A Cosmopolite in a Cafe is a short story written by O’Henry and published in 1906 which talks about the narrator’s interaction with a cosmopolite named E. Rushmore Coglan. The cosmopolite brags about the places he has been to and the narrator is intrigued by his personality when the cosmopolite tells how he belongs to the world and doesn’t confine his identity to one place but the cosmopolite later picks a fight with his acquaintance who demeans his town leaving the narrator bewildered. The story explores the themes of hypocrisy and cosmopolitan feeling through the characters.
A Cosmopolite in a Cafe | Summary
The narrator sits at “Midnight The Cafe” at a small table with two vacant chairs. The cafe is crowded and so he isolates himself from people’s sight. He encounters a “cosmopolite” named E. Rushmore Coglan, who enters the cafe and sits on one of the vacant chairs.
E.Rushmore Coglan is opening a new attraction in Coney Island. He begins to talk about the places he has traveled. He speaks of latitudes and longitudes, he speaks disrespectfully of the equator and how he moved from one continent to another, how he has been to zones, visited every high sea and various countries, and tasted their traditions.
The narrator is moved by the tales of his adventure. “I was sure that I had at last found the one true cosmopolite since Adam”.
The music band in the café starts playing ‘Dixie’, and a dark-haired young man enthusiastically waves his hat along to the beat of the song. He acknowledges his inclusion in the group with a smile and nod and takes the other vacant chair to take a seat. The narrator turns to this newcomer, as he intends to try to test a theory he has. He asks the man where he belongs to. But Coglan takes offense at this question, visibly upset. He doesn’t like that people are curious about someone’s birthplace. He asks the narrator :
“What does it matter where a man is from? Is it fair to judge a man by his post-office address?”. He has seen people live against the stereotype like “Kentuckians who hate whiskey, Virginians who weren’t descended from Pocahon tas, Indianians who hadn’t written a novel, Mexicans who didn’t wear velvet trousers with silver dollars sewed along the seams, funny Englishmen, spendthrift Yankees, cold-blooded Southern ers, narrow-minded Westerners, and New Yorkers who were too busy to stop for an hour on the street to watch a one-armed grocer’s clerk do up cranberries in paper bags. “.
He starts to brag about his acquaintances around the world and later tells about his opinion on how it will be a better place if we stopped worrying about birthplace. The narrator listens to everything Coglan says and believes Coglan is a genuine Cosmopolite but he feels as if Coglan is against patriotism. The narrator and Coglan have a clash of opinions. Because the narrator feels a man carries a part of his birthplace wherever he goes but Coglan believes one’s identity should not be based on birthplace.
Coglan believes that everyone on this earth is equal and all are brothers and sisters. The universal brotherhood is what keeps people in harmony. The narrator is insistent that Coglan has a special place for his birthplace. He asks Coglan “But while you are wandering in foreign lands,’ I persisted, ‘do not your thoughts revert to some spot – some dear and – ”, Coglan interrupts him and tells him that Earth is his home. He says he has met many people who brag about their hometown but his heart isn’t confined to one single place that he takes pride in.
The cosmopolite excuses himself and leaves as he thinks he saw someone he knows. The narrator is convinced and wonders how the Cosmopolite has gone unnoticed by poets and feels the Cosmopolite is his discovery and he believes everything Coglan has said. He believes that men when born in a place, cling to the place, and the tradition and prefer it over any other place on earth, and the Cosmopolite is an exceptional person.
His thoughts are interrupted when he hears a noise in the street. He sees that in another part of the cafe his Cosmopolite and a stranger have engaged in a battle. They are fighting like titans, the sound of glasses crashing, a woman is screaming and another woman singing ” Teasing”. The waiters stop their fight while they are resisting. The narrator asks a waiter named McCarthy the reason behind the fight and he said the fight ensued because the Cosmopolitan was enraged by the other guy’s remarks on the place Cosmopolitan belonged to, regarding the sidewalks and water supply. The narrator stands bewildered as he believed the Cosmopolitan who considered earth his home and the waiter tells him the Cosmopolitan belonged to Maine and could not tolerate any criticism against his place.
A Cosmopolite in a Cafe | Analysis
‘A Cosmopolite in a Café’ is a comical short story that explains to the readers to some extent E. Rushmore Coglan’s opinions on cosmopolitanism and his hatred for patriotism or sticking to a single identity presenting narrow patriotism when it turns out that it enrages him when anyone criticizes his birthplace.
The story begins in a cafe and ends in a cafe. The narrator sits away from the crowd in the cafe, alone and isolated at a small table with two vacant seats. He doesn’t want to involve himself in any conversation it seems. A man named E. Rushmore Coglan takes one vacant seat and they start a conversation. He talks about his journey throughout the whole world and the various traditions he has seen and experienced. While the man talks about his adventures, this reminds the narrator of a poem written by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling wrote about men who travel to places but hold a special place in their hearts for their hometown and take pride in it.
“Dixie” plays in the cafe, a popular folk song by Americans from Southern states. The narrator notices this music is played very often in New York even though New York does not belong to Dixie. The song makes a dark-haired man dance to its tunes waving his hat. He acknowledges his presence at the narrator’s table and the narrator thinks of testing a theory he has. The question that he asks the man about his belonging offenses Coglan. Coglan puts his opinion on how he believes the world will be a better place with universal brotherhood when people stop caring about their birthplace.
Coglan presents himself as a cosmopolite and considers the world as his home rather than the city he is born in. He brags about his adventures, how he has traveled the whole world twelve times, and how he has acquaintances all over the world who are ready to greet him anytime. He takes pride in considering earth his home and identity. He later excuses himself and leaves as if he sees someone he knows. And later the narrator hears a noise in the street and finds two men fighting. It is the cosmopolite he believed in and another man, who breaks tables and glasses and disrupts peace in the place. The narrator finds out that the fight broke out because the other man criticized Coglan’s hometown.
The story portrays the idea of a true cosmopolite and considering the world a home rather than choosing their birthplace, being a citizen of the world, and not a city, through argument and conversation.
Coglan throughout the story shows how he has seen people live breaking the stereotype. He has talked about stereotypes of various people in North America and how not everyone fulfills the generalizations. In an attempt to prove that he ends up proving everything he said isn’t true. Because he fights with someone who criticized his hometown’s sidewalks and water supply.
Coglan betrays his own opinions. He doesn’t practice what he preaches. He brags about his adventures and gets upset when anyone asks about his birthplace or belongings but he is enraged when one criticizes his birthplace. The narrator was right. He believed everyone took a part of their birthplace wherever they went and could not believe Coglan was different. He kept on insisting on it but is later manipulated by Coglan into thinking Coglan is an exceptional and even wonderful personality who has gone unnoticed by a poet. His train of thought is disturbed when he hears a commotion in the street and realizes everything Coglan had said was a lie. He lied about his whole personality and his actions proved it. It wasn’t the earth’s child who was fighting with the man but the child of his hometown.
A Cosmopolite in a Cafe | Theme
E. Rushmore Coglan meets the narrator at a cafe and starts talking about his adventurous life. He talks about his journey all around the world and the things he has learned, the skills he has adopted, and experienced the culture and traditions of people all around. He bangs the table when is offended by the narrator’s question. He tells how he doesn’t like the question of one’s belonging. He shows his dislike for local pride. One should not take pride in their hometown. He detests the idea and feels that the world could be a better place if people stopped acting like fools for their hometowns. He brags the whole time about how cosmopolitan he is by showing that asserts his identity as a citizen of the earth rather than his hometown, sharing his experiences in various places and the friends that he has made. He babbles about a universal brother and that all are brothers and sisters in the world and there should be no discrimination but moments later after bidding adieu to the narrator he is seen picking a fight with another man. He is furious at the mean remarks made by another guy regarding his hometown. Coglan is revealed to be like everyone else who he detested when their hometown is mentioned.
Coglan is just a hypocrite with a loud mouth who believed he was above the idea of human discrimination or biases.
A Cosmopolite in a Cafe | Characters
Coglan and the Narrator
The story starts with the conversation between Coglan and the narrator. The narrator seems curious regarding his theory on people’s belonging. And Coglan detests the idea. Coglan identifies himself as a Cosmopolite who believes in having citizenship of the world and not a particular place. The narrator did not ask Coglan about his belonging but it was the dark-haired man and Coglan seemed to have interfered. Coglan believed he was above the idea of human bias but he is just a hypocrite. He manipulates the narrator into thinking the narrator made mistake in understanding Coglan and his idea of Cosmopolitan. The narrator doubted the Coglan but eventually believed him, later to realize he is just like any other man who holds their hometown close to their heart and tolerates no criticism.
A Cosmopolite in a Cafe | Title
“A Cosmopolite in a Cafe” was published in 1906. The story follows the typical traditional style of Henry’s writing as it serves the readers with both a humorous tone as well a surprise twist. The story takes place in a cafe named “Midnight The Cafe” where a cosmopolite sat at a vacant seat near the narrator and starts a conversation.
The story is ironic in its way because the man who brags about his adventures and takes pride in being a cosmopolite turns out to be a pretentious man and a hypocrite. His opinions on Universal brotherhood, equality, having citizenship of the world rather than of one’s hometown, and discrimination mean nothing because at the end of the story he forgets his values and picks a fight with another guy in the cafe who criticizes his hometown.
The title is ironic because E. Rushmore Coglan isn’t the Cosmopolite the narrator thinks him to be and Coglan pretends and brags to be.
About the Author
William Sydney Porter pen named O’ Henry is one of the legendary American writers famous for his brief genre. His works are well known for their humorous tone, wit, warm characterization, and twists at the end. “A Cosmopolite in a Cafe” is one of the famous stories that has Henry’s wit, humor, and a surprise ending.