This zombie-vampire apocalypse book mainly focuses on the sole protagonist, not the series of events that ensued in the wider world as the plague tore through the planet. ‘I Am Legend’ is a story that shows the depths of loneliness, pain, monotony, and despair a human being can go through when they alone survive and are surrounded by dreadful creatures.
‘I Am Legend’ encompasses vital concepts that reveal Richard Matheson’s thoughts on science, identity, and human survival.
A theme in Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ is loneliness. Robert Neville was an average American man before the epidemic struck. As the lone survivor of this plague, he becomes the last human being on earth. His daily routine changes as he includes experiments and workouts. Surrounded by vampiric people who only crave to kill him, he learns to cope with alienation. Since he can no longer have physical relations with people, he takes comfort in the memory of other people that he has. He constantly thinks about his wife and daughter killed during the pandemic.
After living for months without association with another human being, Robert experiences a severe need for human interaction with no hope of this need getting met. His sexual urges are one of the most challenging of his experiences. He describes it as a burning heat in his lower abdomen. Sometimes, he gets tempted to succumb to the seductions of the female vampires gathered outside his house. He also tries different ways to diminish his loneliness, but they are not fruitful. He turns to alcohol, researching vampirism, and killing vampires during the day.
When he finds a dog in April 1976, he is hopeful and believes his lonely days have ended. This strengthens his resolve to bring it home with him. Unfortunately, the dog gives in to the vampiric infection and dies. In this book, Neville does not escape his loneliness because even when he meets Ruth, a conscious vampire, she is not who she appears to be. Also, their physical interaction lasts for a short period.
In this novel, Robert Neville finds himself surrounded by vampires at night and travels around Los Angeles during the day murdering vampires in their sleep. As the last man uninfected by the vampire germ, Robert quickly accepts that the vampires will kill him if he refuses to protect himself. For this reason, he spends his days fixing damages they made in the night, hanging garlic to repel the terrifying creatures, and researching ways to kill the vampiric germ.
In ‘I Am Legend,’ Richard Matheson explores the extent of violence humans will descend to in other to survive. Matheson examines how the struggle to live can isolate an individual from his humanity. At different stages in the novel, Robert feels sorry about killing vampires, but he quickly assures himself that he is doing the right thing by defending himself from getting killed.
The vampires, on the other hand, have lost every iota of logic and emotions. They do not feel sorrow or shame. When they gather at Robert’s house at night, they do it because they want to feed. They do not contend with principles as the protagonist does. When Virginia returns from the dead to have Robert’s blood, it is because her need for survival supersedes her memory of Robert.
When Robert meets Ruth, his compassion for the vampires is so numb he is amazed when she flinches in fright at his idea of slaying vampires. The group of conscious vampires where Ruth belongs also intends to eradicate the populace of the existing world to construct a new society that is convenient for their survival.
In Robert Neville’s flashbacks, there was a war between the United States, where the protagonist lives, and another world power. This world war continued for several years and ended with both countries using nuclear weapons to prove their superiority. These acts of violence possibly created the basis of the social and environmental violence that Robert faces throughout the book. The vampires attack Robert’s house at night, trying to get in. During the day, he attacks them when they are asleep. He plunges a stake through their hearts or drags them into the sun to die. The community of conscious vampires also fiercely assault the dead vampires in front of Robert’s house and capture him for execution.
The disastrous and philanthropic strength of science is another theme in this book. When Robert realizes he is unaffected by the vampiric germ and all his loved ones have been killed by the disaster, Robert Neville studies the science of vampirism to understand the cause and cure of the plague. In the library, he researches bacteriology, physiology, blood, and so on. While he studies, the protagonist’s fear of vampires is conquered. He discovers the vampires are people suffering from a chronic disease, and not demons. He also realizes that the vampires are victims themselves because they did not choose to be infected by the germ. Neville goes on to carry out several experiments to understand the way vampiric germ works.
In ‘I Am Legend,‘ Matheson posits that apprehension and panic often advance from ignorance of the situation. When Neville learns of the infection leading to the population of blood-sucking zombies, he is less frightened of them. He sleeps better at night and looks forward to solving the catastrophe.
Enlightenment is not the only thing the study of science brings to Neville. He also identifies more destructive ways to kill the vampires. Flashbacks even pointed to the fact that the plague may have started from the nuclear fallout from a recent world war. The living vampires like Ruth also consume pills that contain defibrinated blood and a drug. These pills help control the terrifying effects of vampirism.
Matheson’s science fiction was written during the Cold War era and presents science as empowering yet dangerous.
When the 1975 plague strikes, it wipes out humankind and replaces it with something more sinister. The germ responsible for the victim’s death wipes out every trace of humanity and replaces it with bizarre features. Later, a new breed that is neither human nor vampire is created. The three main identities: the dead, the human, and the hybrid presents the question of who the villain truly is. Easily, Robert Neville points to the vampires hunting him as the monsters, but as the story reaches its peak, he realizes he is just as horrible as the vampires. The new world gravely transforms his identity and humanity, and although he is faintly aware, his humanity is erased by the need to survive in a dangerous society.
Virginia and Ben belong to the group who die and return as thoughtless zombies. Even though Robert constantly ruminates on his relationship with Virginia before the pandemic strikes, she cannot remember any of it. Her new identity is one that only yearns for blood. Her humanity has been erased, and the only remnant of her intellect is the ability to remember Robert’s house and name.
The final group on earth are the people infected by the germ but possess pills that help them control the effects of the vampiric germ. This group retained their memory and human attributes. They can stay in the sun for a short period, eat food, and look healthy. Yet, they joyfully tear down the population of existing vampires and plan to execute Robert Neville to begin a new society. This final breed of vampires has similar features to the old community of human beings, yet it is overrun by people who believe viciousness is the standard of living. As he slowly dies at the end of the book, Robert Neville implores Ruth, a ranking officer in the new society to prevent it from getting too brutal.
Analysis of Key Moments
- Robert walks around his house fixing damages from the previous night’s vampire attack.
- Robert deals with sexual frustration and is disgusted with himself because of the sexual urges aroused within him when he thinks about the female vampires.
- Robert picks up two bodies of vampires killed in the night by other vampires to dispose of in the city’s fire pit on his way to Sears. He reminisces about his dead daughter, Kathy.
- Robert thinks of how hard it is for him to kill vampires, especially females. He asks himself why they all looked like his dead daughter. He struggles with the morality of his actions but reminds himself he is doing the right thing.
- Robert wonders why he always seems to hit the vampires in the heart without missing, even though he has no anatomical knowledge. He is irritated with this line of thought but promises to think more about it later.
- Robert reads Bram Stoker’s vampire novel, Dracula, and begins his tentative research into vampirism.
- Robert hears Ben Cortman shouts, “Come out, Neville,” and it throws him into a frenzy.
- Overwhelmed by despair, loneliness, and pain, Robert blindly drives to the crypt where he buried Virginia in search of solace without knowing he was heading there.
- Robert notices that the vampire he dragged out into the sun on his way into Virginia’s crypt has died. He finally figures out that the vampire was killed by the sun. He berates himself for not thinking of the sun killing vampires all along.
- Robert experiments on this new finding to confirm it. He drags a vampire out of hiding into the sun and watches her die. He experiences guilt but waves them off by reminding himself that the vampire would have readily killed him.
- Robert plans to conduct further experiments with the vampire but realizes, to his dismay, that his watch has stopped. He races home, hoping that he gets home before sundown. He prays that the vampires don’t beat him to his house.
- The vampires gather around his house when Robert arrives. Seeing that there is no way to get into his house directly, he leads them on a wild chase around the block before making a try for his door. He fights off several vampires, gets bitten, then finally makes it inside after great difficulty.
- Robert repairs the damages done by the vampires after the attack. He gets a new station wagon and washing machine.
- Robert experiments with garlic by isolating the active ingredient and injecting it into a vampire. He also tests the effects of a crucifix on a vampire.
- Robert discovers the bacteria causing the vampiric plague.
- Robert discovers a dog in his front yard.
- Robert spends the following weeks trying to befriend the dog and get it to feel safe around him. He manages to get the dog to his room and tries to treat its vampire infection. Finally, the dog dies.
- While hunting Ben Cortman, Robert sees a woman in the field and calls out to her. Seeing him, she tries to run away, but he catches up to her and takes her home.
- Robert familiarizes himself with the woman named Ruth but is still suspicious, so he decides to test her blood for the infection the next day. When he puts her blood under the microscope and discovers she is infected, she knocks him out and leaves.
- Robert wakes to a letter left by Ruth explaining that she is a part of a society of evolved and conscious vampires who want to wipe out the zombie vampires and surviving humans. She advises him to leave his house and seek refuge in the mountains, but Robert decides to stay.
- The conscious vampires attack, killing the vampires in front of Robert’s house, then storm his house to capture him. He is shot in the process and then taken away.
- Robert is taken to the vampires’ camp, where he meets Ruth again. She gives him poison to ease his suffering. As he is dying, he realizes that he is a legendary creature in the eyes of the vampires instead of a human.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
‘I Am Legend‘ is regarded as one of Richard Matheson’s best books because of its exceptional storyline and excellent language. With a subtle narrative tone, the storyline unfolds with the tale of Robert Neville and his struggles for survival. Using the third-person point of view narration, ‘I Am Legend’ maintains a consistent level of thrill and captivation.
Richard Matheson’s adoption of rich figurative language made his book resonate with pop culture and society, influencing authors and moviemakers alike.
Analysis of Key Symbols
In ‘I Am Legend,’ Robert Neville entertains himself by listening to classical music. Classical music offers Neville some level of comfort during the period the vampires roam the streets at night. He plays them loud enough to overcome the screams and howls of the zombie vampires. Robert’s music symbolizes the swiftly disappearing human civilization.
The vampires symbolize disparity. They represent the impulsive nature of people to fear, suspect, and destroy people who are different from them.
The dog in ‘I Am Legend’ represents Robert’s last hope of companionship. To his astonishment, Neville finds himself praying for the dog’s survival. He admits that he needs the dog and when it eventually dies, he becomes resigned to fate.
The library also symbolizes the human civilization that the plague has dislocated. Even though it contains books with diverse and profound knowledge, those books could not prevent humankind from being wiped out by the vampiric germ.
After the plague strikes and he loses all his loved ones, alcohol becomes a coping mechanism for Robert Neville. Drinking heavily symbolizes the depth of Neville’s depression, loneliness, and resignation.
What is a notable theme in the ‘I Am Legend’ novel?
A notable theme in Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ is the theme of loneliness. Following the outbreak of the vampiric plague, Robert Neville has to live alone. The protagonist’s struggle against depression and loneliness is exposed as the story climaxes. Sometimes, he remembers his family before the plague struck and killed them.
How does science help Robert Neville?
Initially, Robert is ignorant about the reason for the existence of the vampires. But as he studies science, he gains more knowledge. It gives him a sense of purpose as there is something to look forward to every day. Also, he realizes that the vampires are victims of the vampiric germ.
What effect does the dog’s death have on Robert Neville?
When Robert Neville finds the sick puppy, he is already half mad with grief, depression, and loneliness. He pours his hope for companionship into taming the dog and making it comfortable with being close to a human. When he discovers it is sick and dying, his hope and energy go into trying to cure and help it recover. After the dog dies, Robert chooses to hold himself together and come to terms with the fact that he will die alone. As a consequence, he deadens his emotions.
How did the vampiric plague spread in ‘I Am Legend?’
Robert Neville theorizes that the bacteria causing the vampiric infection and disease is spread by the apocalyptic dust storms blowing across the world as a result of the nuclear war that occurred years before the novel begins.