Henry authored The Last Leaf with a number of themes coming fourth. These included sacrifice, commitment, compassion, friendship as well as hope and dedication. There were three main characters in the story, namely, Sue, Behrman and Johnsy. It also had other characters e.g. a non living character, Pneumonia and the Doctor. The three main characters were painters who were committed to a course. A brief look into the story confirms that Sue had a piece of art to draw and that she was working on it throughout the story. Behrman on the other hand had not completed the masterpiece that he was working on but he is committed as well to finish it up. Finally, Johnsy was committed to dying as soon as the last leaf fell from the vine hence the title of the story. From the description of the characters, it can be told that Henry was trying to suggest that people with artistic prowess are focused individuals. Artists are thus unique creatures who are driven by their goals for greatness at all times unlike other people who forget about work after normal working hours.
The relationship between Sue and Johnsy is that of true friendship. Henry brings out the theme of friendship through these two characters. Sue having the knowledge that Johnsy is sick, she commits herself to helping Johnsy throughout. Behrman is also fond of Sue and Johnsy thought from the onset, he seems to be a cantankerous character. However, it can be argued that he is fond of them basically because of their artistic being. Behrman seems to understand the difficult life of an artist from the sacrifices they have to make and the depths they have to go in pursuing the best for their work. It is until the end of the story that one realizes how Behrman was a loving friend by his act of sacrificing his life to save that of Johnsy.
Johnsy is seen as one who has lost hope as from the onset of the story. She believes that she will die, and that there is no way she was going to win the fight with Pneumonia. The Doctor also exhibits this lack of hope further. Even though he remains practical, he is aware that there is nothing he can do to save Johnsy. The Doctor feels that it is practical and better for Johnsy to focus on recovery from Pneumonia and not to wait for the falling of the leaf from the vine. One can argue that Henry was actually trying to bring out what ‘practical’ meant when used by a doctor and vis a vis an artist.
Henry also brought out some symbolism in the story. The leaf has been used symbolically. With each leaf falling, Johnsy loses hope of living. However, the act of Behrman painting just one leaf brings out hope for Johnsy. The sense of hope is manifested when her health improves when she discovers that the last leaf has not fallen yet. The weather has also been used symbolically. Henry may be giving a suggestion that people’s lives vary greatly. Whereas some maybe feeling well and happy, others may be suffering elsewhere. The life of an artist may be seen as a difficult one owing to their own actions. However, the opposite maybe true since artists live a life that revolves around their work. They eat live, sleep and dream art. This is essentially different in other people who forget about work as soon as they leave work for the following day making their lives difficult every time they get to work again.
At the end of the story, one realizes that Behrman made a sacrifice of his own life for the sake of Johnsy which is very interesting. The single leaf that he painted and hangs on his wall is his own masterpiece depicting commitment to work. The leaf brings back life to Johnsy just the same way Pneumoniae was taking it away. After viewing the last leaf, Johnsy is rejuvenated and no longer views life negatively. In all we learn that we should never give up. Behrman works on his masterpiece to the end just as Johnsy keeps hope alive till she recovers.