The Last Leaf Summary - A short story by O. Henry

the last leaf summary
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Summary of The Last Leaf

The Last Leaf is a short story about two artists from O Henry’s collection called ‘The Trimmed Lamp and Other Stories’ which was published in 1907. It interweaves themes like Hope and Health, friendship & sacrifice to bring about a profound life lesson.
Last Leaf is set in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood on Manhattan's west side, and unfolds during a pneumonia epidemic.

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The story's main characters are two artists - Old Behrman & Johnsy, who at the time are living in the same building. While Behrman is in his old age, Johnsy in quite young (still in her heydays). Johnsy shares her apartment with Sue; after meeting each other in the Spring, they decide to stay together as they share a love for a lot of things like the same art, the same food, and the same clothes. This is how Johnsy finds herself amidst other struggling artists including Behrman.

The story reveals how two people, from the same profession, both living in poverty, can be worlds apart when it comes to their approach to life.

Old Behrman never achieved success but was still not hopeless after a lifelong struggle to produce a masterpiece painting (though it seems that he is in denial that he never succeeded), whereas Johnsy suffering from pneumonia loses hope as her condition worsens. While one seems beyond hopelessness but still maintains a brave exterior after years of being a failure (somewhere, still clinging to hope), the other is so full of life, so young, and yet ready to give up.
The story uses a lot of imagery & symbols; the leaf is depicted as a symbol of hope in the story.

Johnsy's state of hopelessness is depicted through the shedding of leaves.

There is a tree outside Johnsy's apartment that is shedding its leaves, and in her current state of illness, deranged with hopelessness, a thought takes root in her mind that she will die when the last leaf falls off.

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It is autumn and the tree continues to shed its leaves, but the last leaf stays for several days. This gives hope to the ill woman and she starts recovering. It is later revealed that the old artist living next door, spent a night painting a real life-like leaf on the wall to give the girl hope to live. The artist who always wanted to make a masterpiece ends up creating a miracle. Ironically, the one who wanted to save dies in the end. Behrman dies of pneumonia; he spent a lot of time in the cold and wet, painting the last leaf.

The Last Leaf Critical Analysis & Literary Devices


‘The Last Leaf’ by O. Henry is a short story

Setting & Context

The story takes place in USA New York. The year (or the century) is not mentioned but it is believed to happen in O. Henry’s time.

Narrator and Point of View

The story is narrated in the third person.

Tone and Mood

The mood & the tone of the story is rather sad; even the happy ending has tinges of sorrow when it is revealed that Mr. Behrman is dead. 

Protagonist and Antagonist

The story is about Johnsy, our Protagonist, the one who comes down with Pneumonia. The story revolves around her struggle against the antagonist - the illness itself.

Major Conflict

'Beliefs versus reality' is the main conflict.


The story’s climax reveals that Johnsy survived thanks to Behrman, who embraced death in his attempts to give hope to a dying person.

Foreshadowing (MEANING - a warning or indication of a future event)

Pneumonia’s outbreak in New York is an indication of death & suffering.


Images of the characters, city streets, and apartments are depicted in the story.


The irony is that though a gifted & skillful painter, Behrman failed to earn success.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“The streets have gone wild” - here “streets” is used as a substitute for people


“The sickness has put these strange ideas into her mind” - here sickness is treated as a person