Give us feedbackX

Stylistic Peculiarities of the Short Story The Last Leaf by O. Henry: Critical Analysis

The relevance of the chosen research topic is caused by several factors. On the one hand, a short story as a brief fictional prose narrative that deals with only a few characters described in a few significant episodes should be rich enough in original stylistic devices to provide a complete treatment of its characters and subject in relatively limited scope. On the other hand, due to its limited volume, it seems to be extremely convenient for linguistic studies and analysis. In addition, O’Henry’s individual style is based on out of the way talent to use stylistic devices.

As it has been noted earlier, the short story description of setting is very economical and narration is concise. It is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in a single significant episode or scene and involves a limited number of characters. Because of the short story length, it may or may not follow the usual pattern of a story: exposition, complication, rising action, crisis, climax, and resolution. Most of modern short stories do not have an exposition and start in a middle of the action. While their endings are usually open. A short story pays more attention to the creation of some atmosphere rather than telling the story itself.

O’Henry’s narrative style and his language are rather simple. He often uses colloquial expressions and American slang in his short stories to describe characters better. O’Henry is considered to be a great master of irony, humour, and pun. The endings of his stories are always twisted, unexpected, and surprising. While emotionally saturated images and heart-piercing plots are created due to the proper usage of versatile stylistic devices.

That is the high time to consider stylistic devices and their classification in more detail. A stylistic device or a figure of speech is an expression that uses words to mean something different from their ordinary routine meaning. According to the level of the text, they are created at stylistic devices fall into four categories: phonetic, lexical, syntactical, and compositional. All of them can be based on repetition or variation, contrasting and imagery or analogy. In our research, we have focused on lexical and syntactical stylistic devices only. After thorough analysis of the short story “The Last Leaf” by O’Henry we extracted 31 stylistic devices, 21 – lexical and 10 – syntactical.

Lexical stylistic devices appeared to be the most numerous. It should be noted here that they are represented with imagery or analogy lexical devices only, such as metaphor (11 samples), personification (7 ones), metonymy, and zeugma (by 1 each). Metaphor is a lexical stylistic device based on the transfer of the name of the object to another object on the basis of their similarity or likeness. It helps the reader to have a new fresh look at the object described. For example, young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature. Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing – an idea or an animal – is given some human attributes (e.g. the cold breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks). Only one metonymy was identified in the text, that is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept (e.g. 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 final lexical stylistic device is zeugma. It is applying a word to a few other words in the sentence in order to give different meaning (e.g. they had met at the table d'hôte of an Eighth Street 'Delmonico's,' and found their tastes in art, chicory salad, and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted).

Syntactical stylistic devices appeared to be less numerous, only 10 cases, i.e. parallelisms, anaphora, repetitions, and similes. Parallelism is sentence arrangement in such a manner that is has parallel structure, e.g. one was from Maine; the other from California. Anaphora is a repetition of the word at the beginning of the sentences in order to stress it (e.g. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of thinking.). Simile is one of the easiest stylistic devices to be identified since it is signaled by the use of the words such as “like” or “as” (e.g. 'Tell me as soon as you have finished,' said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying white and still as fallen statue, 'because I want to see the last one fall).

Summing up, the conducted analysis of the short story showed dominating position of lexical stylistic devices supported with some syntactical ones, mainly to provide rhythm and intratextual cohesion of the narration. O’Henry explains that being talented means much more than just being successful or famous.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Related Blog Posts

Receive regular updates, discounts, study guides and more

By clicking “Subscribe”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related emails.