I Am Legend
I recently read a book entitled I am Legend that was written back in 1954 by a man named Richard Matheson. In this blog post, I will share my experience and feelings from reading this book. To provide some background, I had seen a movie version of this book back in 2007 starring Will Smith, but this original book by Richard Matheson was a completely different story in my opinion. This blog post is not intended to be a synopsis of the book. I do, however, call out specific plot points in order to articulate my thoughts.
This book provided a glimpse into what life might be like after a major apocalypse, living a fear-based life of isolation. The premise is that the world was overtaken by vampires, and the main character named Robert Neville is the only human survivor. Neville lives a daily routine that is grounded in fear and survival. He is extremely conflicted about his desire to live. On the one hand, he is doing daily activities that are meant to help him survive, such as hanging garlic everywhere and reenforcing the boarded-up exterior of his home. On the other hand, he drinks himself into oblivion every night. I wonder if this is a coping mechanism or a subconscious slow suicide.
Neville walks a path tittering on the edge of dread and hopelessness. Living out his life all alone, he seems to not care if he lives or dies. This is a very scary place to be. His unnecessary risks and semi-explosive and impulsive temper are for a dangerous and tense combination in a post civilization survival life.
As the story progresses, Neville is taunted by the universe, and given false hope in the form of a dog. He slowly tries to earn the dog’s trust, which creates the space and time in his mind to build desire and attachment to the dog. Every day his hope builds and he lets his guard down. This lets Neville expose himself and start to feel again, only to be let down when the dog dies. This was a very upsetting part of the book for me to read. I allowed myself to start to form a bond with the dog while I watched Neville become vulnerable and open up to the idea of no longer being lonely. The death of the dog was an emotional moment for me.
This story reflects what can happen to a person when they are left all alone, living in fear for too long. Having nothing to live for and just waiting out time and almost longing for death. This, to me, was far scarier than the thought of vampires. Don’t get me wrong, I love my alone time, but living out your days in an involuntary state of solitude is a frightening prospect.
I do want to mention that the story was written in 1954, which was a time where Americans lived in fear of nuclear war and the possibility of living alone after a nuclear war. I think the plot plays upon some of these internal fears that people had in that time period. Fast forward to today, I see a possible parallel, as we are all living in some degree of isolation during COVID times and many Americans are living in fear of germ exposure and death.
Later in the book, Neville meets another human woman. He forces her back to his home to attempt to pull himself together and contemplate the idea that he is not the last human on earth. He wants to trust her, but he does not trust her. He tests her. He contemplates killing her because he does not want to rush that she might be a vampire. In this part of the story, we start to see that he might not be that different from the vampires. He is a killing machine and has the potential for killing anything that is not like him.
At the end of the story, Neville has been captured by a new hybrid race of human vampires that have learned to repress some brutality and desires of the vampires and retain more of the human qualities. These new hybrid people intend to kill Neville because they are scared of him. This is the same fear that Neville had for the Vampires.
The story ends with Neville taking some pills that will end his life in order to forego a more brutal death at the hands of the hybrid people. The new hybrid people will emerge as the new dominant species on the planet. I like the irony of ending the story with the human race being choked out through evolution. Survival of the fittest.
I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would. Although many of the details felt quite dated, I was along for the ride with Richard Matheson. I found myself cheering for him at the time, but also wondering what the hell he was thinking with some of his reactions to situations. I felt Richard walking the line of dread and hopelessness which I felt gave the story some teeth, no pun intended.