Book Review: The Last Leaf by O. Henry

Johnsy and Sue meet six months previously and move to live in Greenwich Village of New York. The colony where they live is famous for artists’ accommodation because of good ambience and cheap rates, and they too are budding artists – painters. Before winter the trees in the village were fully green and high on fluttering. As the winter commences, the trees begin shedding leaves and around the same period the village falls in the grip of deadly disease – pneumonia.

Johnsy is so terribly down with pneumonia that she becomes bedridden. The doctors have given up the hope of life in her. Despite this providence, Sue takes care of her and hopes for her full recovery. However, Johnsy has grown pessimistic – she realizes that her hopes of survival have numbered out. She is waiting to die. She often gazes outside at the ivy vine tree. She has built an assumption rather an obsession that she will die when the last leaf from the vine tree falls. Sue dismisses her fears but Johnsy is instinctive.

Sue approaches Behrman, a 60-year-old artist who claims to produce a masterpiece but fails to do so in last 40 years. Behrman lives downstairs. He too ridicules Johnsy’s fears.

At night a turbulent storm clasps the village, winds are howling like ferocious hounds. The stormy night confirms Johnsy that the last leaf will fall and she will die. To cut Johnsy’s gaze of that vine tree, Sue draws the blinds and assures Johnsy to have a good night’s sleep leaving all her fears. In the morning Johnsy finds herself wake and alive, she looks out the window and finds the last leaf of vine intact. She recovers by the end of day. Sue scolds her for her delusory attitude.

In the evening Sue learns that the old artist, Behrman, dies of pneumonia. The janitor explains to Sue that in the stormy night Behrman had gone out to paint a leaf on the wall where ivy vine tree takes support. Sue goes there and finds a ladder and palette with green and yellow colours, and wonders the leaf painted neither moves nor flutters. It is Behrman’s masterpiece that has saved the life of young Johnsy.

In a sense Johnsy’s fear was right. However the old man bequeaths her death just in time. The story is about life and death, and death comes certain for someone who attaches it with an event.     

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