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Chelsea Reyna V.

Tolentino BS Public Health 2011-21144

Literary Analysis on O.Henrys The Last Leaf William Sydney Porter with the pseudonym of O. Henry is regarded as one of the best short story writers of all time. Some of his most popular and acclaimed works are The Gift of the Magi, Let me Feel your Pulse, The Green Door and The Last Leaf. He was born on September 11, 1862 in North Carolina but moved to Texas when he was 15. He worked as a pharmacist, apprentice and bookkeeper before he became a writer. His life is full of challenges and

hardships starting with his alleged stealing in the bank where he is working, the death of his wife due to tuberculosis and his imprisonment because of the said stealing. He was imprisoned for five years and during that time he was able to write his short stories and he was able to publish them on magazines even when he is still imprisoned with the help of his friend outside. O. Henry popularized the technique of concluding his stories with a twist resulting to an unexpected ending. Most his stories are about ordinary people and their ordinary life which reflects universal values such as love, friendship, sacrifice and honor. O. Henry's stories are historically significant because many of them were about the lives of the common people of New York City. His stories are sometimes criticized for sentimentality, thin characters, and his manipulation of the plot. In O.Henrys works its the common people who save for the nights they can dress to impress and mix with the wealthy people.Some more themes are the pretense and reversal of fate, discovery and initiation through adventure, the city as a playground for imagination, and the basic yearning of all humanity. O.Henrys main theme is pretense the desire to pose as what one is not is the most persistent theme. Many authorities also criticize the surprise ending as obvious and forced. Regardless of what critics say, his stories were enormously popular, and his inventiveness earned

him an honorable place in the history of the American short story. Unlike other great writers, he is not a well-educated man with only a few years of schooling but he was able to acquire his talent for words by reading many books. In 1901, he was released from prison and since then worked as a full-time short story writer in New York. He works on one short story per week on the magazine he was working with and within the course of his lifetime, he was able to make 600 short stories. He was also able to publish his own compilations of his works which are entitled, Whirligigs The Trimmed Lamp, Cabbages and Kings and others. Due to complications on his health, O. Henry died of diabetis mellitus complicated by liver cirrhosis. Most of the stories of O.Henry reflected the atmosphere of the twentieth century and the setting place is almost always in New York. The story was inspired by an event in the history of Greenwich Village, New York when it was attacked by a yellow fever epidemic. Compared to the story, they both have an epidemic but in the story it is pneumonia which is an equally contagious and deadly during that time. O. Henry wrote the story in 1907 and the epidemic in Greenwich Village happened in 1822. Johnsy and Sue come together by chance at a hotel. They have common taste in chicory salad, bishop sleeves and in painting. So they set up a joint studio at Old Greenwich village. Pneumonia which rages the place attacks easily the weak Johnsy. She gradually becomes weaker and thinner in body and this also affects her mind. She grows despondent about life-long sufferings in fever and confinement in bed induces a death wish in her Johnsys death wish started growing when she noticed the falling of the leaf of ivy creeper which was seen through the open window from her bed. The leaves are falling fast due to autumnal rain and gusty winds. Johnsy who has developed a certain kind of morbidity is seized with a strange fancy that the fall of leaves one by one has the symbolic suggestion of the

shortening of the period of her life. The decay of autumnal leaves suggests her decaying life. She is counting the fall of leaves backward and she becomes sure that with the fall of the last leaf she will die. In the mean time the doctor declares that the medical science can improve the body but cannot improve the will power of a man and therefore, Johnsy has little chance of survival if she clings to her strange fancy. She loses all interest in life. She does not eat and drink; she loses her passion for painting; she only looks vacantly at the open window and waiting for the last leaf to fall. She wants to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Long illness and weariness of life has bred in her this morbid feeling. Sue tells this strange fancy of Johnsy to the Old painter Behrman who dismisses it idotic. But he understands this morbidity is a serious mental disease which will be deadly for Johnsy. On the dreadful night of beating rain and gusty winds he climbs a ladder and paints the yellow green last leaf on the stem of the ivy creeper that stands against the wall. On the morning, Sue and Johnsy are surprised to see that the last leaf is sticking to the stem. Throughout the day and the rain the leaf stays in the stem. Johnsy now thinks of living is survived. She considers now the act of death wish is nothing but a sin. She now considers herself a bad girl to think of death. Nature is not only violent and destructive but it preserves life also. So, Johnsy is inspired by the instinct of self preservation. She will again eat and drink and paint her masterpieces. Thus art which creates illusion of life preserves the life of despairing Johnsy. She is inspired by the joys of life and the interest of life to create and conquer of death. The last leaf is a metaphor of life and death. Before the winter came, the tree was full of leaves which means it has a lot of life and it was also the time when Sue and Johnsy first met. The cold days came and the leaves started to fall at the same time Johnsy caught pneumonia. The

death that the leaf symbolized was not of Johnsy but of Mr. Berhman which O. Henry made as an interesting end to his story. The Last Leaf depicts a number of themes which were implicit yet still beautifully woven into the story by O.Henry. Every small detail in the story are either metaphor or symbolisms of the message that the author would want to convey to his readers. Writers sometimes do not explicitly give the morals nor the themes of their stories and they do this in a very artistic way. Hope is the revolving theme of the story which is applicable to all the main characters . Johnsy is the most hopeless character in the story as she has given up on life because of her pneumonia. Her friend Sue is the hopeful one because she wants her friend to live and be able to fulfill her dream of painting the Bay of Naples. Mr. Berhman is also a hopeless character in terms of his unsuccessful dream of being a famous character but he is the one who gave Johnsy hope by the end of the story. Before Mr. Berhman dies he was full of hope because his masterpiece came to life and he dies with success. Doctor is a very optimistic person and he tries to make Johnsy realized that is she has made her mind that she will die when the last leaf fall that could be harmful for her. He told her that he can only provide her medicine and that is effective as 50 cent, the next situation is in her hand. So O Henry conveys message one never let go for hope and optimist approach in life. It is out state of mind which can bring worse or better for us in our live Sue, someday I hope to point the bay of Naples. These lines show Johnsys desires and aspirations. It gives the picture of hope and this hope in life gives us the spirit of living in this world. Value of life is another the centerpiece in the story, where all the things go back and revolve. The Last Leaf is a short story that entails the treasury of life and the existence of faith and hope. It illustrates the importance of living and the adversities we battle in our lives. An

important lesson that this story gives the readers is that God is the only rightful person to take away our lives and not us. Johnsy decided to die when the leaf falls which is synonymous to suicide but fortunately she did not die. Johnsy lost all the hope in her life that is why she saw death as a sweeter thing rather than to live her miserable life. Mr. Berhman shows the positive side of death because he was able to help somebody and was able to fulfil something for himself. Sue and Johnsy are friends but they have contrasting ideas regarding life, Johnsy as the pessimist one. The doctor even pointed out the negative attitude of Johnsy with the line, Your little lady has made up her mind that shes not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind. Johnsy was in a state of depression with a chaotic state of mind. Her counting backwards or counting the number of leaves left on the tree showed how hopeless and weak she felt to the point that she related her life to an inanimate object.

The theme of self-sacrifice was illustrated in the character of Mr. Berhman which was shown in the end of the stor. Mr. Berhman can be considered as the hero of the story because he was able to save the life of Johnsy even if it cost his life. The old mans painting showed his sacrifice for the hopeless girl. Mr. Berhman showed that a man is able to sacrifice for another man and ends up in a win-win situation. Another thing leads to Mr. Behrman's death is his dream. Some people will sacrifice their selves in order to achieve their dreams. Mr. Behrman has a great challenge with himself, so he does not care about the bad weather. All what he wants is to paint his masterpiece and its time arrives. He paints the last leaf, which gives a new life to Johnsy and gives him a feeling of triumph. With the survival of Johnsy, the permanency of art is established. If there were no morbid thinking of Johnsy there would be no painting which is considered to be the best from the painting brush of old Behrman. It is not the Leaf, rather the life which Behrman

paints on the brick wall. Johnsys morbid feeling is the central theme of the story and her revival is the ultimate outcome of the story.

Another theme that I personally think that is included in the story is love and friendship. This theme is portrayed by the two friends, Sue and Johnsy who both showed care and love for each other. Sue stayed by Johnsys side when she was physically ill and in the brink of dying. She tried her best to convince Johnsy to not give up on her sickness. Dear, Dear! said she, learning her won face down to the pillow think of me, if you wont think of yourself. What would I do? These lines show the effective relationship between two friends. Mr. Behrman also shows great deal of love for these girls. Although he is bit careless person but he really cared for Johnsy and his love is shown by his painting for the sake of Johnsys life. O. Henry's "The Last Leaf" is about the importance of having fierce energy on your side to battle the fierce forces of nature and how art, when it addresses what is vital in the gap between us the world around us, offers us a connection to life. The moral lesson that the story teach its reader is to never give up nor lose and to always have the faith in yourself, family and God. The setting of the story happened in a village in New York named Greenwich, which was explicitly written by the writer, during 1899. This place is known in New York to be the place for artists and O. Henry chose this place because the three main characters are all artists. In reality, Greenwich is a place where all walks of life exists from the riches to the poorest and just like in the story, it is also a place for artists alike. The time setting of the story is from May to December of the same year. During the spring (around May), Sue and Johnsy met, became

friends and decided to fulfil their dreams together. When the cold months started (around December), the pneumonia epidemic started to spread. Generally, in a short story, the scope to depict character in depth and in detail is very short. Only a particular aspect of a character is glanced at. The same is true for this story. The main characters of the story are Sue, Johnsy and Mr. Berhmnan. Sue and Johnsy are young ladies with the talent for painting. Mr. Berhman is a cranky old drunkard who happens to also be a painter, an unsuccessful one. He does not have a family, he has not accomplished anything in his lifetime. The story about the three artists is not an occasional incident, but the life of the improvised, unpublished, would-be great artists. They are at the lower class of the society and strive for success, strive to accomplish a great masterpiece. They give support to each other, even without hesitation to sacrifice their own life. Their life will not be less splendid than that of the upper class because of poverty. On the contrary, they are great because of their fraternal love and the priceless friendship as the evergreen ivy leaf, which constitute their noble spirit. The old man has a negative impression to the readers because he seems to be a disagreable and unlikable man but is later revealed that he has a soft side. Mr. Berhman is described as a pathetic, old artist by O. Henry in order to arouse the sympathy of the readers towards Behrman. Ohenrys technique insures a surprise ending by insinuating that the failed, old artist would never really create a masterpiece. This contradiction in Behrman's character heightens the impact we feel when he suddenly and unexpectedly sacrifices himself for Johnsy. On the other hand, Sue and Johnsy are described to be two struggling nave artists which are also characteristics used in order to establish sympathy with the reader. In an age of cynicism and bitterness, we tend to sympathize with youth and idealism. Such contrasting themes engage the reader and make for a more rewarding story.

The starting mood of the story is despair and sadness as the story opened with the hopeless Johnsy lying sick on her bed. The mood changed in the end of the story where Johnsy had hope with life and eventhough Mr. Berhman dies, at least he was able to do his lifelong dream. The mood of the story was supplemented by the described weather of the story which was rainy. Rain symbolizes sadness mainly because it is a gloomy day, there is no sun and everybody is stuck at home or soaking wet outside. The author describes the literary atmosphere in detail, he shows the reader how peculiar the atmosphere. He describes the place as A stranger can easily get lost and colony of artist which is a metaphorical way of describing the place. The point-of-view in a work of literature is the perspective from which the story is told. The Last Leaf is a short story which is written from third point of view, which is clear from this line, One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, gray eyebrow. The story takes place in Greenwich Village in autumn. Sue and Johnsy met and decided to share a flat in May. In December, pneumonia started making the rounds in their neighborhood. A third person point-of-view means that the narrator or the teller of the story is not a character of the story. Also, the person narrating is omniscient and all-knowing in a way that he knows what the characters are feeling and thinking of. OHenry was interested in social problems and revealed his negative attitude to the bourgeois society. Some common themes of O.Henry are deception, mistaken identity, the effects of coincidence, the unchangeable nature of the fate and the resolution of seemingly unsolvable difficulties separating two lovers.(Twentieth Century Literary Criticism Vol. 19 167) O.Henry used deception with a plot that he called turning the tables on Haroun AlRaschid, the caliph from mingle with the common people.OHenrys heroes are various:

cowboys, writers, artists, milliners, clerks, politicians. He doesnt show psychological side of characters action, so it reinforces unexpectedness of the end. The last leaf hanging on the tree symbolizes the hope in our lives. Hope is there in our lives when we believe in it but if we do not, it wont exist. The leaf was the only thing that was keeping Johnsy alive just like hope which keeps us all alive. The leaf gave hope to Mr. Berhman in order to accomplish his dream of painting his masterpiece. We should always have hope in our lives because it will be the only thing that will keep us alive in this crazy world. In the war of life, it is not the physically strong who wins but those with the strongest faith that there is hope in everything. It was necessary to make this analysis on The Last Leaf because there is more to the story than what meets the eyes. O.Henry greatly deepened the meaning of every theme to the point that the readers does not recognize the symbols. The analysis was also made as to be able to relate the impact of the story to the readers. It is important that the readers be able to know the moral of the story for them to be inspired or encouraged by the things the story has taught them. This analysis is a combination of my personal analysis of the story and some external sources too so that my given information will be supplemented by experts. The external sources also helps in broadening the scope of the analysis since it is from the perspective of a different person rather than only mine. The pneumonia that Johnsy caught symbolizes lifes problems. A problem is like an epidemic disease that everybody has and experiences. They are just normal things that people receive in their everyday lives although the impact of problems vary. The intensity of the problem might differ for each person and the impact of that problem can also differ but the way we face problems should be the same, head on. Always face the problem because it will never be

solved if you wont do so. Just like a disease, a problem has a cure as long as the person will find the right dsolution and treat it right away. Life is not served on a silver platter because we will always catch the pneumonia of our lives but the secret there is to fight against the disease. Johnsy is like each one of us, easily gives up on life because of problems. The problem have taken over the mind of Johnsy that is why she have thought of dying, it has overpowered her thinking. Mr. Berhman and Sue can be compared to God because, just like God, they encourage Johnsy to stay alive. Sue give Johnsy encouraging words in order for not give up while Mr. Berhman has sacrificed his life for the sick girl. What Mr. Berhman did for Johnsy is like how God moves in mysterious ways in order to help his children. We, the children of God, are given problems not to depress our feelings but to help us improve. Problems are like stepping stone for us to move forward in life. There are three things that we should always have in life, strength, hope and faith. We should always be strong for us to be able to get through life. Strong in a way that things will not easily break us but soft enough to let other people get into our lives. Having hope is believing that there is still a chance to change things and thinking in an optimistic way. When we have hopes in our mind, we are driven by the thought of a good future. It is all about perspective because if what set our mind into our goals, we will achieve it. Having faith that everything in our life happens for a reason. The problems that we encounter might be a way for us to be stronger for the future or it was meant for us to learn something from.


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