I am Legend Review


Peter Amato, Staff Writer

There has been much consideration about what the real threat to Robert Neville is in I am Legend by Richard Matheson. The novel portrays the hypothetical of a world where a vampiric plague has broken out, with Neville supposedly being the last man uninfected. While an outsider might assume that the book is written with horrific imagery and non-stop intensity, it mainly consists of the slow deterioration of a man’s mental state. What can be considered a bigger threat; something that could harm someone physically or psychologically? Being alone may not seem harmful initially, but through guilt and looming insanity, the author shows that solitude can have a major influence on how someone perceives their world.

Since the text centers around Neville following the same routine every day, it leads you to believe he has become fully adjusted to the deeds he commits. While true, it’s clear his guilt is distracting him from fully rationalizing his actions, caused entirely by his own mind. An example would be, “Sometimes he had to go to the burning pit every day for weeks at a time, and it always made him sick. Somewhere down there was Kathy.” (pg. 14) In this scene Robert had just thrown 2 bodies into the fire pit, barely thinking of the two people and focusing instead on the atmosphere. The loss of his partner Virginia and daughter Kathy makes up a decent deal of his guilt. When they come into mind he begins trailing off in thought, becoming more complacent with his goal of eliminating the vampires.

Considering the last quote, while it displays guilt, it also clearly shows lack of human interaction. Robert had become numb to disposing of stranger’s bodies. A quote showing how blind he’s become would be, “What’s the matter?” he asked. “N-nothing. Nothing,” she said. He smiled. “One gets used to these things,” he said. “One has to.” Again she shuddered, the smooth column of her throat contracting.” (pg. 135). When in later chapters he meets Ruth, another living human, he describes to her what he does every day to get rid of the vampires, dead or alive. She cannot understand how he’s alright with killing living beings, and all he can do to reassure her is saying there’s no other way. To us this is obviously insensitive, but in Robert’s head, he was just listing off activities.

Additionally, with seclusion comes a disconnect from reality. If away from civilization for long enough, one may experience a loss of basic social norms and even certain ethics. One of the more disturbing quotes from Neville would be, “Shall I kill her now? Shall I not even investigate, but kill her and burn her? His throat moved. Such thoughts were a hideous testimony to the world he had accepted; a world in which murder was easier than hope.” (pg. 128) This right here is a moment of looming insanity. He talks himself out of it, but the fact that he even had such a thought shows how far he’s fallen.

To close, if the vampires were truly the greatest threat to Neville in I am Legend, would he not be in a much better state? After all, he seems to have worked out a decent system to prevent them from getting to him. If it isn’t already abundantly clear, without anyone to support him in this trying apocalypse, Robert cannot be content. The guilt from thinking of his dead loved ones, the isolation of his desolate home, and the pure insanity of living in a kill or be killed world is the real danger. No matter how much he tries to rationalize, strategize, or reminisce, Robert can’t escape the threat of his own mind.