Can i get the summary of the character of Mr. Behrman in "The Last Leaf"?O. Henry

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Old Behrman" is a sixty-year-old curmudgeon who lives on the ground floor of the "squatty three-story brick apartment building" in which two young aspiring artists, Sue and Johnsy, also dwell.

Mr. Behrman is a failure as a painter because for forty years he has intended to paint a masterpiece but still has not begun. To support himself he sometimes does illustrations for businesses, and he poses as a model for the aspiring artists in Greenwich Village who cannot afford professional models. He is a "fierce little old man" who disparages weakness of character in anyone. Notwithstanding his crusty demeanor, Mr. Behrman has a tender heart for the two girls who live above him. In fact, he "regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above."

When Sue, who has asked him to pose for her, tells Mr. Behrman that her friend Johnsy has become so weak and despondent after contracting pneumonia that she has decided to measure her life by the ivy leaves that fall off a building outside her window, Behrman is incensed: " . . . with his red eyes plainly streaming, [he] shouted his contempt and derision for idiotic imaginings." In his Yiddish accent, he includes Sue in his scoldings:

"Vass!" he cried. "Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not heard of such a thing. . . . Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der brain of her? Ach, dot poor leetle Miss Yohnsy."

But for all his bluster, Behrman has a loving heart. He decries New York as no place for the California girl. When he paints his masterpiece, he declares, they will all go away. In the meantime, he poses for Sue. As Johnsy sleeps, Sue points to the ivy vine that is quickly losing its leaves in the cold winter outside. Behrman and Sue look pointedly at each other.

The next day, it is an apprehensive Sue who pulls up the shade, fearing that the ivy leaves have all fallen. But, there is "one lonely ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall." It is enough to encourage Johnsy to fight for her life and get well. When the doctor visits, he tells Sue that Johnsy will recover with good nursing. The next day he declares Johnsy out of danger. Sadly, however, Mr. Behrman has died of pneumonia. The janitor found him the day after he posed; he was soaked and helpless with pain. It was too late for the loving old artist, who finally painted his "masterpiece" that saved Johnsy's life by inspiring her to live with his painted leaf.

lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Behrman was a crusty old painter who lived on the ground floor in the same building as Johnsy and Sue.

“He was past sixty and had a Michelangelo’s Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along the body of an imp.”

Behrman was a “failure as a painter” – one of those artists who was always going to paint his masterpiece, but never quite got it done. He now earned his living by modeling for other art students. He drank too much gin. But, he was

“a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff--in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.”

When Behrman heard that Johnsy was planning to die as soon as the last leaf fell, he scoffed. Unknown to Sue and Johnsy, however, Behrman snuck out and painted his final masterpiece – a leaf. Johnsy watched the last leaf, day after day, but it never fell. She finally realizes that someone was sending her a message, get up, get going, get out of your funk. She decides to do this when lo and behold, the girls find out that Old Behrman has contracted pneumonia and has died. How did he get it? Being out in the cold, painting the last leaf.