The Last Leaf

IN A LITTLE district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!

So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came prowling, hunting for north windows and eighteenth-century gables and Dutch attics and low rents. Then they imported some pewter mugs and a chafing dish or two from Sixth avenue, and became a “colony.”

At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their studio. “Johnsy” was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the other from California. They had met at the table d'hote of an Eighth street “Delmonico's,” and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.

That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown “places.”

Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer. But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely moving, on her painted iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes at the blank side of the next brick house.

One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, gray eyebrow.

“She has one chance in—let us say, ten,” he said, as he shook down the mercury in his clinical thermometer. “And that chance is for her to want to live. This way people have of lining-up on the side of the undertaker makes the entire pharmacopeia look silly. Your little lady has made up her mind that she's not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?”

“She—she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day,” said Sue.

“Paint?—bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking about twice—a man, for instance?”

“A man?” said Sue, with a jew's-harp twang in her voice. “Is a man worth—but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind.”

“Well, it is the weakness, then,” said the doctor. “I will do all that science, so far as it may filter through my efforts, can accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages in her funeral procession I subtract 50 per cent. from the curative power of medicines. If you will get her to ask one question about the new winter styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a one-in-five chance for her, instead of one in ten.”

After the doctor had gone Sue went into the workroom and cried a Japanese napkin to a pulp. Then she swaggered into Johnsy's room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.

Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep.

She arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a magazine story. Young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature.

As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horseshow riding trousers and a monocle on the figure of the hero, an Idaho cowboy, she heard a low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.

Johnsy's eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and counting—counting backward.

“Twelve,” she said, and a little later “eleven”; and then “ten,” and “nine”; and then “eight” and “seven,” almost together.

Sue looked solicitously out the window. What was there to count? There was only a bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away. An old, old ivy vine, gnarled and decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.

“What is it, dear?” asked Sue.

“Six,” said Johnsy, in almost a whisper. “They're falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head ache to count them. But now it's easy. There goes another one. There are only five left now.”

“Five what, dear? Tell your Sudie.”

“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?”

“Oh, I never heard of such nonsense,” complained Sue, with magnificent scorn. “What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well? And you used to love that vine so, you naughty girl. Don't be a goosey. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for getting well real soon were—let's see exactly what he said—he said the chances were ten to one! Why, that's almost as good a chance as we have in New York when we ride on the street cars or walk past a new building. Try to take some broth now, and let Sudie go back to her drawing, so she can sell the editor man with it, and buy port wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self.”

“You needn't get any more wine,” said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the window. “There goes another. No, I don't want any broth. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I'll go, too.”

“Johnsy, dear,” said Sue, bending over her, “will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look out the window until I am done working? I must hand those drawings in by tomorrow. I need the light, or I would draw the shade down.”

“Couldn't you draw in the other room?” asked Johnsy, coldly.

“I'd rather be here by you,” said Sue. “Besides, I don't want you to keep looking at those silly ivy leaves.”

“Tell me as soon as you have finished,” said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying white and still as a fallen statue, “because I want to see the last one fall. 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.”

“Try to sleep,” said Sue. “I must call Behrman up to be my model for the old hermit miner. I'll not be gone a minute. Don't try to move ’till I come back.”

Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor beneath them. He was past sixty and had a Michael Angelo's Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along the body of an imp. Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress's robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it. For several years he had painted nothing except now and then a daub in the line of commerce or advertising. He earned a little by serving as a model to those young artists in the colony who could not pay the price of a professional. He drank gin to excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece. For the rest he was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.

Sue found Behrman smelling strongly of juniper berries in his dimly lighted den below. In one corner was a blank canvas on an easel that had been waiting there for twenty-five years to receive the first line of the masterpiece. She told him of Johnsy's fancy, and how she feared she would, indeed, light and fragile as a leaf herself, float away when her slight hold upon the world grew weaker.

Old Behrman, with his red eyes plainly streaming, shouted his contempt and derision for such idiotic imaginings.

“Vass!” he cried. “Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not heard of such a thing. No, I will not bose as a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der prain of her? Ach, dot poor leetle Miss Yohnsy.”

“She is very ill and weak,” said Sue, “and the fever has left her mind morbid and full of strange fancies. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if you do not care to pose for me, you needn't. But I think you are a horrid old—old flibbertigibbet.”

“You are just like a woman!” yelled Behrman. “Who said I will not bose? Go on. I come mit you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to say dot I am ready to bose. Gott! dis is not any blace in which one so goot as Miss Yohnsy shall lie sick. Some day I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes.”

Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to the window-sill, and motioned Behrman into the other room. In there they peered out the window fearfully at the ivy vine. Then they looked at each other for a moment without speaking. A persistent, cold rain was falling, mingled with snow. Behrman, in his old blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit miner on an upturned kettle for a rock.

When Sue awoke from an hour's sleep the next morning she found Johnsy with dull, wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade.

“Pull it up; I want to see,” she ordered, in a whisper.

Wearily Sue obeyed.

But, lo! after the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind that had endured through the livelong night, there yet stood out against the brick wall one ivy leaf. It was the last on the vine. Still dark green near its stem, but with its serrated edges tinted with the yellow of dissolution and decay, it hung bravely from a branch some twenty feet above the ground.

“It is the last one,” said Johnsy. “I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall to-day, and I shall die at the same time.”

“Dear, dear!” said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow, “think of me, if you won't think of yourself. What would I do?”

But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.

The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the lone ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall. And then, with the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low Dutch eaves.

When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shade be raised.

The ivy leaf was still there.

Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called to Sue, who was stirring her chicken broth over the gas stove.

“I've been a bad girl, Sudie,” said Johnsy. “Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it, and—no; bring me a hand-mirror first, and then pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook.”

An hour later she said:

“Sudie, some day I hope to paint the Bay of Naples.”

The doctor came in the afternoon, and Sue had an excuse to go into the hallway as he left.

“Even chances,” said the doctor, taking Sue's thin, shaking hand in his. “With good nursing you'll win. And now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is—some kind of an artist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man, and the attack is acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital to-day to be made more comfortable.”

The next day the doctor said to Sue: “She's out of danger. You've won. Nutrition and care now—that's all.”

And that afternoon Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, contentedly knitting a very blue and very useless woolen shoulder scarf, and put one arm around her, pillows and all.

“I have something to tell you, white mouse,” she said. “Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia to-day in the hospital. He was ill only two days. The janitor found him on the morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were wet through and icy cold. They couldn't imagine where he had been on such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it, and—look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece—he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell.”

Footnotes

  1. This was evidently the night Behrman painted the ivy leaf on the nearby wall. the wind and rain had "endured" throughout the entire night. He had not been able to wait for a break in the weather but had had to do all his work in the storm.

    — William Delaney
  2. It should be noted that the old man cares about both Johnsy and Sue. This will provide him with a double motive for sacrificing his life to save Johnsy. He is not only doing it for the sick girl, but he is also doing it for Sue who is so terribly concerned about Johnsy. This double motive helps to make Behrman's noble deed more plausible.

    — William Delaney
  3. O. Henry had to introduce the character who would paint the fake ivy leaf on the nearby wall. At the same time, the author had to forestall the possibility of the reader guessing that any painter might get the notion of painting such a leaf. O. Henry created a character who should not be suspected of doing such a thing because he is too old to be climbing ladders in the middle of a stormy night, because he is a heavy drinker, and because he expresses such contempt for the idea of anyone dying because of an ivy leaf falling off a vine.

    — William Delaney
  4. O. Henry's story deals with the will to live and also with the will to die. We believe that Johnsy will die when the last leaf falls. She can do so because it is possible for people to will themselves to die as well as to will themselves to live. Johnsy is so sick and so weak that all she has to do is let go of her weak hold on life in order to fall into infinity--to go into what O. Henry calls the soul's "mysterious, far journey." O. Henry's wife died of tuberculosis after they had been married for only ten years.

    — William Delaney
  5. This story is a tour de force. O. Henry creates all his characters and all his incidents to build a moving tale around a single ivy leaf. This shows genius. He probably noticed a last leaf clinging to the vine on a brick wall and saw it as a symbol of courage and fortitude. Dead or dying leaves have been used as symbols by famous poets such as William Shakespeare and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
    Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
    Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing...
    Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind"

    That time of year thou mayst in me behold
    When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
    Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the
    *sweet birds sang.    * *  *Shakespeare, Sonnet 73

     

    — William Delaney
  6. O. Henry provides many signs that Johnsy is safely on the road to recovery.

    • She has taken up her knitting again. This is an indication that her energy is returning.
    • She tells Sue she hopes to paint the Bay of Naples.
    • She shows that she has an appetite.
    • She displays a characteristically feminine interest in her appearance by asking for her hand-mirror.
    • She wants to sit up in bed, whereas up to this time she had been "lying white and still as a fallen statue" and "scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes."
    • She calls Sue by the pet name of Sudie for the first time since the story began.
    — William Delaney
  7. After forty years Behrman finally succeeded in creating the masterpiece he was always planning to paint. When O. Henry introduces him, he writes:

    He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it.

    And Behrman says in his thick German dialect:

    "Some day I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes.”

    So Behrman's gift to Johnsy of a single painted ivy leaf was also her gift to him because his love for her enabled him finally to paint the masterpiece he had always dreamed of. He had put all of his skill and years of experience into painting a single leaf.

    — William Delaney
  8. Notice how it is only when Johnsy starts to recover her will to live that she calls Sue by the pet name of Sudie. Johnsy had given herself up for dead, and the dead lose interest in the living. As O. Henry says:

    The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.

    In other words, each leaf that fell represented one of the ties to friendship and to earth in Johnsy's imagination. It is a rather uncanny thought. She was becoming completely indifferent to everything, even including her best friend Sue. And when the last leaf fell, Johnsy would relinquish her attachment to her friend.

    When Johnsy tells Sudie she hopes to paint the Bay of Naples some day, it recalls the conversation Sue had with the doctor earlier.

    “She has one chance in—let us say, ten,” he said, as he shook down the mercury in his clinical thermometer. “And that chance is for her to want to live....Your little lady has made up her mind that she's not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?”

    “She—she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day,” said Sue.

    — William Delaney
  9. Although Sue and Behrman both scoff at the idea that Johnsy will die when the last leaf falls off the vine, both are obviously afraid it could really happen. Neither of them knows for sure whether or not Johnsy's expectation will come true--but the reader doesn't know either.

    — William Delaney
  10. The fact that Johnsy comes from far-away California means that she is all alone in New York City except for her friend Sue on whom she is entirely dependent during her illness. 

    — William Delaney
  11. This mention of Behrman's old blue shirt was probably intended to suggest that he was only wearing a shirt when he went outside that night to paint the last leaf of the wall.

    — William Delaney
  12. Just as Sue is whistling when she doesn't feel cheerful, so she pretends to believe that Johnsy's fixation on the falling ivy leaves is "nonsense" and "silly" when in fact she is very much afraid that Johnsy will really die when the last leaf falls.

    — William Delaney
  13. O. Henry's first wife died of tuberculosis at the age of approximately twenty-seven. His descriptions of Johnsy's psychological and emotional withdrawal from the world are probably drawn from O.Henry's personal observations of his wife Athol as she lay dying from a wasting pulmonary disease. In the next sentence the author writes feelingly of how "one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed." 

    First our pleasures die - and then our hopes, and then our fears - and when these are dead, the debt is due dust claims dust - and we die too.

    •     * --Percy Bysshe Shelley

     

    — William Delaney
  14. A short story is a dramatic narrative. Drama always requires conflict. Usually there is a conflict between a protagonist and an antagonist. O. Henry personifies the disease pneumonia by calling it Mr. Pneumonia and describing him as "the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer." O. Henry further personifies the disease as Mr. Pneumonia in the preceding paragraph with the sentence:

    Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown “places.”

    This is not merely a poetic conceit. It makes pneumonia the protagonist. The antagonist is not Johnsy, because she has given up the fight. The antagonist is Sue, who is doing everything possible to keep Mr. Pneumonia from winning the conflict.

    O. Henry uses a similar device in his story "The Cop and the Anthem." He personifies winter as Jack Frost. Here is the pertinent paragraph:

    A dead leaf fell in Soapy's lap. That was Jack Frost's card. Jack is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.

    Now Jack Frost becomes the protagonist and Soapy becomes the antagonist. Jack Frost's motive is to kill and Soapy's motive is to stay alive by finding a shelter from the terrible winter weather.

     

     

    — William Delaney
  15. Sue has to pretend to be optimistic and generally in good spirits in the hope of cheering Johnsy up. Also, Johnsy knows Sue has been talking to the doctor outside in the hallway, and Sue wants to give the impression that the doctor has been telling her good news rather than bad news.

     

    — William Delaney
  16. Apparently Sue does not have a firm commitment to buy her sketches but is working more or less on speculation. She is obviously a newcomer struggling to gain experience and accumulate a portfolio. The editor has given her a copy of the story and told her to see what she can do with it. Hopefully the editor will not be put off by a picture of an Idaho cowboy dressed in elegant horseshow riding trousers and wearing a monocle.

    — William Delaney
  17. This question expresses Sue's motivation for trying to keep Johnsy alive. Sue is struggling to survive as a freelance artist with limited experience and unexceptional talent. It was extremely hard for a young woman to live alone in a big city in O. Henry's day. Johnsy gives her companionship, moral support, encouragement, advice, and a certain amount of protection. Without her Sue would be terribly lonely and susceptible to discouragement and depression. On top of that, she would have to pay the entire rent each month instead of only half.

    — William Delaney
  18. Each of O. Henry's New York stories is a miniature glimpse of life in the big city. In "The Last Leaf" O. Henry paints a picture of the lives of struggling artists in New York. The city is divided up into thousands of tiny neighborhoods, each with its own unique settings and human populations. Greenwich Village is one such neighborhood. In "The Last Leaf" New York is the macrocosm, Greenwich Village is the microcosm.

    — William Delaney
  19. Sue doesn't like the idea of Johnsy getting involved with a man because that could easily put an end to their relationship. Sue would be all alone, and her struggle to exist as an artist would be that much harder without the company and encouragement of a good friend. But Sue is frightened at the very mention of the threat because she knows that such a development is virtually inevitable if Johnsy lives. Either way, live or die, Sue is faced with loneliness in the future.

    — William Delaney
  20. O. Henry wrote about a city of four million people but always managed to focus on only one or two usually contrasting characters. He opens "The Last Leaf" by giving an impression of the size, age, and complexity of New York, then tells a simple little story about two girls sharing a small apartment while they try to survive as artists.

    — William Delaney
  21. Old Behrman resembles the character named Mr. Theobold in Henry James' short story "The Madonna of the Future," published in 1873. Theobold is an artist who has been planning for many years to paint a single masterpiece but has never gotten around to it. His painting was to be a woman and baby representing Mary and Jesus in the manner of the great Renaissance painter Raphael. Henry James' story was very popular and may have given O. Henry the idea for his character Behrman in "The Last Leaf," published in 1907.

    — William Delaney
  22. Johnsy is scarcely making a ripple because she is quite frail and also because the winter weather and her pneumonia have caused her bed to be covered with every available blanket and quilt.

    — William Delaney
  23. This suggests that Sue is not doing the kind of artwork she really aspires to do. But like many young people who dream of achieving greatness in one of the arts, she has come to realize that it is necessary to make a living by compromising. At least she is able to do work that is relevant to her aspirations. New York City has always been a Mecca for aspiring artists, but it has also attracted so many of them that the competition is fierce. New York City's magnetic power is shown by the way it has attracted one young woman, Sue, all the way from Maine, and the other young woman, Johnsy, all the way from California, bringing them together in a small flat in Greenwich Village. 

    — William Delaney
  24. This sentence expresses what is the essential problem in the story. Johnsy can only recover if she wants to recover--but she doesn't want to.

    — William Delaney
  25. In order to protect the impact of his surprise ending, O. Henry planted a number of reasons why Old Behrman would not be suspected of getting the notion of painting a leaf on the brick wall. Then when the reader learns that the leaf is a fake and that Old Behrman actually did paint it, the reader can see that some of the reasons for thinking he could not and would not paint a fake leaf are actually reasons why he might do just that. Behrman is old, but his life is a burden to him and is practically over anyway. He is a heavy drinker, which would make it hard for him to climb a tall ladder with paints, brushes, an easel, and a lantern; but that is the sort of crazy stunt a drunken man might attempt. He hasn't painted anything for twenty-five years, but Johnsy's illness might be just the thing that would finally inspire him to paint the masterpiece he has been dreaming of painting. He scoffs at the idea that a falling leaf could cause anyone to die, and yet he is just like Sue in fearing that Johnsy's notion will come true--and he only scoffs at the notion before he visits Johnsy, not after he has seen her in person. O. Henry created a marvelously complex character in his failed painter Old Behrman. 

    — William Delaney
  26. This comes as a surprise to a person who doesn't already know the story. It is almost incredible, but not quite. It could happen. We have all seen trees that were bare in late fall or early winter--except for one or two leaves that have somehow managed to cling to a twig.

    O. Henry prepared the reader for this surprise by writing "And then, with the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low Dutch eaves." Surely the ivy leaf couldn't withstand all that!

    Then O. Henry writes "The ivy leaf was still there" as a line standing all by itself, which tends to help evoke the image of a single leaf still clinging to the vine. The sentence resembles a single isolated leaf.

    — William Delaney
  27. This explains how Behrman was able to paint a leaf on the wall approximately twenty feet above the ground. O. Henry had specified that the leaf was that far above the ground in order to keep the reader from suspecting that it was a painted leaf until the author sprang his surprise ending.

    — William Delaney
  28. This is a good way to introduce a new character. Sue will be able to talk to him in private and can tell him the truth about Johnsy's condition. O. Henry generally prefers to write scenes in which there are only two characters talking to each other, as Sue and the doctor were talking earlier. It is easier for a writer to handle dialogue if there are only two characters involved and they are contrasting types. Sue and Johnsy, though both young and female, are contrasting types because one is sick and inert while the other is strong and active.

    — William Delaney
  29. O. Henry has to explain why Sue doesn't do something to prevent Johnsy from looking at the falling leaves, now that Sue understands what they symbolize to her sick friend.

    — William Delaney
  30. The word "house" shows that this building was formerly a private home and not a small apartment building.

    — William Delaney
  31. Johnsy's description of the falling leaves introduces what many writers call "a ticking clock." This evokes a sense of urgency. Johnsy is going to die in a very short time unless something can be done to save her. The doctor has already told Sue what might be able to save the sick girl. She has to make up her mind that she wants to recover and enjoy life. He tells Sue: "If you will get her to ask one question about the new winter styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a one-in-five chance for her, instead of one in ten." 

    — William Delaney
  32. The "old, old ivy vine" and "the crumbling bricks" suggest the age and history of these former mansions. Their deteriorating condition explains why struggling artists are attracted to the neighborhood because of the low rents.

    — William Delaney
  33. O. Henry continually reminds the reader that the patient does nothing but stare out the window. She is too weak to get up, and she hardly even moves in her bed.

    — William Delaney
  34. Medical science was very limited at this time. They had no such remedies as antibiotics. The doctor could really do little for Johnsy except to recommend bed rest.

    — William Delaney
  35. This brick building had once been a private home in a high-class neighborhood. When the original owners died off, the building, like the others in the neighborhood, was converted to small apartments and later to single furnished rooms, such as the one featured in O. Henry's "The Furnished Room." 

    — William Delaney
  36. It is to be observed that all great fiction writers have learned the principle that the narrative should appeal to all five of the reader's senses--not all five at the same time, of course, but alternately throughout. Here O. Henry is appealing to the reader's sense of smell. Behrman smells strongly of gin, or as the author says, of "juniper berries," which are used to flavor gin.

    As an example of O. Henry's appeal to the reader's sense of taste (which is probably the hardest of the senses to titillate in most stories), Johnsy tells Sue towards the end of the story:

    You may bring me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it.

    — William Delaney
  37. A chafing dish is a light portable food-warmer typically used for snacks at impromptu house parties where the guests may gather around a coffee table, some even sitting on the floor, and helping themselves to such delicacies as tiny meatballs, Welsh rarebit and cheese fondue. O. Henry uses the term to suggest the kinds of social gatherings common in artists' colonies in his time as well as today. The guests would usually be aspiring painters, musicians, poets, actors, singers, and hangers-on. Use of a chafing dish was, and still is, an economical and practical way of entertaining a large number of invited guests and drop-ins, some of whom might bring bottles of wine to brighten the festivities. O. Henry's use of the term "chafing dish" was an inspired way of suggesting gatherings of young bohemians, all full of enthusiasm and great expectations.

    — William Delaney
  38. Johnsy was aware that the doctor had signaled he wanted to talk to Sue outside, but the delirious girl assumed that he wanted to tell Sue that her friend was going to die when the last leaf fell off the ivy vine. It may have been that Johnsy told the doctor about her morbid fantasy but the doctor didn't really take it seriously and failed to relate it to Sue when they were talking in the hallway. O. Henry has characterized the old physician as "the busy doctor." He has a lot of sick patients waiting for him and a lot of things on his mind.

    — William Delaney
  39. Before World War II, Japan was a poor and overpopulated nation with virtually no natural resources. She needed imports but had hardly anything to export in order to pay for imports. Americans could produce anything they needed. The European nations monopolized world trade. The only Japanese imports seen in America were cheap little curios, toys and knicknacks mostly made of wood and paper. The Japanese napkin in the story was cried to a pulp because it was cheap and flimsy, evidently made of paper. The situation has changed radically since World War II. Now the Japanese export fine-quality products, including autos, cameras, electronics, and pianos.

    — William Delaney
  40. The use of dialect for characterization and for comic effect was very popular in America for many years. It was also a standard practice among stand-up comedians in vaudeville. Dialect was probably popular with American readers and audiences because there was such an enormous influx of immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and this influx may have been caused by the introduction of steamships and cheap, relatively safe transportation from the Old World. The most common dialects mimicked by writers and comedians were German, Swedish, Jewish, and Irish. The use of such dialects in fiction has a tendency to date a story or novel--i.e., to make it seem olf-fashioned. Readers do not appreciate it any more because it makes hard reading, because it doesn't seem very funny, and because it smacks of prejudice. O. Henry uses dialect frequently in his stories, and he is pretty good at it, although it does tend to make his stories sound old-fashioned. Reading O. Henry often seems like traveling back into America's past.

    — William Delaney
  41. We know that Sue must have been the one from Maine and Johnsy the one from California, because O. Henry later writes:

    A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer [Mr. Pneumonia].

    — William Delaney
  42. This bit of humor is intended to illustrate Sue's youth, inexperience and naivete, as well as the reliability of many contemporary magazines. Imagine a cowboy wearing elegant horseshow riding trousers and a monocle! Sue is originally from Maine, which is about as far east of Idaho as it is possible to get on the North American continent. Easterners knew nothing about the Far West in those days--and the magazine publishers, as O. Henry is implying--were typical of Easterners, who thought there was nothing west of the Mississippi but cowboys, Indians, and herds of buffalo. O. Henry himself knew a great deal about the West. He lived in Texas for many years and traveled extensively throughout the United States.

    — William Delaney
  43. In O. Henry's time (1862-1910) almost all illustrations in newspapers, magazines and books were in black-and-white line drawings because these were the only kind of drawings that could be mass produced on the old-fashioned printing presses. 

    — William Delaney