What is "The Last Leaf" about?

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ajacks | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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“The Last Leaf,” by O. Henry, is the story of two women who live together in an apartment in Greenwich Village in New York around the turn of the twentieth century.  It is a typical O. Henry story about love, loneliness, and sacrifice.

Both women are artists, and one of them, Johnsy (short for Joanna), catches pneumonia and is close to death. She decides that she will give up her struggle to live when the last leaf falls off the vine outside her window.

However, Mr Behrman, their neighbor that lives below them, is also an artist and hears what she decides to do. He paints a picture of the last leaf still hanging on the fine, and one cold, wet night he climbs up a ladder and places his painting right outside the window so that when the two women open the window every day, they think the last leaf is still clinging to the vine, refusing to give up life.  This inspires Johnsy to keep on fighting her pneumonia and eventually she gets better. One day they finally discover that the last leaf is actually a painting, and the real leaf had fallen much earlier.  Also fallen was the artist who painted it, since he was old and caught pneumonia the night he put the picture in front of their window.

 

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