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The Last Leaf Theme

What is the theme or message in the story "The Last Leaf" by O. Henry?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The message that comes through the most powerfully for me is that you should not judge people by their outward appearances or social persona.  In the story, the most gruff character, Behrman, "was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one."  And yet it is Behrman that takes the very "soft", compassionate step of painting the leaf, which in essence, saves Johnsy's life.  In a way, he sacrifices his own to save hers.  So we should not judge people by what image they promote, but instead by their actions, because it is, in the end, actions that truly make an impact.

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user2559428 | Student

its basically friendship and sacrifice along with the power of hope.

user263966 | Student

Friendship has played an important role in the story- The Last Leaf.

When Johnsy contracted pneumonia, Sue had a chance to leave her to her death by abandoning her as both of them were still struggling to earn a living. But she did not do so and took care of her sick friend in every way she could. She worked very hard by illustrating stories in magazines to earn money and to be able to take care of her sick friend.

Also, Sue’s friendship with Johnsy changed to maternal love which is proven by her dialogue- ‘…Try to get some broth now, and let Sudie go back to her drawing, so she can sell the editor man with it, and buy port wine for her SICK CHILD, and pork chops for her greedy self.’

Adding up to this, Sue’s determination to improve her friend’s condition is established by the facts that she reverses what the doctor had said and tells Johnsy that her chances of her getting well ten to one while the doctor had said that she had only one chance in ten. Sue does it only to encourage her friend to not lose faith and fight the disease with all her might.

Never did she complain to Johnsy for being so selfish and not thinking about her and wanting to die. Sue also takes Johnsy’s side when Behrman complains of her having strange philosophies saying that it’s the fever that has left the poor girl’s mind morbid and full of strange fancies.

In the story, the gruffest character, Mr. Behrman, "was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one."  And yet it is Behrman that takes the very compassionate step of painting the last leaf, which in essence, saves Johnsy's life.  While doing so, he catches pneumonia because of spending the night in the rain painting the last leaf which is also considered as his first and last masterpiece as it saved Johnsy’s life. Thus, it can be brought to conclusion that he sacrificed his life to save Johnsy’s as a selfless act. He had always considered himself as ‘especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.’ And he had been true to his words as he loses his life to save Johnsy’s.

Concluding, we can say that friendship and sacrifice has played a vital role throughout the whole story.

akumarloco | Student

we should help others,because for that purpose only we are sent into this earth and we should not leave our hope and confidence in any situation

clarizza | Student

The message in the story is: we have to fight until the last day of our life

ta-maysam | Student

it seems to me that 

Hope is the hero of that story. On one hand, when Johnsy is hopeless, she makes her steps closer to death. However she changes when she finds the leaf. On the other hand, Mr. Behrman dies after he becomes hopeful. However, he dies with success.

The will to live, to survive is another name of the hero. Johnsy has started the countdown to her own death by the use of the falling last leafs of an ivy vine, one could declare that will basically non-existent.

When she was give the hope she had the will and desire to live. She moved from what she wants to see by the naked eye to the unseen truth of life (the power of life) 

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suesan | Student

The message is '' hope''. People have to fight any diploma to live, and the strong weapon is  hope.

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