How does the poem "The Last Leaf" develop themes of self-sacrifice and hope?

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This poem gradually leads up to themes of self-sacrifice and hope, which it reveals in the last stanza in a rather roundabout and unexpected way. Before it gets there, the speaker tells us all about the tragedy of the old man who stands before him, only to flip the tone...

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This poem gradually leads up to themes of self-sacrifice and hope, which it reveals in the last stanza in a rather roundabout and unexpected way. Before it gets there, the speaker tells us all about the tragedy of the old man who stands before him, only to flip the tone and message of the poem at the very end. After lamenting the man's deceased friends and frail body, the former glory of his youth and the plainness of his old age, the speaker acknowledges that he "knows it is a sin / . . . to sit and grin / at him" (lines 37–39). However, even though he knows he should not laugh at the man just for being elderly, he decides to commit to a future self-sacrifice when he says, "And if I should live to be / The last leaf upon the tree . . . / Let them smile as I do now" (43–44, 46). This peculiar point of view essentially conveys that the speakers thinks it is okay to laugh at the elderly now because when he himself is elderly, he hopes others can laugh at him in the same way. Thus, he sacrifices his own pride in advance; his hope lies in wishing to provide the same joy for future passersby who will find humor in the agedness he will one day display.

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