O. Henry and Ernest Hemingway were two very different kinds of writers. One wrote in a populist style, the other a modernist one. They did happen to write two similar stories, whose similarities only enhance their difference in style.
Both stories are about a person dangerously sick in bed in the bad winter weather season. Apt reading at the moment when we’ve been hit with a nationwide blizzard. When it’s a perfect time of year to remain indoors, cozy and snug, reading.
O. Henry’s story is one of his masterpieces, “The Last Leaf.” It’s set in Greenwich Village bohemia not long after the turn of the century. The lead characters, Sue and Johnsy, are a pair of young starving artists, both women. Transparently a couple. They remind me of young DIY artists of now. If they were around today they’d be creating zines.
Johnsy becomes sick with pneumonia, and loses her will to live.
In Hemingway’s short tale, “A Day’s Wait,” the bedridden person is a young boy, nine years old, being taken care of and worried over by his father.
You’d have to read both stories to recognize the similarities in plot. Both have endings which are something of a surprise—each in ways that are a reflection of the author’s worldview and literary style.
As in so many of his stories, O. Henry buries a Christian message at the bottom of his story. In this instance, the theme of sacrifice. There’s a sense of an overarching universe at play, not exactly karmic, but a place where goodness is rewarded by changed outcomes.
Hemingway’s worldview, like his writing style, is starker than O. Henry’s. His a more hard-edged, matter-of-fact view of reality, but not without sympathy and emotion—and a profound understanding of people and life.
Both stories have a kick. The contrast makes them worth reading together. Either is worth reading by itself as a winter weather story.