The Last Leaf

by O. Henry

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How could the character Sue from "The Last Leaf" be described?

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Sue from "The Last Leaf" could be described as a strong, resourceful character, who loves her friend dearly and rises to the occasion in a time of crisis.

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In “The Last Leaf,” the protagonist, Sue, is resilient, stern, and strategic. While caring for Johnsy, Sue exhibits these qualities that ultimately save her ill friend’s life.

Despite the doctor’s disheartening prognosis for Johnsy, Sue refuses to give up on her friend’s unlikely recovery.

After the doctor had gone, Sue went into the workroom to cry. Then she walked into Johnsy’s room. She carried some of her painting materials, and she was singing.

She lets herself cry—just not in front of Johnsy. Instead of collapsing in despair or exhibiting any fear, she recomposes herself: she puts on a cheerful front, sings, and strides back into Johnsy’s room with painting supplies. Sue brings along these materials for two possible reasons: to help Johnsy recall a reason for living (i.e., their artistic vocation) and to provide an excuse to stay in her room.

Sue is also stern but caring. When Johnsy says that she will die when the last leaf on a tree branch outside her window falls, Sue gently scolds her:

Oh, I never heard of such a thing…It doesn’t have any sense in it. What does an old tree have to do with you? Or with your getting well? And you used to love that tree so much. Don’t be a little fool.

Although words like “never heard,” “doesn’t have any sense,” and “fool” may seem condescending, they actually inject a bit of levity into the morbid prediction. Sue points out the lack of logic in Johnsy’s thoughts and tries to prevent her from failing further into an abyss of depression.

Sue continues giving Johnsy “tough love” by not indulging in her friend’s bleak and self-pitying mood. Instead, she delivers a white lie and orders her to get nourishment.

The doctor told me your chances for getting well. He told me this morning. He said you had very good chances! Try to eat a little now. And then I’ll go back to work.

In fact, Sue is quite strategic and persistent in plotting their future actions: she plans to finish her painting, sell it, and then use her earnings to purchase more food for Johnsy to eat and regain strength. Despite Johnsy’s resistance, Sue insists on staying in Johnsy’s room with the window coverings for adequate lighting to complete her painting. This move not only provides Sue an excuse to stay with Johnsy, but it also forces Johnsy to close her eyes and stop staring at (and brooding on) the falling leaves.

Sue’s resilience and persistence are evident as she manages to complete her painting under much stress:

She worked through most of the night. In the morning, after an hour’s sleep, she went to Johnsy’s bedside.

Despite having slept so little herself, she still checks on her friend. Overall, Sue is a true caregiver. Even the doctor compliments her on Johnsy’s surprising recovery by saying, “She’s safe. You have done it.”

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Sue is a very strong and caring woman, who does everything she can to save the life of her good friend Johnsy. Once the doctor has given her the bad news that Johnsy's suffering from an acute case of pneumonia, Sue does everything possible to make sure that her friend is comfortable during her potentially fatal illness.

Many people in Sue's situation would've gone to pieces, but her remarkable strength ensures that she's able to stand firm in the middle of adversity. Sue shows her strength by keeping up a facade of normality, going about her business pretty much as before, doing sketches for a magazine story. This shows that Sue, despite the very real chance that her friend might die, is able to remain switched on.

Yes, she's devastated over Johnsy's condition, and she's shed more than her fair share of tears over it, but she still has to remain focused on making a living. With Johnsy seriously ill, it's all the more imperative that Sue works hard to support them both. There was no system of welfare in those days, and so without the money that Sue earns from her work, she and Johnsy would've been in dire straits, to say the least.

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Sue is a strong and resourceful person who feels deeply and puts others' needs ahead of her own.

Sue loves Johnsy, her roommate. When the doctor tells her that Johnsy's chances of surviving pneumonia are not good, Sue goes off and cries a napkin "to a pulp," meaning that she sheds a lot of tears. But she then puts on a brave face for Johnsy, "whistling ragtime" as if she is in a cheerful mood for her friend's sake.

She also keeps on working on her illustrations for a magazine as her friend sleeps, showing that she is the type of person who doesn't fall apart in a time of crisis. In the same spirit, she does her best to remain upbeat when Johnsy is awake.

Sue shows her resourcefulness and her wisdom by not carrying her burden alone, but by sharing her fears about Johnsy with her painter neighbor, old Behrman. She is a good judge of character in turning to Behrman, who is kind-hearted under his gruff exterior.

Sue is also a faithful and affection nurse. Johnsy leans on her strength of character as well as her physical health as she gets well. Overall, Sue is admirable, exemplary woman, and she is the kind of person who is a source of strength in a time of crisis.

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Sue is the pivotal and viewpoint character in O. Henry's story "The Last Leaf." She interacts with the other three characters, Johnsy, the doctor, and Old Behrman. She is also working for a magazine editor who may or may not accept her sketches and pay her the money she badly needs to survive. Sue is a struggling artist like Johnsy, but Sue is apparently more aggressive and more competent than her friend. Sue is a go-getter. She is spunky, aggressive--the kind of person who is likely to survive in New York and ever prosper. She loves her friend Johnsy, but she also depends on her for companionship and moral support. She wants Johnsy to survive because she loves her and also because Johnsy is the only friend Sue has in this big, cold, competitive city. Sue handles both the doctor and Old Berhman while nursing Johnsy herself and doing sketches for a magazine story.

It should be noted that when Old Behrman sacrifices his life to paint the last leaf on the wall of the adjacent building, he is not only doing it for Johnsy but for Sue. He is doing it to try to save Johnsy, but he is also doing it because he cares as much about Sue, who cares so much about Johnsy. If Johnsy were to die, that would not be the end of Sue's story. Sue would have to live on, and her life would be different--lonelier and much harder without her friend.

Sue is actually pretty bold to have come all the way from Maine to New York City by herself in those days. Her strong, independent nature is evident throughout the story; whereas Johnsy's passive, dependent nature is also evident. Johnsy needs help from Sue, the doctor, and Old Behrman. Sue has nobody to help her, but she is capable of looking out for herself and even looking out for Johnsy. Sue is courageous. She maintains a cheerful, optimistic attitude in spite of the fact that she is afraid for her friend and afraid for her own future.

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