The Last Leaf


O. Henry

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Themes and Colors
Hope and Health Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
The “Starving Artist” and the “Masterpiece” Theme Icon
Friendship and Sacrifice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Last Leaf, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Hope and Health

Confined to her bed in the Greenwich Village apartment she shares with Sue, Johnsy (who is suffering from pneumonia) becomes preoccupied with a leaf on a vine outside her window. This leaf comes to symbolize her will to live; when the last leaf falls from the vine, she tells Sue, she will die. Their neighbor Mr. Behrman scoffs at the idea: “Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs…

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Gender and Sexuality

As young female artists in early twentieth-century New York, Sue and Johnsy are in an unusual position. Their behavior challenges accepted notions of women’s roles and responsibilities in the period: rather than marrying and devoting their energies to the domestic sphere, they have chosen to move to New York and lead independent but financially precarious lives in pursuit of their art. After meeting at a restaurant and discovering their many shared interests, Sue and Johnsy…

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The “Starving Artist” and the “Masterpiece”

“The Last Leaf” is set in Greenwich Village, a bohemian neighborhood in New York City famous as a gathering place for writers and artists. Sue, Johnsy, and Behrman have moved to this neighborhood because it’s cheap and vibrant, but poor conditions in the impoverished areas of the city in this period—which included overcrowding, cold weather, and lack of sanitation—meant that deadly illnesses could spread quickly. In the story, an outbreak of pneumonia makes…

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Friendship and Sacrifice

Ultimately, Behrman’s “great masterpiece” is not a typical painting, but a single leaf he has painted onto the wall—a leaf so realistic that both Johnsy and Sue believe it is truly the last leaf on the vine. This masterpiece saves Johnsy’s life by returning her will to live. Because he went outside in a storm to paint the leaf, however, Behrman catches pneumonia and dies. This sacrifice is not the only selfless act in…

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