The Last Leaf

by O. Henry

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What is the significance of the title "The Last Leaf"?

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The title "The Last Leaf" is significant as it symbolizes hope and resilience. Johnsy, the protagonist, who is ill and losing hope, is inspired by the last leaf on a vine that persists despite harsh weather. This stubborn leaf becomes a metaphor for her own survival. She resolves to fight her illness just as the leaf clings to life. Ironically, the leaf is a painting by artist Old Behrman, who dies after creating this life-saving masterpiece in a storm.

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I believe that the title most accurately reflects the main idea of the story, which is the fact that Johnsy, the main focus of the story, who was desperately ill and close to death was inspired to live by, what she believed, was the last leaf on an old vine.  

She had given up all hope of living and the last leaf's stubborn persistence became a symbolic image for her own survival. If the fragile leaf could endure whatever nature threw at it, she would be able to do so as well. When she saw that the leaf was clinging to life, she decided to do the same and that is what saved her. 

It does not matter that the leaf was not real, for she did not know that. Johnsy had been counting the leaves on the ivy, noticing that they were all disappearing fast. She told Sue:

"...When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that for three days. Didn't the doctor tell you?"

The fate of the last leaf, therefore, became inseparably intertwined with hers. She emphatically believed that if it went, she had to go too, as she tells Sue:

"...I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I'll go, too."

When the leaf refused to fall, she decided to fight just as hard to survive as it did, as she tells Susie:

"Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die..."

The situation is dramatically ironic since the leaf was no leaf at all but a masterful painting of one. The artist, Old Behrman, cared so much for Johnsy that he went out into the storm and painted the leaf against the wall, once the real one had actually fluttered off. This, in effect, became his triumphant masterpiece. His work of art saved another's life.

However, this act of kindness came at a great price, for the frail old man contracted pneumonia for being out in the terribly cold and wet weather and died soon after. This, in itself, makes the title even more fitting because Old Behrman's last painting of a 'last leaf' had been his greatest and best.  

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I will talk a bit about why I think the story has this title.

The title implies that the most important thing about the story is the leaf.  On the one hand, this makes sense because it is the leaves that make Johnsy think she is going to die and it is the last leaf (as painted by the old man) that makes her live.

On the other hand, it seems like the title downplays the role of the human beings in the story.  After all, it is really Johnsy's mind and Behrman's insight and kindness that make the story happen.  It seems like maybe the title should have reflected that.

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In "The Last Leaf" what does the last leaf symbolize?

Even in real life when we see a single leaf or a few green leaves clinging to a tree late in the year when all the other leaves have fallen, we cannot help admiring the survivor or survivors for their courage and tenacity. They seem to be like humans who are standing up to all the hardships and painful blows that life inflicts on all of us. The last leaf in O. Henry's story can probably best be described as a symbol of fortitude. Other adjectives might be "bravery," "tenacity," and "determination," but the word "fortitude" seems to suggest all of these things and more. When Johnsy sees that the last leaf has survived for another whole night after she was sure it would finally have to let go of its hold on life, she experiences the encouragement which Old Behrman sacrificed his own life to impart to her. The last leaf was his masterpiece. Though it was only a representation of a leaf, he somehow managed to put his own strong will as well as his tender affection into his creation. Johnsy only experiences the emotions she does because Behrman put those emotions into his last work.

“I've been a bad girl, Sudie,” said Johnsy. “Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it, and—no; bring me a hand-mirror first, and then pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook.”

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Explain the significance of the title "The Last Leaf."

The title refers to the last leaf growing on a vine outside of the window of Johnsy and Sue's apartment in Greenwich Village. This leaf is important because Johnsy has pneumonia and has convinced herself that when this last leaf falls from the vine she will die.

Luckily, however, this leaf lingers on, giving Johnsy time to recover. Later, Sue discovers that the elderly painter Behrman, who lives in their building, painted this last leaf. He did it so expertly that it looked exactly like a real leaf and fooled Johnsy into staying alive. In fact, it is the masterpiece he had so long wanted to paint.

However, it is also the last leaf in the sense that it is the last thing Old Behrman ever painted. He contracts pneumonia being out in the bad weather painting the leaf and dies.

The last leaf saves Johnsy life and kills Behrman, but also rewards Behrman by becoming his masterpiece.

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What is "The Last Leaf" about?

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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