What does Johnsy suffer from in “The Last Leaf”?

In “The Last Leaf,” Johnsy suffers from pneumonia.

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In O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf ,” Johnsy is touched by an “old gentleman” named Mr. Pneumonia. According to the omniscient narrator of O. Henry’s short story, this man came into Sue and Johnsy’s New York City neighborhood and started to touch people with his “icy...

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In O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf,” Johnsy is touched by an “old gentleman” named Mr. Pneumonia. According to the omniscient narrator of O. Henry’s short story, this man came into Sue and Johnsy’s New York City neighborhood and started to touch people with his “icy fingers.” One of the people that he touched was Johnsy. Mr. Pneumonia appears to be O. Henry’s fanciful way of saying that Johnsy contracted pneumonia. Mr. Pneumonia seems to be a personification of the contagion that infects people’s lungs. The side effects of pneumonia vary, but it can often be fatal.

According to Johnsy, she’s not suffering from pneumonia. Johnsy connects her failing health to the falling leaves. Johnsy meticulously tracks the number of leaves that have fallen outside her window. When the last one falls, Johnsy will die. Johnsy’s roommate and friend, Sue, thinks Johnsy is off her rocker. “What does an old tree have to do with you?” she asks Johnsy.

Johnsy remains adamant that her life will end once the last leaf falls. Thankfully, a painter named Behrman enters the story. Behrman lives in the same building as Johnsy and Sue. He’s been painting for forty years. None of his paintings are that great. To save Johnsy, Behrman paints a leaf on the wall outside her window. As this leaf can’t fall, Johnsy can’t die. Unfortunately, Behrman’s efforts to save Johnsy cause him to suffer from pneumonia. Unlike Johnsy, Behrman dies from pneumonia.

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