So this was my first time ever reading Matheson’s I Am Legend and I have to say, overall I was a very big fan. The concept of one man against an entire world of monsters is certainly something we have seen before in zombie stories, but this is the first time I believe I have seen it in a vampire story.
We spend the majority of the time inside Robert Neville’s head. For some, this could get rather tedious listening to only one character. For me, I actually started to see Neville as two separate characters. One character is Robert Neville – successful provider, loving father and husband, the man he was before the world went down the drain. The other character is Robert Neville – the survivor and endurer who came out of the traumatic events of watching his family die and then killing his wife again.
The two characters at times seem to be interacting with each other, especially when he is arguing with himself about what to do when Ruth finds him. You really get to see the two personalities interacting there. One side wants to kill her before anything bad happens, the other, more humane side, wants to keep her safe and heal her. While this is not an uncommon symptom of extended periods of isolation, it is very frightening to see it and think that it could happen to you. Therein lies the real strength and horror of this novel. It’s not the vampires who are always shuffling around Neville’s house. We never really see them as a threat as long as Neville remains inside his home at night. They stay outside, he stays in. The horror that chills readers is the idea that we could lose our own humanity and become monsters ourselves, become legends for another group of people. *Spoiler Alert* That is what made the ending of this so aweing for me. Robert Neville actually became the legendary monster that the vampire had been for the human species. Definitely a great ending and such a shocker for me.
As much as I loved the things that did work in the novel, there were a couple things that just didn’t for me and that may be for the fact that this was published in 1954. First was the issue of sex. He was always freaking out anytime the female vampires outside would call for him or flash him or look sexy. His sexual frustration would sky rocket and he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. The answer? Masturbate already. Come on, how hard can that be? (pun intended). Again, I understand that this was written in the 50’s, when talking about sex was taboo. But it would have been a sexual release that would have at least gotten him through those tougher nights and would have kept him from drinking himself into a stupor and damaging himself and his house. Again, not a super big deal but it was something that annoyed me and pulled me out of the story a bit.
The other issue that I had as I was reading through this was the blatant racism. There are several references labeling the vampires as black monsters. On page 28, “something black and of the night”. Page 35, “The black bastards had beaten him”. Page 113, “Do you want to be turned into a black unholy animal?” Page 158, “Did they have to do it like this, with such a black and brutal slaughtering?” The outright association of monsters with black people really started to aggravate me. This is a view that dates back to ancient times, with the Hamite theory of blacks being descended from Ham and cursed to be black. I understand that the time period this was written in was not one of racial inclusion in the United States. This is a clear example of that and reflected the society’s fears of the coming strides for racial equality of the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps it was so aggravating for me because I as a modern reader don’t think like that. But it did bother me. That’s why I can be happy that Will Smith played the role of Robert Neville in the latest movie version of this, even if the movie wasn’t that accurate.
Overall I did enjoy the book though.
6 thoughts on “Matheson’s I Am Legend”
I like how you picked out the “talking to himself” aspect – it’s something I overlooked in my read. I’m going to have to go back and study those passages, one of my works in progress explores that idea.
Amen on the sex subject–it bothered me too, enough to mention it in my post as well 🙂 Racier things have been alluded to in work published years before this. There didn’t need to be anything graphic involved. Just…take care of business already man, and you’ll probably think way clearer and not need so much whiskey!
I completely agree with you about the sexual frustration, and I’m glad to have the male perspective.
I like that you look at Neville as two different characters, almost like Jekyll and Hyde. I think this dual character adds to the theme that the human has the potential to become the monster–potential which Neille fulfills.
I was actually so oblivious to the possibility of the vampires being used as a racial hate symbol, I actually thought some of the quotes you listed above we’re typos. I thought, ‘no, no one would say that, its too transparent and ignorant.’ I just opened the book and started reading it without realizing exactly how old it was and when in history it was written. Your’s and Michelle’s blog really put it into perspective. It’s actually kind of nice to see in way, a reminder that society has made some progress in regards to race and gender discrimination.
I didn’t even mention the Will Smith film version in my blog, because it was so off canon that I don’t even consider it representative of the book. I mean, sure there are LOTS of similarities, and it is a nice twist to cast a black actor in the role of Robert Neville, given my take on the novel, but still, the dehumanization of the monsters robs the story of it’s point entirely.
Oh, I agree completely. Just some part of me was like, take that, 1950’s Robert Neville. Now you are being played by a black actor.