Style Given By O’Henry in “The Last Leaf”

The Last Leaf Summary

‘The last leaf’ consists of four human characters; JOHNSY, SUE, DOCTOR and BEHRMAN, and a non-living character Mr. Pneumonia. Johnsy and Sue are roommates. Johnsy falls ill and she binds herself with such a fancy that she well die with the fallen of last ivy leaf. But Sue, the very optimist, consults the painter, Behrman, to paint an ivy leaf against the wall. Behrman paints such a leaf which is clinging to its stem against the wall. At last, Johnsy recovers her health. But Behrman dies of pneumonia in the hospital.

 The Last Leaf STYLE

  In style, the main focus is on the manners which are used by the writers in his work. Critics have to deal with the dialogues, vocabulary, metaphorical diction, syntax, kinds of imagery and kind of subject matter which is used by the writer.


            A variety of Figurative or metaphorical language in which things or ideas are treated as if they were human beings, with human attributes and feelings is called Personification. In the very first line of this story “the Last Leaf”, streets are personified by the writer but there streets symbolize human passions and relationships.

“The streets run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called ‘places’.”

 Pneumonia is a serious kind of disease and may become the cause of death. Johnsy falls ill due to the prey of pneumonia. While Behrman dies of it.

 “Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman.”


 The usage of dialogues is frequently existed in this story. Dialogues always occur between the two people who talk face to face. The mostly action of this story proceeds with the dialogues of Johnsy and Sue.

 “Try to sleep,” said Sue, I must call Behrman.”

                        “What is it, dear?” asked Sue.”

                        “Tell me as soon as you have finished,” said Johnsy


 These deal with the relatedness of one thing to other with direct or indirect reference. Simile is the relatedness by ‘as’ or ‘like’. But metaphor is direct relation of one thing to the other on the behalf of some quality. For example,

                       “Johnsy was lying white and still as a fallen statue.”

“Behrman had a Michael Angelo’s Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along the body of an imp.”


It is a technique used by O’ Henry to explain things through contrast and comparison. It is based on the quality or quantity of something. Art and literature are very close to each other but the writer compares them on the level of their functions. He pleads,

“Young artists must pave their way to art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to literature.”


This story also does have the devices of symbolism and imagery. Leaf deals with life, nutrition and growth as well. The symbol of shoes and icy cold is also used in this story. Shoes are the symbol of oppression, tyranny and death as well. The writer uses this symbol to show the death of Mr. Behrman.

            “His shoes and clothing were wet through and icy cold.”

 Imagery is also very close to symbolism but it appeals to senses and feelings. There is a lot of color imagery in this story.

            “I have something to tell you, white mouse.”

 The image of white mouse is used for Johnsy because she recovers her health now. The white color presents innocence and purity.

 “Johnsy was contentedly knitting a very blue and very useless woolen shoulder scarf.”

             “Old Behrman, with his red eyes…”



 The system of this universe is based on two opposite things i.e. day and night, black and white, good and bad, hope and frustration etc. ‘The Last Leaf’ is very symbolic story which conveys the theme of Pessimism and Optimism. Pessimism deals with the darken aspects of life. As optimism is totally against to pessimism, it deals with the positive ways of life. It also can be said that optimism and pessimism are the two sides of a single coin. Johnsy always leads her life as a pessimist. Sue consoles Johnsy and she consults a painter to paint the fancy of Johnsy in an optimist way.

           “When the last one falls I must go, too.” –P

           “She was looking out the window and counting-counting backward.” –P

            “It is a sin to want to die.” –O


Hope is also one of the major themes in ‘The Last Leaf’. The system of this universe is running at the idea of hope. We dream for future life due to hope. For example, if an old man is seriously ill still he is dreaming for his recovery because of hope. He does not think about the black or fatal bird. The significance of the leaf is life and nurture. Leaf is the hope of life for tree or plant. When Johnsy sees the painted leaf against the wall through the window then she says,

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

 The Doctor said to Sue, “She’s out of danger. You’ve won.”


The title of this story conveys the theme of death. Last means very close to death or closely to be end. The life or growth of the tree or plant may be guessed through its branches and the condition of leaves. There were almost a hundred leaves clinging with the stem but they were falling due to autumn season. Autumn is the mortal season for leaves. At the same time Johnsy fell ill due to Pneumonia. Pneumonia is the symbol of death for human being and old Behrman dies of it.

 “When the last one falls I must go, too.”

            “Mr. Behrman died of Pneumonia today in the hospital.


“The last leaf” shows the theme of friendship and sacrifice. Friendship is such a relationship that is completed with the ties of sacrifice, sincerity, love, loyalties etc. Sue is friend of Johnsy and she progresses this relation through sacrifices.

Said Sue, “Will you promise me to keep your eyes close, and not looked out the window until I am done working?”


“It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.”

After the whole discussion, we can say that ‘The Last Leaf’ is also after “The Gift of The Magi” O’ Henry’s masterpiece. ‘The Gift of the Magi’ held so much popularity that many writers wrote OPERAS and many singers sang that OPERAS. These short stories are derived from the life of the ordinary people in New York City. O’ Henry uses twist plot in his stories, which turn on ironic or coincidental circumstance. Although some critics are not so enthusiastic about his work yet the public loves it. The Last Leaf Study Guide By M Zaman Ali.

The Last Leaf William James
William James (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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