The Last Leaf
By O. Henry
About the Author
William Sydney Porter better known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American short story writer. His stories are known for their surprise endings. He was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. When William was three, his mother died after giving birth to her third child, and he and his father moved into the home of his paternal grandmother.
As a young bachelor, Porter led an active social life in Austin. He was known for his wit, story-telling and musical talents. He played both the guitar and mandolin.
Porter met and began courting Athol Estes, 17 years old and from a wealthy family. Her mother objected to the match because Athol was suffering from tuberculosis. On July 1, 1887, Porter eloped with Athol and were married in the Central Presbyterian Church. The couple continued to participate in musical and theater groups, and Athol encouraged her husband to pursue his writing. Athol Estes Porter died from tuberculosis on July 25, 1897.
Porter married again in 1907 to his childhood sweetheart Sarah (Sallie) Lindsey Coleman. Sarah was herself a writer.
Porter was a heavy drinker, and by 1908, his deteriorating health affected his writing. In 1909, Sarah left him, and he died of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes, and an enlarged heart on June 5, 1910. After funeral services in New York City, he was buried in the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.
Text & Image Reference: en.wikipedia.org
‘The Last Leaf’ is a sentimental story depicting the virtue of human love and sacrifice. Two young artists, Johnsy and Sue, share an apartment. Johnsy contracts pneumonia, and she loses hope for life. She says that she will die when the last leaf on the vine outside falls. Mr. Behrman, one of their neighbours, hears about this fancy of Johnsy. He paints a leaf on the wall outside the night it was raining hard, to give her hope. He catches cold and dies of pneumonia the next day. Thus he sacrifices his life to save Johnsy.
Johnsy and Sue were two young artists. They had met at a restaurant and became soul-mate friends. They shared a small room on the third floor of an old house in Greenwich Village. Johnsy fell ill in November. She had pneumonia. Sue sent for a doctor. The doctor declared that Johnsy had lost the will to live. No medicine could help her. There was an ivy creeper outside the window. Its leaves were falling. Johnsy had a fancy that she would die when the last leaf on the ivy creeper fell. She had linked her life with the last leaf of the creeper. She began to think that she would die with the fall of the last leaf. Her condition deteriorated each day. Being worried, Sue wanted to help her. She tried her best to revive Johnsy’s interest in life but failed. Sue told about this fancy of Johnsy to Behrman who lived downstairs. He was not a successful artist but he always desired for painting a masterpiece. When he learnt about the fanciful idea of Johnsy, he decided to help her. He went out in the heavy rains the night the last leaf fell. He painted the last leaf so carefully and accurately to make it look original and helped Johnsy recover from her wicked thought of death. When Johnsy saw that the last leaf on the ivy climber on the opposite wall had not fallen even in the rainstorm, she was somehow filled with the desire to heal and get well. She improved and regained faith in her life. Sue told Johnsy all about Behrman who sacrificed his life for saving her. Behrman died of pneumonia the next day. Thus Behrman made a supreme sacrifice to save the life of Johnsy.
Q. What is Johnsy’s illness? What can cure her, the medicine or the willingness to live?
Ans. Johnsy was suffering from pneumonia. Only the willingness to live could cure her. She had made up her mind that she was not going to get well. The doctor said that if she did not want to live, medicines would not help her.
Q. Do you think the feeling of depression Johnsy has, is common among teenagers?
Ans. Yes, I think the feeling of depression Johnsy has, is very common among teenagers. Teenagers are full of energy. Because of hormonal changes going in the body they do experience mood swings. Because of the present lifestyle, teenagers are also under constant pressure to outperform in every field. They are burdened with studies and the anxiety of future. They are also subjected to a lot of parental and peer pressure. Along with all this, they are also expected to behave in a certain manner by the society. Most of the times, they are unable to bear so much of stress and end up being depressed. Therefore, teenagers should inculcate positive values like optimism, strong will-power, and faith through meditation and regular exercise in order to enjoy the blessings of a sound mind in a sound body.
Q. Behrman has a dream. What is it? Does it come true?
Ans. Behrman always dreamt of creating a masterpiece. His dream comes true because the painting of leaf he made helped save Johnsy’s life.
Q. What is Behrman’s masterpiece? What makes Sue say so?
Ans. Berhman’s masterpiece was the last leaf on the ivy creeper. Sue calls it masterpiece because this painting rekindled the willingness to survive in Johnsy’s heart and she was able to recover from her illness. Johnsy thought that she would die when the last leaf fell from the ivy creeper. But Berhman spent an entire night in a heavy storm to paint a fresh green leaf. He suffered from pneumonia and died the next day. However, on seeing that leaf Johnsy thought it was real and got a feeling of self-belief. She realized she could get well if she wanted to and came out of her illness.
Long Answer Type Questions
Q. How did Behrman save Johnsy’s life?
Ans. Johnsy’s illness was serious but could be cured if she had the will to live. Her falling health was more due to her state of depression than pneumonia. The sixty-year-old painter Behrman took upon himself the difficult responsibility of saving Johnsy. He made a single-handed effort to brave the icy winds and rain to reach the window by climbing a ladder and finally paint a fresh and green leaf that looked natural and real. The readiness with which he gave up his life shows art unparalleled commitment to talent. He painted the leaf with such passion that it revived the sinking breath of Johnsy. He thus saved Johnsy’s life by sacrificing his own.
Q. Sue is a true and faithful friend. Comment.
Ans. Sue displays the virtues of a true and faithful friend. She and Johnsy were young artist friends who shared a small flat. When Johnsy fell ill, Sue did not spare any effort to nurse her back to health. She exhibited the values of sincerity and commitment to her friend by calling the doctor who would visit them daily to review Johnsy’s condition. She tried to lift Johnsy’s spirits by talking cheerfully to her and thus exemplifying the value of unwavering support to a depressed friend.
She would sit beside Johnsy’s bed and paint so that she could earn for herself and Johnsy. She comforted Johnsy and dealt with her cranky behaviour very patiently. With her cheerful disposition and her optimism, she tried her best to reassure Johnsy that the old ivy leaves had nothing to do with her illness. Sensing the seriousness of Johnsy’s health and her state of mind, she at once sought Behrman’s help. Thus, Sue proves to be a compassionate human being and a true friend.
Q. Write a character sketch of Behrman.
Ans. Behrman is a 60 years old painter. He lived on the ground floor of the house where Sue and Johnsy lived. He had a lifelong dream to paint a masterpiece. Sue told him about the condition of Johnsy. Johnsy felt that she would die, once the last leaf fell from the ivy creeper. Behrman thought of a plan to save Johnsy. He went out in the rainy and stormy night and painted a picture of a leaf on the ivy. Johnsy saw the leaf the next morning and got back her will to live. But Behrman died of pneumonia because he had been out all night in the cold. Thus Behrman made the supreme sacrifice of giving up his life for the sake of another person. He was a great soul. In this process, he achieved his ambition of painting a masterpiece.
Q. Write a character sketch of Johnsy.
Ans. Johnsy was a young artist who lived with her friend Sue. She fell ill very seriously and had pneumonia. She had the fancy idea that she would die once the last leaf on the ivy creeper, outside her window, would fall down. The leaves were falling down very fast as the weather was stormy. Only one leaf remained. She felt that the last leaf will fall in the night and she would die. But Behrman went out in the cold night and painted a leaf on the wall. Johnsy saw this leaf the next morning and got back her will to live. But her foolish attitudes lead to the death of Behrman. She was a weak-hearted woman.