The Last Leaf by O’ Henry (William Sydney Porter)

 Notes by Sreekumar K

The Last Leaf is a typical O’ Henry story with its unmistakable twist at the end. It is the story of Behrman’s supreme sacrifice in order to save the life of a girl told through the eyes of her friend.

Sue and Johnsy, two artists live on the second floor of an old building in a small town outside Paris. They are unsuccessful as artists, like most of the others who live there. Behrman is one of them.

Behrman is a rude, old man who has failed as an artist. He makes a living as a sign board painter and posing as a model to other artists. He does not like to see softness in people and is drunk most of the time. In spite of all this, he is affectionate towards the girls and is very protective of them. He tells them that some day he would paint a masterpiece.

When the story begins the small town has an epidemic of pneumonia. Johnsy gets laid up with it. The doctor is of opinion that she herself has no will to live and so the medicine can’t be of much help.

One day Sue notices Johnsy counting something. Johnsy tells her that she is counting the leaves left on the ivy tree outside her window. She believes that when the last leaf falls off she too will die. It is winter and the leaves are falling off pretty fast.

One day old Behrman comes up to pose as an old miner for Sue and sees Johnsy’s condition. He is very upset about Sue’s fancy about the leaves and shouts at both of them.

Only a couple of leaves are left on the ivy and then one night only one is left. Everyone is sure that it too will wither that night. But surprisingly it stays up on the tree, braving the bad weather. The next morning, seeing this, Johnsy feels bad about her fancy. She thinks that it was sinful to think of death. She starts taking her medicines and food properly and in a couple of days gets out of danger, according to the doctor. The doctor then goes to see Behrman downstairs.

Behrman dies after two days and no one knows how he got sick. The night the last leaf fell off, Behrman went up the tree and painted a leaf, daring the bad weather. This was the leaf that they all were looking at. No wonder it never wavered in the wind. This was how he got sick.

Thus Behrman had his wish granted. The last leaf he painted became his masterpiece, making him familiar to millions of readers.


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