How The Short Story "The Last Leaf" Taught Us The Theme Of Self Sacrifice

Niyati Jaiswal
Jul 25, 2019   •  68 views

O. Henry, pseudonym of William Sydney Porter, original name William Sidney Porter, American short- story writer whose tales romanticized the common place—in particular the life of ordinary people in New York City. His stories expressed the effect of coincidence on character through humour, grim orironic and often had surprise endings, a device that became identified with his name and cost him critical favour when its vogue had passed.

Summary of "The Last Leaf"

Sue was from Maine and Johnsy was from California. They shared common test in art, food and fashion; which resulted in a joint studio. Both of them were striving artist.

On a day Johnsy fell sick. She was suffering from pneumonia and Sue was performing the duty of Johnny's caretaker. The doctor told Sue that her dear friend had made up her mind for not going to live anymore. Sue got trouble with the statement of doctor; still she had hope in her heart for her friend . After dealing with the doctor., Sue went immediately to Mr Behrman; who used to live down floor of that apartment. Mr Behrman was a man of 60 with body of an imp and beard like Michael Angelo. He was painter by profession but didn't draw a single line for forty years. He always used to boast about his upcoming master piece.

Sue begged for help from him and told him about Johnny's fancy. Actually, Johnsy made up her mind that when the last ivy vine leaf will fall from the tree then she will also leave the world sailing like the leaf. At first Mr. Behrman condemned the silly fancy of Johnsy but later he accepted to help Sue. For several days thunderstorm accompanied with sleet was going on. The weather condition was not good.

And now there was only one leaf present on that tree. Sue was ordered to remove the window shade by Johnsy. She was surprised to find the leaf still on the tree which was green in color and fresh.

Johnsy soon realizes her mistake and regrets herself as a bad girl. Doctor told Sue that better nourishment will improve Johnsy health. He also informed her about Mr. Behrman who died of cold and pneumonia last night in the heavy rain. Sue immediately figures out the total situation and tells Johnsy about Behrman. The last ivy vine leaf on the tree was Mr Behrman's masterpiece. He sacrificed his life for Johnsy.

Self sacrifice by Old Behrman

The sacrifices that they have to make in order to pursue their work. It is only at the end of the story that the reader realises just how committed or fond of Johnsy (and Sue) Behrman actually is when he sacrifices his own life in order to save Johnsy’s.

He has given his own life in order to save another person’s life and in many ways the single leaf that he has painted on the wall is his masterpiece. It has rejuvenated Johnsy. Just as the pneumonia was taking a toll on her lungs (and breathing) the last leaf has given her back her breath or life. Something that is noticeable when the doctor arrives and notices an improvement in Johnsy’s well-being. It is also interesting that on seeing the last leaf Johnsy no longer viewslife as negatively as she has previously done throughout the story. Rather she realises that ‘it is a sin to want to die.’ This line may be important as it is possible that Henry is suggesting that regardless of how one feels an individual should never give up. That theyshould keep trying just as Behrman did till the end when he finally managed to complete his masterpiece and restore hope into Johnsy’s life.