Thursday 1 November 2012

The Last Leaf

Two friends, Sue and Johnsy, move into an apartment in New York City.  They both make a living drawing illustrations for a local magazine.  However, their dream, like that of their fellow tenants, is to paint a masterpiece.

On a rainy day in November, Johnsy develops pneumonia.  The doctor gives her a one in ten chance of survival.  Languishing in her apartment, she stares at a the brick wall of the neighbouring building covered by a vine losing its leaves one by one.  She tells her roommate, Sue,  that when the last leaf falls, she will die.  She has lost her will to live.

"Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer. But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely moving, on her painted iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes at the blank side of the next brick house."

Sue, desperate to find a solution to her friends depression, asks the alcoholic man downstairs, Mr. Behrman, to help her.  She says that her friend needs a reason to live, but he scoffs at the suggestion. 

In the meantime, the tree loses all its leaves but one, which refuses to fall off.  The sick woman starts to improve.  Her roommate returns to the Mr. Behrman's apartment downstairs where she finds him cold, wet and suffering from a case of pneumonia.  Peeking out the window, she notices that he has set up an easel outside and a palette of paints.  Sitting on it is a painting of the last leaf. 

*This is a summary of O. Henry's short story "The Last Leaf".

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