The Last Leaf Summary by O Henry

Story of Hope

The story is about friendship, determination, hope and the will to survive. It centers on artists who look for inspiration from their environment and desire to produce a work of art that outlives even their life. This is how they strive to achieve immortality through their form.

In the story, the central characters are all artists. Sue and Johnsy are two young achieving artists who have their lives ahead to achieve true artistic maturity.

There is also another artist named Behrman who is old and in the twilight of his artistic career. He harbours regret because of his incapacity to have developed his true masterpiece or singular work.

Sue and Johnsy are on good terms with their neighbour Behrman even though he is not very social. He often plays the model for many of Sue’s illustrations for her magazine.

Johnsy Falls in Ill

One wintry night, Johnsy falls ill with a severe case of pneumonia. Sue arranges for the doctor but all his medicine fail to treat Johnsy completely. After trying everything, the doctor remarks that it is Johnsy’s lack of will to live that is deteriorating her condition.

Sue tries to encourage Johnsy to work on her next big project and think about all the fantastic art that she has in reserves. However, Johnsy keeps getting weaker. Her dream to go to Italy and paint is also fading fast.

The Leaf

One thing in particular that haunts Johnsy is the tree outside her window. It has a vine which is continuously and progressively shedding all its leaves. By every fallen leaf, Johnsy loses her determination to fight her illness. The doctor also predicts her fast-approaching demise.

One day, Sue comes across Behrman who keeps lamenting about his missed chances. Sue informs him about Johnsy’s obsession with the falling leaves.

He is insured by a sudden surge of artistic jolt and he spends an entire night in heavy downpour and storming winds in order to paint the leaves on his canvass.

Behrman’s Masterpiece

He posts it outside Johnsy’s window view. Seeing the leaf and its ability to survive tempestuous weather, Johnsy is emboldened and slowly finds confidence in her own survival.

Soon she recovers and is able to paint. However, Behrman, having spent entire night in tumultuous weather contracts pneumonia and sadly passes away. 

Even though the story ends with Behrman’s demise, he outlives his death and becomes immortalized by completing his masterpiece, the last leaf standing.