I Am Legend Summary 📖

‘I Am Legend’ follows Robert Neville, the only survivor of a worldwide plague that wipes out the rest of humanity. In this new world, he learns to thrive.

I Am Legend

Richard Matheson

Robert Neville

Using the third-person perspective, Richard Matheson tells the story of Robert Neville and his struggle to win in a world overthrown by vampires.

‘I Am Legend’ is a horror and science fiction post-apocalyptic novel that answers the question: “What happens if the world is taken over by vampires?” With the jaw-dropping realistic description of events and an in-depth depiction of the range of emotions felt by Robert Neville, ‘I Am Legend’ holds its place as a sci-fi terror masterpiece.

‘Spoiler Free’ Summary of I Am Legend

‘I Am Legend’ tells the tale of Robert Neville, the lone survivor of a worldwide pandemic who finds himself fighting to exist in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Robert is immune to the contagion that caused the plague and strives to stay alive despite a host of plague victims who turned into zombie-like vampires. Richard Matheson’s classic 1954 horror and science fiction book, ‘I Am Legend,’ is the originator of many science fictions and horror genres.

When the vampires stay away from the sun and lie inactive, Robert Neville scavenges through the abandoned marts and malls of Los Angeles for essential supplies. He also attacks the comatose vampires, killing them by hammering stakes into their hearts. He repairs the damages done by the vampires and hangs up the garlic that repels them. At night, Ben Cortman, Robert’s friend and colleague, now a vampire, is usually the first to come to his door. The other vampires soon surround his house, throw rocks, howl at him to step outside, and try to get in through his barricades.

Curiosity leads Robert Neville to inquire about the plague and the infection that is responsible for it. He soon discovers a bacteria. He learns that this bacteria is both a symbiote and a parasite. Wounding a vampire exposes the bacteria to air, causing it to transform from a symbiote to an airborne parasite, which destroys the host. He also learns that exposing the vampires to sunlight rapidly kills the bacteria and the host vampire. He increases his daily search for vampires, dragging them out of their lairs and into the sun or cutting deep wounds into them. By studying and reminiscing, he discovers that the disease is also psychological. He remembers the mass hysteria and superstition about vampires and how they behave that swept the world at the height of the plague.

Past events that occurred in Robert Neville’s life are exposed through flashbacks. His wife and daughter get sick from the plague and die. After his wife dies, he has to kill her again when she returns to attack him. He heavily relies on alcohol to help him cope with the loneliness and despair he feels. He also relies on music and his research into the plague.

One day, he runs into a feral dog who is infected. Although Robert tries to nurse it back to good health, the dog dies. Two years later, Neville gets more comfortable with his lone survival routine. He comes upon a young woman, Ruth, wandering alone in broad daylight. Suspicious yet intrigued, Neville takes her back to his house and listens to her story. Though garlic repels her, Neville believes it when she says her reaction is only due to a sick stomach. She agrees to let Neville test her blood in the morning. After Neville shares everything he knows about the vampires with her, they share a romantic moment. In the morning, Ruth allows Neville to take her blood but begs him not to look at it under the microscope. He examines the blood and realizes she is infected. Before he can act, however, she knocks him out. Although Ruth leaves him a letter explaining the plans of the conscious vampires, Robert does not run to safety. He is eventually captured for execution but dies of the poison Ruth gives him.

Plot Summary of I Am Legend

Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.

‘I Am Legend’ begins on a cloudy January day in 1976. It has been six months since a plague swept through the world, turning the victims into zombie-like vampires who feed on blood. The dead return from the grave to roam the world and attack the living.

Robert Neville checks his house for damages done to it by the vampires during their nightly attacks. He repairs what is destroyed and nails loose boards. He ensures the house is ready for the attacks that will come again when the sun sets. He also harvests garlic cloves from his hothouse to use as a weapon against the vampires: garlic repels them. He hangs the garlic cloves around his house, then sharpens stakes that he uses to kill vampires. During the day, the vampires hide in their lairs, sleeping in a comatose state. By night, they hunt for human blood. And when there is no human blood available, they attack each other.

When he is not preparing for vampire attacks, Neville retreats to the safety of his house. The vampires gather outside but cannot get in. Robert Neville plays Beethoven and Brahms loud enough to drown the sound of the massive crowd of vampires outside his walls. The mob is led by his friend, Ben Cortman, who taunts him with shouts of “Come out, Neville!” Sometimes, Robert Neville drinks to deaden the pain and loneliness of being the only human in a world of vampires. He toys with the idea of surrendering to them or killing himself.

Soon, Robert wonders why things like garlic, crosses, and sunlight works the way they do. He wonders why some vampires do not hate the sight of crosses, yet others do. He reviews works like Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and makes a list that separates vampiric characteristics that are true from superstitions. He quickly gets frustrated and abandons the list falling deeper into despair and heavy drinking.

Later, he recovers from his despair and decides to continue his experiments. He tests his theories on comatose vampires he finds, dragging them into the sun to see how they react. One afternoon when he is experimenting, he realizes, to his horror, that his watch has stopped working. Knowing he is hours away from home and the sun is setting, he makes a mad dash for home. He arrives on his street to find the vampires already gathered in front of his house. Although he struggles greatly, he enters the house unharmed.

Following his close shave with death, Robert Neville throws himself into fixing the damages done to his house and replacing the appliances ruined by the vampires in anger. Robert often has memories of his wife, Virginia, and their daughter, Kathy. They get sick from the contagion sweeping across the world and lose their appetite. Kathy dies first and has to be burned in the city’s massive fire pit to prevent her from returning as a vampire. When Virginia dies, he wraps her up in a blanket and secretly buries her. He is alarmed when two days later, Virginia returns for his blood. He kills her again and reburies her in a crypt.

Proceeding his research, Robert Neville looks for the cause of vampirism and a possible cure. He begins to read books on blood, physiology, and bacteriology that he gets from the library. He quickly learns how to use a microscope. When Robert examines a drop of vampire blood under a microscope, he discovers the bacillus bacteria responsible for vampirism. The human body serves as a host for this bacteria.

Robert’s research hits a barrier when everything he applies to cure the germ does not affect it. He falls into a nearly fatal state of despair but gets saved by the presence of a frail, injured dog on his front porch. Robert spends the next few weeks gaining its trust with food. He becomes happy because he believes his lonely days are over. He even offers a prayer for its protection. He spends several days feeding the dog, trying to calm it. Eventually, Neville grabs the dog and takes it inside. The dog is infected, and although Robert tries to nurse it back to health, it dies.

Two years later, Robert is more comfortable with his life as a loner. He develops the hobby of hunting Ben Cortman, a friend who turns a vampire. One day, Robert sees a woman in the daylight walking toward him. He calls out to her, and when she runs away, he goes after her. Finally, he catches up with her and takes her to his house. He learns her name is Ruth.

Robert is highly suspicious of the woman, presuming she is infected. Still, he rekindles his hopes of restarting the human race and not being alone. He tests with the smell of garlic and believes when she says her reaction is because of a weak stomach. In the morning, he draws her blood, and at the last minute, she begs him not to view it under the microscope. However, it’s too late, and he realizes she is infected. Before he can react, Ruth knocks him to the floor with the blows of a mallet.

When he regains consciousness, he finds the house empty. Ruth leaves him a note explaining that she is part of a new race slowly forming a society. This race has found ways to limit the effects of vampire infection with daily medication. She warns him about the plans of the new society to exterminate the real vampires and the rest of humanity. She urges him to leave his house and hide in the mountains.

Robert Neville, however, does not leave his home. In the end, the new hybrid race comes to capture him, wounding him in the process. He has one final conversation with Ruth, and she slips him poison pills that will kill Neville before his execution. Before he dies, Robert realizes that he is part of an era that has passed, and he has no place in the new world or the society that fills it. He also realizes he has become a legend.


What led to the creation of ‘I Am Legend’ novel?

The book tells the story of Robert Neville, the only survivor of a germ that turned the rest of humanity into vampire-like creatures and began with simple ideas. Richard Matheson said one day, he saw Dracula, and it was so frightening he concluded that a book overcome by vampires would be worse. His thought led to the creation of ‘I Am Legend.’

What method does Robert employ to kill the vampires before he realizes the effect of sunlight?

Before Robert Neville realizes sunlight kills vampires, he drives a stake through their hearts. When he discovers the effect of sunlight, he chastises himself for missing this vital point. He had been living with the vampires for months and did not realize this was a reason they stayed hidden during the day.

Why does Ruth urge Robert to hide in the mountains?

Although sent to spy on Robert Neville to make killing him easier, Ruth realizes that he is not as horrible as the new race paints him. She also shares an emotional connection with him. After hitting him with a mallet, she leaves him a letter explaining how different she is from the dead vampires and the plans of the new race. She urges Robert to hide before they attack his neighborhood.

Why does Robert refuse to hide in ‘I Am Legend?’

After Ruth’s warning, Robert Neville decides several times to heed and leave for the mountains. On one occasion, he even packs and starts to leave but can not go through with it. This is because he is too used to his house.

Fave Ehimwenma
About Fave Ehimwenma
Fave Ehimwenma is a proficient writer, researcher, and content creator whose love for art and books drives her passion for literature reviews.
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