The story uses the symbolism of leaf as the last surviving hope so as to encourage people to not despair. Earlier falling leaves signified decay for Johnsy but the painted leaf became her cure.
The streets symbolize the unpredictable nature of human emotions and relationships as they are rough and damaged. The weather and the rains symbolize the challenges that one faces in life in order to achieve true potential and greatness.
The story is set in a time and place that was full of aspiring artists. Based in early 20th century Washington, the place was had diverse strands of cultures, languages and arts.
This is highlighted by the Sue, Johnsy and Behrman who were all different in their passions and artistic taste. However, the place brought them together to learn from each other’s abilities and traits.
There are several points of conflicts in the story. Behrman is surprised by Johnsy lack of will to live while he is angry with Sue for convincing her otherwise. Johnsy is fighting against pneumonia as well as her depression.
Sue and Johnsy are at opposite ends when it comes to giving up in the face of difficulty. There is extraneous conflict as well in the shape of inclement weather and disease which ends up killing Behrman.
The story gives a clear message of perseverance and hope. It encourages people to be compassionate and self-reflecting. The central lesson of the story is that no matter how hard life gets, there is always hope.
One should always attempt to fight against difficulties and survive when it seems all has been lost. Another lesson is to help each other and show empathy for people who are going through rough times. This is how human beings and society and heal each other’s wounds.
The story ends with Johnsy’s realization that she still had hope and all was not lost. She recognizes that her will to live was stronger than her psychological stress.
Also, Behrman’s sacrifice inspires her to be stronger in the face of adversity. Behrman also achieves his dreams by painting his true masterpiece even though it comes at the cost of his life. Sue acknowledges Behrman’s greatness both as an artist and a compassionate human being.