrest Soapy for vagrancy.
* Miss Wilkins: An elderly woman who befriends Soapy and tries to help him find a job.
* Mr. Birdseye: The owner of a restaurant where Soapy finds work as a dishwasher.