Literary Classics Under Assault: ‘The Last Leaf’ by O. Henry

O. Henry wrote short stories that are now being dismantled by the U.S. State Department.
O. Henry was a prolific short story writer during the early part of the 20th Century. His work is being digitally dismantled word by word by the U.S. State Department. (Public Domain Image / Wikimedia Commons


As of this writing on July 11, 2021, it’s day 168 of the communist/globalist takeover and the SITREP is that every rich detail of craft, industry, culture; every mention of any country and its distinct heritage; and all references to God are being stripped from the digital record of our literary heritage. The literature of Western Civilization is being degraded before our very eyes into colorless, Godless, and thereby meaningless works of nothingness. They are changing the very words of our writers and authors, robbing them of their creativity, turning their masterpieces into soulless black marks on white backgrounds.

Dinesh DeSouza brought up O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf” in a recent podcast and covered the need to celebrate our conservative Christian culture and values by preserving our literary classics. What he failed to mention is that those very works are being altered, sanitized, for present and future readers. The U.S. Department of State is responsible for our nation’s foreign policy and international relations. Diplomatic missions, treaty and agreement negotiations, and representing the U.S. at the United Nations fall under its domain. It’s also supposed to advise the president, but that’s just a formality nowadays, what with unelected bureaucrats running the country regardless of who the people elect as president. It also operates a website for teachers of English as a foreign language, offering American literature that can be used in teaching both the language and culture of America. It’s called American English.

Here is how the original version of “The Last Leaf” opens. Commit it to memory, so that you will recognize when you’re reading a counterfeit.

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!

Let’s compare that to the State Department’s version of the opening of “The Last Leaf.”

In a small part of the city west of Washington Square, the streets have gone wild. They turn in different directions. They are broken into small pieces called “places.” One street goes across itself one or two times. A painter once discovered something possible and valuable about this street. Suppose a painter had some painting materials for which he had not paid. Suppose he had no money. Suppose a man came to get the money. The man might walk down that street and suddenly meet himself coming back, without having received a cent!

Henry is referring to Greenwich Village, where he lived later in life. Let’s explore the changes and ask some questions. What could possibly be wrong with the world “district”? “Run crazy” becomes “gone wild.” “Angles and curves” are right out. “One Street” capitalized becomes “One street” lowercase as an example of many streets. “Paints, paper and canvas” becomes “painting materials.” A “collector” becomes a “man,” “traversing this route” becomes “walk down that street,” and “without a cent having been paid on account” becomes “without having received a cent.”

Every aspect of O. Henry’s prose is dumbed down, but why? There have been many changes in the Village over time; there may or may not have been a One Street in the early part of the twentieth century. It might have been a fictionalized version of, say, a 1st Street. What is clear, however, is that any real or imagined reference to place is obliterated. The Village was not set up on a grid system; like many places in New England and New York, streets were simply improved cart paths that were full of “angles and curves.”

While O. Henry’s version and the edited version basically say the same thing, that the confusing layout of the area creates hiding places for those without the means to pay for supplies, the first is clearly in reference to artists, while the latter applies to painters, implying laborers. Not only is the art stripped from the prose, but the very artists themselves, at least for now, are taken from the story. Why? To strip America of her cultural heritage—at least digitally. Having your own library is becoming not only a nicety, but a necessity and something that each of us can do to preserve Western civilization.

Here’s how O. Henry describes the artists’ colony:

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.”

And here’s how our benevolent dictators present the same paragraph:

This part of the city is called Greenwich Village. And to old Greenwich Village the painters soon came.  Here they found rooms they like, with good light and at a low cost.

Nothing is “quaint.” There can be nothing “old,” because the American culture must be wiped out. Gone is an understanding of light for artwork,  or mention of crafted artifacts such as pewter mugs and chafing dishes. Other locations are erased, not only American but foreign. There are to be no countries in a global world order. And, again, there is no indication that “painters” are anything but house painters, certainly not artists. The rest of the story is similarly stripped of all richness of place, history, art, and culture.

Is this just an example of a non-English speaker trying to translate a literary work? Is the American English website even real? I did check its certification, and it does seem to emanate from the State Department.

Worst of all, though, is the removal of any deeper meaning underlying the story. Spoiler alert: “The Last Leaf” is the story of a young female artist who loses the will to live when she is stricken with pneumonia, and of the dying gesture of an old man to give her hope. Johnsy, a nickname for Joanna, determines that she will die when the winter winds strip the last leaf from the ivy growing outside her window. When there is hardly a leaf left, the old man braves the wet, cold night to paint a leaf on the opposite tenement wall in an attempt to prevent Johnsy from giving in to thoughts of death. In true O. Henry style, it is the old man, in poor health, who succumbs to pneumonia while Johnsy asks for a mirror—which isn’t exactly subtle but is an obvious symbol of self-reflection—and admits that it was a sin for her to be drawn to thoughts of death. She sits up, takes nourishment, and begins to dream once again of painting in Italy.

Let’s look at the original description of the old man, Mr. Behrman, which is German for bear-man.

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 with 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.

First, we have a reference to the classic Italian artist combined with the biblical reference to Moses plus the animalistic head of a satyr and body of an imp. So, like all people, he is a mix of good and bad, part Godly art and beauty, part lustful, animalistic trouble-maker. He is representative of the good and evil in all humans. Unfortunately, Mr. Behrman never followed-through on the artistic talents he was given; he was gruff, hard, and drank too much. Satyr’s rarely consummate their lusts, and the reference to Mr. Behrman’s “Mistress” is to art. He cannot get close to fulfilling his artistic desires. He does see himself, however, as the protector of Johnsy and her roommate, Sue.

Here’s how the description of Mr. Behrman reads on the American English site:

Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the first floor of their house. He was past sixty. He had had no success as a painter. For forty years he had painted, without ever painting a good picture. He had always talked of painting a great picture, a masterpiece, but he had never yet started it.

He got a little money by letting others paint pictures of him. He drank too much. He still talked of his great masterpiece. And he believed that it was his special duty to do everything possible to help Sue and Johnsy.

The sanitized version strips Behrman of his description as a flawed human, and his good heart beneath an off-putting exterior. But it does make note of his “special duty” to “help” the girls. There’s no mention of the word “protect,” and again the sense of place and is missing, along with any nods to Western Civilization’s contributions to mankind.

The worst offense, however, is the deletion of God from the story. Here is the original description of the vine outside Johnsy’s window.

Sue look solicitously out of 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.

And here is the edited version:

Sue looked out the window. What was there to count? There was only the side wall of the next house, a short distance away. The wall had no window. An old, old tree grew against the wall. The cold breath of winter had already touched it. Almost all its leaves had fallen from its dark branches.

Of course, the original is beautifully written and the latter reads like poorly translated assembly instructions from a toy made in China. Why “twenty feet” is changed to “short distance” is interesting. The people will have zero access to place, navigation, distances; they will be lost and easily controlled. But, so much worse, is that the State Department’s version changes “vine” to “tree.” O. Henry specifically used vine as a reference to The Vine. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” It is a season when the vine seems very old and decayed at the roots. It only climbs halfway, the branches are skeletons barely clinging to the crumbling bricks. It is not Jesus that is decayed, but our faith in him. We fall away from Him, like the leaves, and we can only reach halfway to the heights He had planned for us. We branches are dead and barely clinging to our support.

Here’s how Johnsy responds in the original to seeing what she believes is the last leaf clinging to the vine.

“I’ve been a bad girl, Sudie, [her pet name for Sue]” 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 a 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.”

And here is how it’s presented in the fake:

“I’ve been a bad girl, Sue,” said Johnsy. “Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how bad I was. It is wrong to want to die. I’ll try to eat now. But first bring me a looking-glass, so that I can see myself. And then I’ll sit up and watch you cook.”

“Wicked” and “sin” is very different from “bad” and “wrong.” The first two clearly connote faith in God and the sinful wickedness of when we take his gift of life for granted. Bad and wrong are devoid of any relationship to God. They portray a humanistic relativism to life and a lack of any tip of the hat to The Creator.

Not only is an American Renaissance necessary to reeducate a new generation to the Godly foundations of the freest country on earth, but it would offer an alternative to the bland and Spirit-less works produced by communists who must tear down God and the traditional family in order to destroy American society. We must build up the practice of our faith and support our families and churches to supplant their evil plans with God’s eternal good. Sure, we’re late, Cavalry late, but if enough of us move in unison in the right and Godly direction, we could feasibly arrive in the nick of the time to save our people from enslavement to the Chi-Coms or the siren song of virtual-reality perfection. Remember God uses flawed people, and O. Henry is a perfect example.

William Sydney (later changed to Sidney) Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the midst of the Civil War. When he was 3, his mother died in childbirth and he and his physician father moved into his paternal grandmother’s house. He was well schooled and tutored by the women in his family and read voraciously, classics mostly followed by a mental palate-cleanse of dime novels. He apprenticed as a pharmacist in his uncle’s drug store, earning his license at 19 and sketching portraits of local people. He moved to Texas to address a persistent cough with a drier climate, and his health improved. He worked on a ranch, picking up German and Spanish phrases from the immigrants he worked alongside; played musical instruments; sang in a quartet; read; wrote; and regaled people with his wit and storytelling. Eventually he met and married his wife, Athol Estes, against her family’s wishes due to her having contracted tuberculosis.

His vast collection of short stories are easy reads that are neither too lofty nor layered. In fact, critics panned them, while the public couldn’t wait for the next one with it’s invariable surprise ending. There’s something to be said of a writer who can endear himself to the public despite the upturned noses of the elite, be they English teachers, publishers, or the dreaded critic who never creates, only criticizes or lauds. O. Henry’s narrations are amusing, his characters are everyday people whom we can all relate to, and his deeper meanings don’t take much effort to uncover.

Porter worked for a while in a bank and was fired for embezzling. When the law caught up to him, he got scared of going to jail and fled to Honduras where he made friends with a bank robber. He intended to send for Athol, but she became too ill to travel. When Porter learned that she was dying, he returned home and surrendered himself, pending trial. The pharmacist could not save his wife; within five months she succumbed to TB. Porter had met Athol in 1885; they married two years later. For 12 years and through two pregnancies, her illness was kept at bay.

Porter then moved to Greenwich Village and entered his most prolific period as a short story writer, perhaps spurred by Athol’s death and her desire for him to write. He married a childhood sweetheart from North Carolina, but she left him over his excessive drinking. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1910 at the age of 47. These biographical notes reveal the most haunting lines from “The Last Leaf.”

“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.

And even here, our enemies strip the beauty from the prose.

“Dear, dear Johnsy!” said Sue. “Think of me, if you won’t think of yourself. What would I do?”

But Johnsy did not answer. The most lonely thing in the world is a soul when it is preparing to go on its far journey. The ties that held her to friendship and to earth were breaking, one by one.

So an old man’s final act is to give a young woman a reason to live through Jesus Christ. “The Last Leaf” was the old man’s masterpiece. “The Last Leaf” was also the woman’s reason to live and do all that God had planned for her.

Reasons to live are far and few between for conservative Constitutionalists in this country. Voting machines need to be addressed; without doing so, there is no reason to participate in the charade of a representative republic. We are at war. The attacks on the family, on church, on the Second Amendment, on freedom of speech, assembly, and movement are compiling at an ever-increasing rate. Each one of us must face ourselves in the mirror and determine our gifts and how they contribute to the whole. If you’re good with kids; you are a blessing. If you’re kind; you are a blessing. If you’re feisty; you are a blessing. If you can fix cars, or build houses, or create businesses, you are a blessing. If you can get beyond yourself enough to protect another person, you are truly heroic. If we foster empathy for each other, maybe, just maybe, we can save each other.

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