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The Last Leaf Summary in English by O. Henry

The Last Leaf by O. Henry About the Author

O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter. He was an American short story writer, famous for his use of surprise endings. He worked in a number of professions in his lifetime: a pharmacist, a .draftsman, and a bank teller, among others. Throughout these phases, he contributed stories and articles to many newspapers and magazines. He founded The Rolling Stone—a humorous weekly. His stint as a columnist at the Houston Post led to a rise in his popularity. He spent three years in prison on charges of embezzlement.

After his release, he began the most prolific stage of his writing career: he wrote over 300 short stories and enjoyed great popularity among readers. Porter spent a lot of time talking to people and observing them. His stories are about the lives of ordinary people and are marked by his unique narrative style. Most of his stories are based in New York City and speak of his fascination with the place.

Author Name O. Henry
Born 11 September 1862, Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Died 5 June 1910, New York, New York, United States
Full Name William Sydney Porter
Short Stories The Gift of the Magi, The Last Leaf
The Last Leaf Summary by O. Henry
The Last Leaf Summary by O. Henry

The Last Leaf Summary in English

Autumn forms the background of this story about Sue and Johnsy, two young artists who share a flat on the third storey of an old house. It is the month of November and Johnsy is ill with pneumonia: she lies in bed all day, gazing out of the window. Sue is worried and calls a doctor for help. Even with medical treatment, there is no improvement in Johnsy’s condition.

One day, the doctor informs Sue that medicines can not help Johsny because the latter does not seem to want to live. Sue makes many attempts to divert Johnsy’s attention, but nothing works. Sue then brings her drawing board into Johnsy’s room and begins painting there.

She suddenly hears Johnsy whisper something. She rushes to Johnsy’s side and finds that Johnsy is counting backwards while gazing out of the window. Sue realises that Johnsy is observing an old ivy creeper outside her window that is shedding its leaves. Johnsy is counting its remaining leaves. Johnsy says that in just three days, the number of leaves have reduced from almost a hundred to just five. Johnsy is sure that when the tree sheds its last leaf, she will die.

Johnsy tells Sue that she wants to watch the last leaf fall. Sue says that she cannot draw the curtain because she needs the light to paint. But she asks Johnsy to not look out of the window. JoHnsy promises not to do so, but asks Sue to hurry so she can watch the last leaf fall and then die peacefully.

Sue goes to Behrman, a 60-year old artist who lives on the ground floor. His dream of painting a masterpiece is yet to be fulfilled. Sue shares her worries with him. She tells him that Johnsy has a high temperature and refuses to eat or drink anything. Behrman is puzzled at Johnsy’s behaviour and wants to see her. They go to Johsny’s room together and find her sleeping. Sue draws the curtains and they go to the next room. There is heavy rain and cold winds are blowing; they see that there is only a single leaf remaining on the ivy tree and it can fall at any moment. Behrman silently withdraws into his room.

The next day, Johnsy asks Sue to draw the curtains. Sue is happy to find that a single leaf remains on the tree, in spite of the wind and rain. Johnsy is surprised but is sure that the leaf will fall soon. She wakes up every hour or so to look out of the window, but finds the leaf clinging to the tree. It even withstands another storm that evening.

Johnsy gazes at the leaf for a long time. She calls Sue and tells her that the last leaf has made her realise that she has been a bad person: for all the love and care that Sue has given her, she has not responded or willed herself to get better. The leaf has shown her that it is a sin to want to die. The two friends share a hug and Johnsy accepts the hot soup that Sue gives her. Johnsy combs her hair and smiles brightly. That afternoon, the doctor visits and says that since Johsny has found the will to live, she will recover soon. He also informs Sue that Behrman has pneumonia and has no hope of survival.

The next morning, Sue informs Johnsy that Behrman has died of pneumonia. He had been ill for two days. On the first day, the janitor found him on his bed, shivering and dressed in wet clothes and shoes. It seems that he had been out in the stormy night. A ladder and a lit lantern were found near his bed, along with green and yellow paints. Sue tells Johnsy to look out of the window at the last leaf: the leaf that does not flutter in the wind. She tells Johnsy that on the night the last leaf fell, Behrman painted this leaf — his masterpiece.

The Last Leaf Title

As the title suggests, the story revolves around the importance of a single leaf on a tree. The leaf is particularly important in saving the life of a girl, who had convinced herself that she would die the moment the last leaf fell off the tree. However, the leaf miraculously stays on the tree, giving the girl hope to survive. The title also refers to the fact that the leaf is the last artwork made by an out of work painter, which also becomes his masterpiece.

The Last Leaf Setting

The story is set in Greenwich Village, a neighbourhood of New York City in America, and most of the events take place against the backdrop of a storm, during autumn when trees shed their leaves.

The Last Leaf Theme

The story explores the idea of the impact of true art, and what makes a painting a true masterpiece. It also highlights the themes of selflessness and the supreme sacrifice of self to save the life of another human being. It also explores the loyalties of a true friendship, and the levels to which we can go to help a friend.

The Last Leaf Message

The story shares a message of the power of love and friendship. It reminds us that selflessness is the highest virtue one can attain.

The Last Leaf Characters

Sue: She was a very loyal and caring friend. She did everything she could to take care of Johnsy when she fell ill with pneumonia. She not only took care of Johnsy physically, but also helped by earning money by selling her paintings. She cooked and ensured that Johnsy received the best medical treatment.

Johnsy: She appears to have been a depressed and gloomy person, who is very self-absorbed. She did not have the will to fight against her illness, and did not respond to the doctor or to Sue’s care and concern. She was highly imaginative and superstitious, as she came to believe that her life was linked to the number of leaves on the creeper outside her window. She believed that she would die the day the last leaf of the creeper fell. It was because of this stubborn belief that Behrman, an older artist, lost his life when he went out in the storm to paint a leaf onto the creeper so that Johnsy would not realise that the last leaf had actually fallen.

Behrman: Behrman was a sixty year old painter whose only ambition was to paint a masterpiece. He lived in the same building as Sue and Johnsy, and sometimes acted as a model for their paintings. He was a talented artist, which is evident from his painting of the leaf on the wall. The painting was so realistic that everyone thought it was a real leaf, which saved Johnsy’s life. Johnsy had made up her mind that she would die of her illness the day the last leaf fell off the creeper. However, Behrman decided to help Sue, her friend, who was worried about the effect the falling of the last leaf would have on Johnsy. This shows how caring, selfless and concerned he was. He went out in the stormy and cold night to paint the leaf, and came back soaked to the skin, in no condition to even remove his wet clothes and shoes. He made the supreme sacrifice of his life to save the life of another human being.

The Last Leaf Summary Questions and Answers

Question 1.
Where did Sue and Johnsy stay? What was their profession?
They lived in a small flat on the fourth storey of an old house. They were both artists.

Question 2.
Why was Sue worried when Johnsy fell ill?
Sue was worried because Johnsy would lie on her bed without moving, and would just gaze out of her window all day. Even though the doctor came every day, there was no change in her condition.

Question 3.
What illness did Johnsy have? Who looked after her?
Johnsy was suffering from pneumonia. Her friend Sue looked after her.

Question 4.
What worried the doctor?
The doctor was worried because there was no improvement in Johnsy’s condition. He felt that Johnsy was not responding to treatment because she had made up her mind not to do so. He felt she had lost her will to live and hence the medicines were not going to be useful to her.

Question 5.
How did Sue try to revive Johnsy’s interest in life?
Sue talked to her about clothes and fashions. Then she brought her drawing board into Johnsy’s room and started painting. She also whistled while painting, hoping to distracting Johnsy’s mind from her illness.

Question 6.
Why was Johnsy counting the leaves on the creeper outside her window?
Johnsy had made up her mind that the day the last leaf fell off the creeper, she would die. So she was counting the leaves as they fell off the creeper.

Question 7.
Why did Sue go to Behrman?
Sue went to Behrman because she had to paint an old miner and she wanted him as the model for the painting.

Question 8.
Who was Behrman?
Behrman was a sixty year old painter whose only ambition was to paint a masterpiece. He lived in the same building as Sue and Johnsy, and sometimes acted as a model for their paintings.

Question 9.
What did Sue confide in Behrman?
She told him about her worries about Johnsy, who refused to recover from her illness because of her belief that she was going to die the day the last leaf fell off the creeper outside her window.

Question 10.
What did Sue feel when she saw the last leaf on the creeper? Who was at the window with her?
Sue felt extremely worried that the lead would fall off by the next morning, and if Johnsy saw that, she would not survive. Behrman, an old painter and her neighbour, was at the window with her.