AD's English Literature : The Character of Johnsy in O' Henry's Short Story “The Last Leaf”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Character of Johnsy in O' Henry's Short Story “The Last Leaf”

"Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that for three days. Didn't the doctor tell you?"_Jonhsy

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.  In O' Henry's “The Last Leaf”, Sue and Johnsy are the two young girls round when the story goes on. The more striking of these two friends is Johnsy whose morbid thinking makes the story interesting. She is the main character of the story as her psychological crisis builds up the theme of the story.

Read More Short Stories Jonhsy 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.

 Johnsy’s 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. Read More Short Stories 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. Read More Short Stories 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.

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. Read More Short Stories It is not the Leaf, rather the life which Behrman paints on the brick wall. Johnsy’s morbid feeling is the central theme of the Story and her revival is the ultimate outcome of the story.

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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