The Last Leaf by O. Henry Characters

Instructor: Lynn Ramsson
Only five characters exist in O. Henry's short story 'The Last Leaf,' but their brief interactions with each other teach readers a valuable lesson about the power of relationships.

This short story begins with an introduction of two young women: Sue, the protagonist, and Johnsy, Sue's friend and roommate. Sue is a young artist from Maine living with Johnsy, another young artist, in Greenwich Village. When we meet these two young women, it is wintertime in New York City, and Johnsy is afflicted with pneumonia, an illness which is actually treated as a minor character in the story. Two male characters, the doctor and Old Behrens, also play important roles in the story.

Meet Mr. Pneumonia

Mr. Pneumonia is a non-living character. He is characterized as an unkind gentleman, and the author capitalizes the P of pneumonia, as if it is a name and proper noun, and gives pneumonia the title of 'Mr.' One explanation for these choices is that the illness does indeed play a significant role in the story, impacting all characters mentioned.

Meet Sue

Sue is devoted to her friend and roommate Johnsy who is very ill at this time. Sue talks openly with Johnsy about her fears of losing Johnsy to her illness. Sue also talks openly with Old Behrman about Johnsy, in a conversation that leads to the climax of the story. She tells him that, ''She is very ill and weak,' said Sue, 'and the fever has left her mind morbid and full of strange fancies.'' At times, Sue seems mature and independent, while at other times, she seems young and naive. Sue doesn't believe that the influence of a man could affect Johnsy's recovery like the doctor suggests. Sue's resistance could reflect either a deep inner strength and independence or a naivete to the ways of love.

Meet Johnsy

Johnsy is Sue's roommate and a fellow artist. Johnsy is from California, and her spirits are dangerously low when we meet her. She is sick with pneumonia, causing her to feel weak and discouraged, and she describes her state of mind to Sue, stating that ''I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves.'' She used to have a dream of going to Italy to paint the Bay of Naples, but even that fails to inspire Johnsy to recover as she lays stricken in her bed. Johnsy is under such strain that she believes she will die when the last leaf has fallen from the ivy vine outside of her window. The leaf symbolizes Johnsy's dwindling hope of her own recovery.

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