This short story entitled The Last Leaf, was written by O. Henry (pseudonym for the American writer William Sydney Porter). It deals with the story of Sue, Johnsy and Old Behrman, three artists living in a drab district of New York City at the beginning of the twentieth century. One day, Johnsy gets sick with Pneumonia and makes it clear she won’t fight death. After the analysis of this short story, how can the end be interpreted?
The story begins with a description of the area where the three protagonists live. It is depicted as an unwelcoming place: “There was only a bear, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away. […] its skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.” However, the cohabitation between Sue and Johnsy seems truly merry until the latter became infected with Pneumonia. After a medical visit, we find out that Johnsy has decided she will not get well and had persuaded herself that her life will end with the fall of the last leave of an ivy vine, located on a yard near her window. Sue attempts by any means to divert her mind from the window and ends up telling this story to their strange neighbor Behrman. The old man is described as “a failure in art” who “had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it.” is in fact the key to the whole story.
We know that Johnsy’s wish to live starts to revive when the women find out the last ivy leaf have survived the rain and wind of the night. Johnsy seems to begin to understand her silly behavior, stating that “It is a sin to want to die”. She even starts thinking of her artistic future, saying that “someday [she] hopes to paint the Bay of Naples”, her masterpiece. Little did she know that she owes her renewed interest in life to Behrman. Indeed, we find out at the end of the story that the old man painted the green leaf, giving the illusion that it had resisted to the hard weather, and doing so, saved Johnsy’s life....
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