An Assessment of Hope in Stories

Cambridge dictionary defines hope as to want something to happen or to be true, and usually have a good reason to think that it might.

In order to understand the role hope plays in stories of hope, we must first define what a story of hope is. To do so I will use some examples from recent history and literature.

My first example is from a work of literature which I kind of feel obliged to put in this post as our teacher told us to read it. It is a short story by American writer O. Henry titled “The Last Leaf”. 

This short story is about a girl, sick with pneumonia, who decides she will stop fighting for her life when the last leaf falls off an ivy vine outside of her window. In the autumn wind, all the leaves fall off but one remains and this leaf forces the girl to try to live. At the end of the story, it turns out that a friend of the girl and her sister had painted the leaf there. 

While the hope in the story is not as obvious as in many other examples, it is still the story of someone being resilient to adversity which almost always requires hope. In this case though, it was not the victim herself who had the hope to overcome this challange, but rather the ones who painted the leaf. So based on this story, a story of hope is one in which someone does something in reaction to an undesired situation which is likely to happen. In the short story, the desired outcome happened, where the girl endured the sickness and survived, but the desired outcome may not always be what happens.

For my second example, I will use the 1989 Democracy Movement in China. From April 15 until June 4, 1989, students protested the regime and called for democracy and freedom. However, unlike in “The Last Leaf”, the students’ desired outcome never happened and the protests ended up in a massacre.

In these demonstrations, and in almost any protests, the desired outcome was clearly defined with the students obviously hoping for the changes they protested for to be adopted by the Chinese Communist Party. The chances their protest would cause the change they wanted, such as the girl from The Last Leaf’s chances of surviving her illness, were slim, but unlike the girl who survived her illness, several thousand Chinese dissidents died in the Tiannamen Square Massacre with the opposite of their desired changes being enacted.


This shows that a story doesn’t need to end in success for it to be a story of hope. If your chances of survival or success are slim, then it is still more likely that you fail, even if you fully hope for succes. It’s just that the positive outliers are more likely to be noticed. If the people in a story have the desire for a specific outcome, despite facing undesirable odds, then the story is likely about hope.

So a story of hope is a story in which a believe that a desired outcome can be reached despite the odds is excercized in one way or another. A story being about resilience or survival does not mean that it must also be about hope. With them being largely so largely connected, it is important to know that they can exist independently.


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