The best laid plans of mise and men often go awry

The Best Laid Plans of Mise and Men Often Go Awry

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‘The Cop and the Anthem’ is a short story by O. Henry written in 1904. The short story has one main character who is known only by one name: Soapy. Like many of the other O. Henry stories, ‘The Cop and the Anthem’ is set in New York City, is a representation of a person form the lower class and has an ironic end. However, perhaps the most outstanding theme of the story as propagated by the main character is that the best laid plans of mise and men often go awry.

Soapy is a homeless man in New York City in the 20th century. The whole of the story takes place in one day in the late fall when the frost starts getting in the air. Winter is fast approaching and Soapy is in need of a shelter for himself for the winter. After a lot of thinking, Soapy decides that the local jail would provide a good shelter for him during the winter. He urgently needs to be thrown to jail and the only way that can happen is if he commits some sort of crime. Soapy then goes ahead to device tactics that are aimed at encouraging the police to arrest him. His first tactic is to swindle a restaurant to serve him a meal that he has no intention of paying for. He intended to “dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant, and then after declaring insolvency be handed quietly and without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating magistrate would do the rest” (p2). This fails before its execution as a waiter spots his frayed clothes and throws him out before serving him. Soapy then decides to break the window of a shop with a stone. After he accomplishes this, people come rushing to the window a policeman among them. Soapy thinks that at last he will be arrested and stands next to the broken window and even insinuates to the policeman that he did it. He tells the policeman “Don’t you figure out I might have had something to do with it?” (p2). The police man does not believe him as one would expect someone who has just broken a window to run. Instead he goes after the wrong person. Soapy disappointed goes to a restaurant and eats as much he could. He then tells the waiter to “Now get busy and call a cop, and don’t keep a gentleman waiting” (p2). The waiter does not call a policeman but throws him out into the street. At this point, Soapy is worried that he will not go to jail as it now seems like just a dream that he cannot achieve.

Soapy then sees another opportunity when he observes a young woman doing her shopping and a policeman nearby. He intends to sexually harass her and let himself be captured by the policeman. However the woman seems to be willing to do whatever Soapy had in mind. She tells him, “sure Mike, if you will blow me to a pail of suds. I would have spoken to you sooner but the cop was watching” (p3). Soapy looses yet another chance to be arrested. Soapy then pretends to be intoxicated in public aiming to be arrested for being drunk and disorderly. A policeman nearby however dismisses Soapy as a Yale student supposedly celebrating a football win and lets him be. The policeman says “we have instruction to leave them be” (p3)Soapy makes one final attempt to be arrested by stealing a man’s umbrella. The owner of the umbrella however does not call a policeman but gives it to Soapy without a struggle. All these events show how Soapy intentionally tried to get arrested but failed even though he planned his attacks well.

Soapy despaired that he will not get arrested and imprisoned lingers by a church thinking about his bad luck. It is here that he thinks about his dead hopes and unworthy desires. He has a transformation of the soul and makes up his mind to stop being homeless and do something with his life. He resolves to get a job from a businessman who had previously offered him a job. He makes plans of how he was going to make his life better and how he was going to regain his self respect. The next day, his life would take a different turn, he decides. He is so lost in his thoughts that he does not see the policeman until he taps his shoulder. The policeman asks him what he is doing and Soapy replies “Nothing” (p5). This word seals his fate; he is arrested for loitering and sentenced to jail for three months. This arrest also proves that the best laid plans of mise and man often go awry because although Soapy had been trying to get arrested before, his motives had now changed and he now planned to get employment and make something out of his life. His plans fail twice.















Works Cited

Henry, O. The Cop and the Anthem. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Form Co, 1971. Print.




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