The story is about two young women artists, Sue and Johnsy, who live together in Greenwich Village in NYC. Johnsy is sick with pneumonia. She believes that as soon as all the leaves die that she can see outside of her window, then she will die as well. She counts the leaves every day as they fall, but one remains, even after all the others die off. Johnsy keeps watching that "last leaf" but it never falls off the tree. She finally becomes convinced that she has been selfish and morose waiting for her own death, and decides to suck it up and get better. If that little leaf could hold on for so long, so could she.
The irony of the story is that the last leaf was painted on the window by Mr. Behrman, an old artist and a friend of the girls. Mr. Behrman climbed up on a ladder and painted the leaf in the cold and rain and caught pneumonia himself and died.
The leaf is a symbol of despair that turns into a symbol of hope. Johnsy thinks the ivy leaf stands for her life, slowly falling away. When the leaf remains, however, it becomes a symbol of hope for her. If the ivy leaf can hang on, so can she. There are some other symbols - Mr. Behrman, for examples smells like "juniper berries". This is what gin is made from so he is most likely an alcoholic. The window shade could be a symbol...........I'll let you figure that one out. What do you think it stands for? Johnsy is always asking Sue to open it up, so she can see the leaves. Sue does not want to do so because she fears that all the leaves will be gone..................what do you think?