Jerusha Abbott was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. The children were wholly dependent on charity and had to wear other people’s cast-off clothes. Jerusha’s unusual….
To be perfect short story neatness, brevity and a significant incident or an aspect of character or an experience of some psychological moment is essential. Within its short frame work, it must have a beginning, middle and an end. There must be completeness in its structure. All the elements plot, character, dialogue, descriptions and background must be organically connected with other. Generally a good story has a surprising end which bears a sense of endlessness. All these characteristics of a good short story are fulfilled in the short story of O Henry’s The Last Leaf.
It has an ironical twist at the end that is surprising and at the same time striking to the readers. Old Behrman’s bold self sacrifice for the young Johnsy comes unexpectedly to the readers, but none the less convincing and admirable. The story if farther a parable of christian story of Resurrection and sacrifice. The story begins in a leisurely manner with the sketchy background.
The old Greenwich village in which painters come to set up their art studio has curious maze streets criss-crossing one another. A traveler loses the directions of the streets.
This description of the streets has relevance to the story in which a strong and strange psychological morbidity is focused. The main theme is then introduced it has two characters – Sue and Johnsy. They met together suddenly at a hotel and found themselves sharing taste chicory salad, bishop sleeves and in painting. They become intimate friends and in a cheap rented house two friends Sue and Johnsy set up a common studio. The humours beginning arrest the attention of the readers and relive the tension that awaits them.
After a serio-comic introduction comes the central situation. One day Johnsy is attacked with pneumonia. She becomes gradually weak in body and mind. She is possessed with death wish. There is an ivy vine on the yard near the Johnsy’s window. She looks at the window and counts the leaves backward that were falling and associates her longevity with the fall of leaves. She has an uncanny feeling that her life will end with the fall of the last leaf of the ivy creeper. The doctor tells Sue that her life depends on her wish to live.
If a patient loses her will power to live, no disease can be resisted. Johnsy does not like eating and drinking. She only looks vacantly at the window counting the number of leaves falling. Her friend Sue tries to divert her mind from the window. She sits by her for painting so that she will be inspired to live for painting. She offers her broth, wine, milk and she tries to take her mind from death wish but she cannot succeed. The strange fancy that takes hold of her mind cannot be removed. Sue tells this strange fancy of Johnsy to the old painter Behrman who lives downstairs.
As a painter he is a failure. But he has the ambition to paint a masterpiece. Behrman loves these two young painters and protects them as guardians. He dismisses this fancy as foolish. He comes upstairs with Sue to pose for as her model for the old hermit miner. A persistent cold rain is falling mingled with snow. Next morning Johnsy asked Sue to draw up the green skin of the window. To their surprise they find the last leaf standing out against the brick wall in spite of the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind throughout the night.
The last leaf survives the rain and winds. Johnsy’s wish to live revives. Throughout the day and the next night the leaf clings to its stem against the wall. Johnsy considers her a bad girl to think of death. The last leaf continues to live and so she will live. She calls for foods and assures herself that one day she will paint her masterpiece – the Bay of Naples. She is declared out of danger by the doctor after two days. Then there is the characteristic twist. The mystery is clear.
On the dreadful night Old Behrman painted the green leaf on the stem. That is why it neither moves nor flutters. The painted leaf has given the illusion of living leaf and Johnsy has got back her urge to live. Johnsy is out of danger but Behrman dies of Pneumonia. Painting made in sufferings and saves the life of morbid Johnsy. Art triumphs over death. Life is immortalized by the touch of art. This ironical twist to the plot makes the storyso interesting. If comes so unexpectedly yet convincing with a delightful tragic-comic note.