The Last Leaf

by O. Henry
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The Last Leaf Conflict

What are the conflicts in "The Last Leaf" by O. Henry?

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There are both internal and external conflicts in O. Henry's story "The Last Leaf."

External conflicts: These are conflicts between characters and external forces. 

  • Johnsy, who is from California, contracts pneumonia from the bitterly cold winter of New York:

Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer.

  • Old Behrman, a curmudgeon who lives below Johnsy and Sue, is very upset when Sue comes to ask him to pose because she informs him that Johnsy is giving up her fight to overcome pneumonia. Behrman becomes so angry that Johnsy is counting the ivy leaves that he tells Sue,

"Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs day drop off from a confounded vine?"

  • Further, Behrman refuses to model for Sue—"No I will not bose as a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead"—and he scolds Sue for letting Johnsy despair, "Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der brain of her?"
  • Another external conflict that Mr. Behrman experiences involves his struggle to paint the ivy on the wall opposite Johnsy's window in order to make her think that the last leaf has not fallen, a leaf that can perhaps restore Johnsy's spirit.

Internal conflicts: These are struggles within a character.

  • Johnsy wants to die when the last leaf falls; she does not feel that she can overcome pneumonia, but she tells Sue that if the last leaf hangs on, she, too, will persevere.
  • Sue is worried about her friend Johnsy, who wants to die when the last leaf falls outside her window.
  • Mr. Behrman is very upset that Johnsy wants to give up on life. He struggles to think of a way to save her.
  • Behrman also struggles to fight the winter storm as he paints.
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The main conflict in the story is less of a conflict between characters, and more the suspense created through Johnsy's declaration that as soon as the last leaf falls off of the vine, she too will fall away, fade, and die.  She states ominously, "When the last one falls I must go, too."  So, the main conflict is the tension created as we wait, and wait, and wait to see what that leaf is going to do.  Other minor conflicts occur as we first find out that Johnsy is sick, and as she continues to get worse.  Sue insists that she will get better, and Johnsy is more morbid in her opinion of the matter, so there is conflict between the two on that issue.  When Behrmen enters the scene, there is a bit of conflict as he, after Sue tells him of Johny's declaration, expresses his disdain for the silly fancies of women.

I have included a link below to the story itself; I recommend reading it if you haven't already.  It is short and entertaining.  Good luck!

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