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Matthew Lee
Matthew Lee

The Last Leaf O Henry Stylistic Devices



The story "The Last Leaf" is about a woman whose sick friend says she will die when all the leaves on a tree have fallen. Against logic, one final leaf appears to cling tenaciously to the branch. In reality, an elderly friend, who subsequently loses his life while saving that of the sick woman, has painted this last leaf.




the last leaf o henry stylistic devices



In the short story, O. Henry used various literary devices such as personification:"Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman."1, and simile: "... said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying white and still as a fallen statue."1 What's remarkable in O. Henry's writing style is his ability of making the ivy 'leaf' very symbolical and essential throughout the story. This particular leaf symbolizes Johnsy's life throughout the story. This leaf is a recurring motif which also signifies hope, both for the said character and the readers. This symbolism shows that the piece, indeed, has sublimity, since it possesses excellence in the use of language, more specifically, through the use of certain kinds of figures of speech with appropriateness. The figurative language certainly adds grandeur to the piece, just like in the stated excerpts above. These figures of speech do not just serve as pure beautifier to the piece but these serve as contributors to the artistic meaning of the story. Longinus emphasized that figures of speech should be used with definite purpose and not just as mere ornaments. Thus, these should be used appropriately throughout the story to serve their purpose. In the short story, pneumonia is decsribed as an opposite of a 'chivalric old gentleman'.1 Merriam-Webster defines chivalric or chivalrous, as a "consideration and courtesy, especially toward women".The disease, can not be considered chivalric because it had caused Johnsy's suffering and hopelessness. On the other hand, Mr. Behrman became the means in saving Johnsy's life and in ending her suffering, through painting the ivy leaf. Therefore, Mr. Behrman can be considered as the "chivalric old gentleman" in contrast to pneumonia, and is exactly the disease's perfect opposite, as the story implies. Hence, the use of figures of speech did not just decorate the piece or falsely imply something, because the figurative language used has a direct bearing to the meaning of the story, which was magnificently established by its writer. In addition, this also echoes nobility in diction, since metaphors and personifications are appropriately used in the story, with the proper use of words, which in turn can give a great impact to the readers.


Literary sublimity is also defined as the "expression of a great spirit"2 or showing the act of benevolence. Mr. Behrman, serving as the story's hero, showed a great spirit in making his greatest masterpiece, which is painting "the last leaf". This leads in giving Johnsy the hope and courage to continue her life, as resembled by the remaining ivy leaf-


"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."1


Lastly, literary sublimity has "the power to provoke ecstasy"2 in one's reader. O. Henry's amazing writing style of creating an unusual ending certainly incites happiness and extreme excitement. The story provokes ecstasy to the readers when Johnsy is able to live because the ivy leaf stays, (though just painted) due to Mr. Behrman's act of benevolence. Most importantly, the old man has fulfilled his dream to make the greatest masterpiece of his life, and indeed a great masterpiece, for it has saved a life which was once in danger. This gives the reader a feeling of ecstasy, as the last line of the story goes-


Symbols are present in the story and the most important one is the ivy leaf. For Johnsy, watching the leaves of the ivy vine fall becomes an obsession. She watches them obsessively and becomes convinced that she will die once the last leaf falls. For Johnsy, then, the ivy leaf comes to symbolize death and giving up, while it can also come to symbolize will to live and hope. At first, Johnsy does not manage to find any reason to live, yet the persistence of the ivy leaf encourages her to have hope.


Investigations have shown that a work of verbal creativity is first of all an ordinary piece of speech based on the dialectical correlation of language and speech which can be revealed through the application of the linguostylistic method of analysis (Gasparyan, 1980; 2004; 2008; 2013). As stated by V. Zadornova, linguostylistics deals not only with tropes and figures of speech, or stylistic devices proper, but also concerns itself with the study of the ultimate units of language from the point of view of connotations, that is those


The relationship between the two kinds of analysis (the linguostylistic and the linguopoetic ones) is again dialectical. We cannot approach a work of fiction linguopoetically unless we first and foremost understand it as a piece of ordinary text, unless we are aware of all the stylistic devices and the ways the words are brought together. But if we stop at the linguostylistic level it will be a formal approach to literature, and the understanding and appreciation of its aesthetic value will be neglected (Gasparyan, 1980; 2008).


In the present article the above-mentioned linguostylistic and linguopoetic methods of analysis have been applied to the use of epithets in O. Henry's Short Stories. Like other authors, O. Henry also tries to embellish the narration with different stylistic devices endowing them with a variety of expressive-emotional-evaluative overtones which enrich his stories with additional shades of meaning and support the realization of his literary-aesthetic and ideological intentions.


The use of stylistic devices in his short stories, like in any other piece of work of belles-lettres style, is justified by the author's intention of making his speech more vivid, imaginative and colorful. As the use of the stylistic devices is closely connected with the aesthetic taste of the author, we see our task in trying to understand these devices and epithetic expressions in particular to reveal those feelings, thoughts and emotions, which have brought about the creation of the given piece of work.


The above-mentioned sad overtones are evidently displayed in O. Henry's The Last Leaf where the psychological state of the heroes, their feelings and desires to struggle for life are revealed. Two unfortunate artists with different understandings of life are victims of failure. Johnsy is a sick girl, who has a hope to be cured but she doesn't struggle for her life. The falling leaves of the trees and the last leaf which is vividly represented in the title of the story symbolize her death. The other painter-Behrman, dreams about having a masterpiece, but considering himself an unsuccessful man who does not have an opportunity to carry out his dream, he sacrifices his life for the girl's, painting the last perpetual leaf on the wall opposite Johnsy's window to make her believe that her life will still go on, and his visual trick becomes an unexpected masterpiece.


Special interest arises when, through the use of stylistic devices and expressive means, the author tries to convey the hero's feelings, thoughts and emotions. The use of the epithets is so natural and vivid that they help the reader understand and evaluate the atmosphere of the story, the miserable feelings of the female characters and Johnsy in particular.


O. Henry is a real master of creating characters. He describes Johnsy's last temptations towards life. Even in agony she notices the decline and death of the nature. Everything for her comes to an end. "Her eyes can only see a bare, dreary yard, which is waiting for its decay as the cold breath of autumn has already stricken the leaves, and there are only skeleton branches clung. By using the epithet bare, dreary yard the author does not tend to present the description of the yard but rather the emotional state of the sick girl who in fact seems to be a victim of the fate. For Johnsy her life is so gloomy and uninteresting that she is psychologically prepared to abandon it little by little with every leaf falling off the branches.


Through the analysis, the researcher has found out that both of the authors have chosen approximately similar stylistic devices but convey different meanings each according to his/her own beliefs in spite of some similarities in the background.


After the beating rain and fierce wind that blew through the night, there yet stood against the wall one ivy leaf. It was the last one on the vine. It was still dark green at the center. But its edges were colored with the yellow. It hung bravely from the branch about seven meters above the ground.


Joanna is a woman having a nickname Johnsy. She is suffering from pneumonia and is now close to death. Outside the window of her room, the leaves fall from a vine tree. Johnsy decides that when the last leaf drops, she will die, while her best friend Sue, who stays with her, tries to tell her to stop thinking in such a negative way.


In the same building, an artist named Behrman lives below Johnsy and Sue. Behrman has been claiming that he will paint a masterpiece painting one day, even though he has never started it. Sue visits Behrman, telling him that Johnsy, who is dying of pneumonia, has come to believe that she will die when the last leaf falls off of the vine tree outside her window, Behrman takes these words as a complete foolishness, but he decides to visit Johnsy and see the vine tree from her window.


In the night, a storm comes with strong wind and heavy rain. So Sue closes the curtains and tells Johnsy to go to sleep, even though there is still one leaf left on the vine. But Johnsy protests against having the curtains closed, but Sue insists because she does not want Johnsy to see the last leaf fall. In the morning, Johnsy wants to see the vine tree to be sure that all the leaves are gone, but to their surprise, there is still one leaf left.


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