Mar 19th, 2004, 04:04 PM
The Life Which Was Meant to Be
Making life goals for one’s self is never easy, and if the decision on one isn’t made then the risk running into a dead end with no decisions, at all, increases. If life leads a person in one direction, would opposing it be to deny fate (assuming there is such a thing), or would it be ambition fueling a focused agenda? Some believe that there are only two paths to walk in life: one is the right path which is what a person was always meant to do with that person’s life, and other being the wrong path which is every other path that isn’t the right one. How does everyone manage to figure out what they are best at in this world, and then apply it into a benefit for the community after discovered? In O’ Henry’s “The Cop and the Anthem” we become familiar with a man who is one of the few (in comparison) out there who never made the right choice, and followed the wrong star, resulting in a life of destitution. But through the story we find that, in an effort to help this particular man realize he doesn’t have to and shouldn’t continue this bleak standard of living, the prosperous life he could have lived, is reaching out to him and trying to prevent his current life’s progress through repeated encumbering every attempt at achieving his immediate goal. Soapy, as the narrator refers to the man, is faced with a dilemma of survival: how and were should he set out for lodging arrangements before the icy bite of winter? This is his adventure in the metropolitan jungle.
From observing soapy at any point in the story, we are given the impression that he is a man of culture; despite his current “career” in practice, he still carries with him a sense of dignity. For example: he refuses any form of charity believing that “If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hand of philanthropy.” (121) He isn’t willing to give away his dignity for a simple loaf of bread. Another thing to notice is how he maintains a very proper demeanor when addressing others, one of the best examples was in the restaurant when Soapy was speaking to the waiter after revealing he didn’t have the money to pay for the meal he just finished where he suggests “Now, get busy and call a cop…. And don’t keep a gentleman waiting.” (123) But even more significant was the remarkably vast vocabulary of the waiter when he responded with “No cop for youse,” (123) which actually suggests that the poor, homeless, and alone Soapy is much more civilized than the average working-class blue collar citizens of this city – a glaring sign that Soapy definitely doesn’t belong on the current rung of the social ladder on which he lingers.
And the City! Through Soapy’s quest to find a ride to his “hotel o isolation,” he interacts with many, completely different sides to the residents who reside in the grounds where he is hunting for the key to his cell, which is inevitably all in vain. Each time he got within the (apparently) slow, clumsy reach of the law, something would take that opportunity from him. And each time, that very something represents the respectable life he could have lived, and is now “saving” him from this life of finding temporary solutions to problems, like the current limited vacancy over at the jail. Take the scene where he throws a rock through a window and waits for the cop to come by and start questioning him, as to which Soapy says “Don’t you have had figured that I may have something to do with it?” (123) The police officer shrugged this off though knowing that the culprit would most surely take off running, when not surprisingly, the dim-witted officer bolted away after the first person he notices running. But if you care to notice, the element that kept out friend Soapy from getting arrested here was the fact that he pretty much came out an open immediately, which any ‘honest’ citizen would practice. ‘Honesty’ just happened to be one of the things missing in his life, among other key things, that a satisfying life would most likely provide. Through the rest of the city he is kept from his prize by various things including: a relationship with a woman represented by the woman who succumbed to his sexually harassing advances, good citizenship (doing your little bit for the law) represented by the incident where he caught a man with a swiped umbrella which ironically Soapy was trying to lift from him, frugality and a conservative nature was represented by when he couldn’t get into the fancy expensive restaurant so he was forced to go to the much cheaper, much more filling smaller restaurant, which took care of him as a “dine ’n’ dasher” themselves, whereas the expensive place would have most certainly had him arrested in no time. But out of all the factors that foil his plans to land on the “Go Directly to Jail” space (him willing enough not to pass GO and collect $200), one of them that I found among the more amusing was a college education. Hoping to get taken in with “disorderly conduct” charges, “Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice…. [the policeman] turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen. ‘’Tis one of them Yale lads celibratin’ the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We’ve instructions to leave them be.’” (124) Now of course, out of all the things that is important for a productive adult life, a proper education would be among the first things that should come to mind. And using its powerful University influence, the mighty education crushes even more of the staggering hopes Soapy still had of going to Blackwell’s Island.
By now it should be quite obvious that something made it in their best interest to prevent Soapy from achieving even the smallest about of satisfaction from this root canal of a day. Whether it be God, the spiritual representation of a lost alternative life, Alf, just Sydney Porter, or even Soap subconsciously sabotaging himself from the inevitable craving of something more… this 10 step program actually worked, but not quite the way that was expected. Not until he had completely given up and accepted his seemingly inevitable fate of spending this winter on his bench in the park did he stumble onto some church organ music caused him to reminiscence about the life he once was going to lead, only then did he realize he could still “resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering.” By putting this in, the writer gave the reader some, somewhat unexpected hope, which was rightly due.
Now I know, I know, “What about the wham bam kablouie shocker of an ironic ending?” we all are saying to ourselves. And that is what I couldn’t figure out, other than ending it just for an uproarious reaction of laughter, I just could not work out what the writer’s meaning behind it was. Perhaps it was that popular, pessimistic cliché that life is just one crushing defeat after another. You also could look at it in a positive sense, and then the meaning could be that perseverance is the key to any victory. Or the simple meaning could be that the universe just hates our beloved Soapy, period. On the other hand, we could ignore the ending and go back to that “you’re living the wrong life” thing I had going on.