The Last Leaf Summary

What is the plot summary of "The Last Leaf"?

In "The Last Leaf," two artists, Johnsy and Sue, share an apartment. Johnsy contracts pneumonia and loses hope, deciding to die when the last leaf on the vine outside her window falls. Mr. Behrman, one of their neighbors, hears about this and secretly paints a leaf on the wall outside the window. Since it's painted on, the leaf will never fall, ensuring that Johnsy never gives up. Mr. Behrman dies of pneumonia after painting outside in the cold.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Last Leaf," an artist named Johnsy lives with her friend Sue in an apartment in New York City's Greenwich Village. Johnsy contracts pneumonia. The doctor treating Johnsy says her chances of survival will be greater if she believes she will get well. However, Johnsy is convinced she will die when the last leaf falls from the vine she can see growing on the wall outside her window.

Miraculously, the last leaf hangs on and hangs on without falling. This gives Johnsy renewed hope and allows her time to recover. Later, Sue and Johnsy learn that Mr. Behrman, the painter in their building to whom Sue had confided her distress, painted a leaf on the wall so realistic that it fooled everyone. Mr. Behrman is an older man who has never had success as an artist. The leaf is his masterpiece.

In a typical twist of O'Henry irony, Mr. Behrman went out in the cold and rain to paint the leaf, which causes him to die of pneumonia. His act of painting the leaf so Johnsy could live leads to his own death. The title, therefore, refers not only to painted leaf on the wall as the last leaf but to the last leaf, or page, in Mr. Behrman's life: one which ends on a high note of sacrificing himself for another.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This beautifully inspirational tale deals with unselfish sacrifice - how one man was prepared to sacrifice his own well-being and use his talent to save the life of another.

Two artists, Johanna (Johnsy) and Sue share an apartment in an artists' community which is soon invaded by a malicious disease which spreads its deadly influence, mowing down many members in this struggling but auspicious society. Johnsy is infected and soon gives up hope for survival. She pins her destiny to the survival of one last leaf on a vine which she perceives through her window whilst lying in bed.

The attending physician informs Sue that Johnsy's chance for survival is limited unless she has something to hope for. Sue informs Mr Behrman, an old fellow artist, who is their downstairs-neighbour, about this and he is annoyed that Johnsy has such little hope. He is aware of her wish to die when the last leaf falls.

The next morning, after a vicious storm, Johnsy sees the last remaining leaf still clinging to life. She decides that she wants to continue living: there must be a reason that the leaf has refused to die, and it is a sin to want to die. Johnsy recovers from her illness.

Sue informs her some time later that Mr Behrman had died of pneumonia and the medics had found a burning lamp, a ladder and a palette containing a mixture of colours similar to that of a leaf, next to his completely wet, collapsed body. He had contracted pneumonia and expired due to his frail condition.

It becomes pertinently clear that Mr Behrman had finally painted his long-promised masterpiece - the leaf which saved Johnsy's life, sacrificing his in the process.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Two painters, Johnsy and Sue live together in Greenwich Village. They young painters and work hard on their paintings. With winter quickly approaching, Johnsy get pneumonia and becomes very ill. She thinks she is dying. She looks out her window and decides that when the last leaf falls from the vine growing, she will die.

Behrman is an old man who lives in the apartment building with Johnsy and Sue. He hears about what has happened to Johnsy and decides to help. He is a gruff man, and no one thinks much about him. He hasn't worked on his own painting in over 40 years, but paints a vine with a leaf on it. He puts it out side of Johnsy's window and she sees the leaf is still there. Behrman catches pneumonia and dies shortly after finishing his painting. The leaf that he has painted saves Johnsy's life.

The entire story deals with the idea of how we treat other people. We are so quick to judge other people, that we never take the time to really look inside someone. That is fault that we all need to get over, and we might just see someone who is lonely and in need of care.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Two women live in Greenwich Villlage and decide to share a studio apartment. Pneumonia is threatening their artist colony.Johnsy is near death and lying in bed. She's waiting for the last leaf to fall off of an ivy vine. She can see it through her window.

Johnsy says,"I’m tired of thinking," "I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves".

The man who lives in the apt. below ends up helping her. Mr. Behrman is his name. He's a painter but hasn't worked on his own painting in 40 years. This Mr. Behrman is the typical OHenry hero. The last day before he dies he makes a painting and puts it outside her window.This is it : "some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it . . . it’s Behrman’s masterpiece--he painted it [a leaf] there the night that the last leaf fell"(19), Sue tells Johnsy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial