I remember watching the film ‘Lootera’ starring actors Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. The fact that the film was inspired by a short story was a good enough reason for me to go and watch the film on the big screen. The film was an Indianised adaptation of a short story written by O Henry. It also had a host of heart-warming moments. By the time the movie ended, I was in tears, with a feeling of melancholy holding me tightly in its grip. I must confess I was deeply moved by Sonakshi Sinha’s character, Pakhi, a young Bengali girl suffering from Tuberculosis. The experience had triggered my emotions to quite an extent.
This is exactly what prompted me to have a closer look at the story written by O Henry. The story was titled ‘The Last Leaf’ (I didn’t know the name of the story back then). I found a PDF copy of the story online. As I began reading it, memories of the good old short stories driven by emotions began flashing before my eyes. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read this short story, let me give you an overview of the story along with a comprehensive review.
‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry tells the story of Johnsy, a young girl suffering from pneumonia. She witnesses leaves falling from the vine just outside her apartment’s window. Looking at the falling leaves, she asserts that she’d die the day the last leaf falls to the ground. Rubbishing her claims, her friend Sue tells her that she is being silly.
Sue goes to visit Behrman, an old and unsuccessful artist who lives downstairs. Behrman had tried to paint a masterpiece all his life but ended up failing miserably. Sue and Behrman discuss Johnsy’s condition. Behrman calls Johnsy’s claims ‘foolish’ and agrees to pose as a model for Sue’s illustration.
There’s a violent storm at night. Johnsy believes that the last leaf must have fallen, but when Sue pulls up the curtains covering the window, the last leaf is still there. Days roll by but the last leaf does not fall. Johnsy’s doctor comes to examine her and tells her that she’d recover soon. At this point, Johnsy realises how silly she had been to think that she’d die.
Just before leaving, the doctor tells both the women that he needs to examine another patient named Behrman. The old man had developed pneumonia. The next day, Sue tells Johnsy that Behrman has died. The janitor had found him sick in his room, dressed in cold and wet clothes.
‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry brings to light the importance of hope and optimism in order to tackle the adversities we come across in life. Johnsy develops a pessimistic attitude towards life after developing pneumonia. She believes she’d die, but her friend and flatmate Sue tells her that she’s stupid to think she’d die. Behrman, the old and unsuccessful artist who is protective of both the women, also rebukes Johnsy’s claims. Behrman has tried all his life to paint a masterpiece but has failed.
The story’s setting, with the leaves falling and the winter approaching, also sheds light on the gloom that seems to have engulfed Johnsy. The story further tells us about Behrman and his heroic act. He paints a leaf with all his passion to save a life. All credit to O Henry for bringing a sharp twist towards the end. No one, absolutely no one, would have thought that Behrman would sacrifice his life in order to save Johnsy’s life. The thing that stands out here is: He did not paint ‘The Last Leaf’ to prove his worth, but to save somebody else’s life. In this way, he succeeds in nurturing a sense of hope within Johnsy’s heart. She realises that life is a precious gift worth fighting for. The leaf, on the other hand, symbolises life, growth, nutrition, and health.
Also, ornamenting the story is a multitude of emotions. Right through the course of the story, we witness countless emotions, right from pessimism and the fear of death to optimism and selfless sacrifice.
With its heart in the right place, ‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry is an absolute masterpiece telling us that hope and optimism are the most formidable weapons possessed by human beings.