Character of Old Behrman

Que. 2: Describe the character of Old Behrman?

Answer:  In “The Last Leaf,” by O. Henry, Behrman is a seemingly defeated character. Behrman is a very important character as his sacrifice is what eventually saves Johnsy. His outer characterization presents him as a painter who is “past sixty”, “the body of an imp”, the “head of a satyr”, and a “Michael Angelo’s Moses beard”. The man lives on the ground floor of the same building in which Sue and Johnsy lived on the top third floor. He was experienced artist for decades. He was disappointed in life as he had failed to draw a masterpiece. He was waiting for his masterpiece from 40 years but he could not fulfill his aim. His failure as an artist makes him drink “gin to excess” and the little money he earns come as a result of him posing for the younger artists in Greenwich Village. 

      As Behrman was a German native so used to speak in peculiar harsh tone. He is a “fierce little old man” who has strong dislike for weakness of character in anyone especially of Johnsy. Notwithstanding his hard external appearance, Mr. Behrman has a tender heart for the two girls who live above him. In fact, he “regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.”  

       But apart from his rough nature, Behrman has a loving heart. He derogates New York as no place for the California girl. When he paints his masterpiece, he declares, they will all go away. In the meantime, he poses for Sue. As Johnsy sleeps, Sue points to the ivy vine that is quickly losing its leaves in the cold winter outside. Behrman and Sue look at each other intending to drawing out some solution. At first Behrman did not believe in association of the Ivy leaves and the illness of Johnsy. But at last he understood the psychological problem which can be fetal for the life of Johnsy. He became ready to paint the leaf to save the life of Johnsy. Though he was past sixty, his kind spirit enabled him to climb a ladder almost twenty feet high. It was raining and snowing fiercly that night. In such worse conditions, he painted the last leaf which becomes his masterpiece. He caught cold and fell ill.

        His old age weakness turned the cold into pneumonia. He got admitted in the hospital with the help of Doctor and Sue but soon after two days he died. He sacrificed his own life for the sake of Johnsy. It was his unprecedented will to protect these two girls and inspiration of painting his masterpiece that makes his character different.           The next day, it is worrisome Sue who pulls up the shade, fearing that the ivy leaves have all fallen. But, there is “one lonely ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall.” It is enough to encourage Johnsy to fight for her life and get well. When the doctor visits, he tells Sue that Johnsy will recover with good nursing. The next day he declares Johnsy out of danger. Sadly, however, Mr. Behrman has died of pneumonia. The janitor found him the day after he posed; he was soaked and helpless with pain. It was too late for the loving old artist, who finally painted his “masterpiece” that saved Johnsy’s life by inspiring her to live with his painted leaf.