The Last Leaf by O. Henry

I have read several short stories but none inspired me as The Last Leaf by O. Henry did. One of the most well-known works of his, this one will always stay in people’s hearts like only a true masterpiece can. Henry dedicated most of his time and energy to literature. His experience and creativity helped him to write more than six hundred stories. Judging by the way the short story handles the themes, plot and literary tools, The Last Leaf is a literary masterpiece. While I was reading the short story, I found the use of dialogue very interesting, although it was a bit challenging at first.

The setting of the short story is Greenwich Village in New York. The story surrounds three characters; Sue, Johnsy and Behrman. Johnsy suffered from pneumonia during one autumn. This worries her so much since pneumonia had killed many people in her village. In her despair, Johnsy believes that by using the ivy leaves that grew outside her window, she will soon recover. Sue offers Johnsy consolation as her only form of assistance. As the season progressed, the ivy leaves withered and dropped one after the other.

Johnsy was worried that she might lose her life since all her hope of living depended on them. In the verge of despair, Behrman, an old artist, painted an ivy leaf on Johnsy’s door with the aim of restoring her hope of recovering. Unfortunately, while painting the leaf in the cold, Behrman suffers from pneumonia and dies. Sue and Johnsy learn about his death from a doctor but do not understand what he was doing in the cold. The painted leaf gives Johnsy a will to live not knowing that it was just a painting but not a real ivy leaf.

The main themes in the short story are poverty and true friendship. The three characters, who are artists, are greatly challenged by poverty. Despite their great talents in painting, their works are neither recognized nor published. These characters support each other through their friendship. They are so supportive of each other that they are ready to give up their lives for each other like in the case of Behrman. Although their works of art fail to be recognized, the three artists’ love remains alive as the evergreen ivy leaf.

Dialogue constitutes a major part of The Last Leaf. The dialogue between the three major characters and other characters constitutes about half of the short story. As in all dialogues, a reader has to figure out the hidden meaning of the story from the conversations. The use of dialogue in this story rhymes successfully with the main theme of friendship. Friends share most of their time conversing. The dialogue between Johnsy, Behrman and Sue demonstrates the strength of their friendship. In the short story, Johnsy is so ill that she cannot take part in any other activity. Conversation with her friends becomes the only way to relate with them.

The manner in which a theme is presented in a literary work is very important. Style should be used competently to strengthen the themes in a literary work. For instance, O Henry succeeds in the use of dialogue as a style to present the theme of friendship in The Last Leaf. The dialogue in the short story enables the reader to see the significance of the painted leaf to Johnsy, the compassion that Sue had for her friend, and Behrman’s sacrifice for friendship. Although written in early 1907, The Last Leaf is still very interesting. True friendship is well represented in the short story.

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