The Last Leaf (O. Henry) — Model questions and answers
1. Why did artists flock to the Greenwich Village?
The houses in Greenwich Village had Dutch attics and eighteenth century gables. These offered the ideal setting for budding painters. Apart from this, the rent there was affordable for the painters who were still struggling in their careers.
2. What brought the doctor to the house of Sue and Johnsy?
Pneumonia had struck Greenwich Village. Johnsy was down with the disease. Her frail body was unable to cope with the severity of the attack. She lay in her bed miserable, forlorn and delirious. Her condition was deteriorating fast. Alarmed at her friend’s plight, Sue had asked the doctor to come and examine Johnsy.
3. What was the doctor’s observation?
The doctor examined the ailing Johnsy. He was not sanguine about her ability to fight off the virulent pneumonia which had virtually dragged her to the brink. He conveyed this to Sue, but assured her that Johnsy still had 10% chance of survival. He promised to give the best medicine, but regretfully said that the patient’s mental submission to the infection was undermining her body’s capacity to fight back. He advised Sue to do everything possible to inject some hope and willpower back to the desolate Johnsy. If this happened, the efficacy of the medication would be doubled, he assured. He suggested Sue to explore if Johnsy had any un-fulfilled desire that could be met to make her recover her lost mental strength.
4. How did Sue react to the doctor’s advice?
Clearly, the doctor’s grim warning about the Johnsy’s slim chances of survival unsettled Sue. She was in a quandary thinking about the way she could make Johnsy give up her lost desire to recover. But, being a pragmatic and tenacious person, she was determined to pull her dear friend out of the abyss of despair. She held back her anguish and began to think positive.
5. What was bothering Johnsy as she lay in her sick bed?
Pneumonia had ravaged Johnsy’s body and mind. The acute suffering robbed her of all desire to patiently wait out the crisis. She convinced herself that the time to depart had indeed come. She became obsessed with an old vine creeper that was shedding leaves one by one due to seasonal reasons. Quite illogically, she linked the dwindling number of vine leaves to her remaining life span. She concluded that the fall of the last leaf would herald the arrival of her death. Thus, she waited, quite foolishly, for the last leaf to fall.
6. Describe Behrman as a person, and the way he saved Johnsy’s life.
Despite his rough exterior, brash manners and blusters, Behrman was a man with a golden heart. Compassion, altruism and readiness for extreme sacrifice were the hallmarks of his nature. When he realized that Johnsy would cling to her life only as long as the last leaf remained in the creeper, he decided to outsmart the destructive power of the night storm by painting an identical creeper with its lone leaf. He had the painting fixed in the window to make Johnsy feel that the night’s storm had failed to dislodge the leaf. In the process, he saved a precious life, but lost his own. He succumbed to the pneumonia attack triggered by exposure to the rain, wind and chill of the night. The painting was, no doubt his master piece, which he had all along boasted about without accomplishing it. Sad thing is, he didn’t live to receive the adulation.
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