The central theme of the story is the friendship between Sue and Johnsy. They both love their art and share similar passions. When Johnsy falls ill, Sue manages all her care. She prepares her food and arranges for her treatment.
When Johnsy falls into despair and depression, it is Sue who encourages her to stay optimistic and in the end, it is Sue who informs Behrman about Johnsy’s mental conflict.
Behrman is also close with the two girls and he ends up painting a realistic leaf outside Johnsy’s window that inspires her to fight and survive.
Behrman’s true masterpiece ends up being his selfless sacrifice to help Johnsy survive and get better. His painting is a symbol of hope and inspiration because he not only does something for another person but ends up giving the biggest sacrifice for it.
Similarly, Sue is also willing to sacrifice her time and wishes for her friend. She is willing to devote all her energy in her care and even support her emotionally and financially when it would be easier for her to not get too involved.
They both prove that sometimes love and compassion can be more valuable than even the most valuable of material possessions.
The story is about the ability to rise above self-doubts and stay hopeful. Johnsy falls sick and sinks into despair about her chances of survival. She loses all hope to achieve her dreams of visiting Italy.
However, it is Sue who remains hopeful for both of them. She is the beacon of light for her friend. Behrman, having struggled as an artist, is depressed that he might never make is a singular art piece.
However, he ends making a truly inspirational one. This example also highlights that hope is what keeps dreams alive. If one loses all hope of getting better and accomplishing one’s goals, then it is like giving up without trying.
Hope is what helped Johnsy reappear from the darkness of doubt and depression and hope is what helped Behrman achieve immoral greatness through his art.
Every falling leaf may suggest tough times but as long as the last leaf stays standing, there is still hope.