Robert Neville’s Display of Solitude as Depicted in His Book, I Am Legend
We are all completely different people when alone. Being alone allows us to dig deep into ourselves without distraction of outside life–for some of us it’s a renewing and positive experience, and for the rest of us it’s degrading and negative. The people from the latter can connect to I Am Legend (novel)’s Robert Neville, in the sense that loneliness isn’t very enlightening. Because of this, it goes without saying that Neville pretty much represents the darker, less stable, and monstrous side of the human population.
Isolation doesn’t fair well for quite a few of us. We’ve seen or read comical stories about how people deserted on an island go wonky and start talking to plants, but that’s far from Neville’s situation. Technically, he’s surrounded by people. Even more technically, none of them are alive. Despite the fact that the people around him are vampires, he still treats some of them like people. At least, one of them–Ben Cortman.
Neville swears he’s gonna kill Cortman one day. He “looks” for him during the day. But evidence proves that he wasn’t really looking; Cortman was hiding in the chimney of his own house, discovered by the group of living vampires. Further proving my point, Neville asks himself “Why hadn’t he looked more carefully? He couldn’t fight the sick apprehension he felt at the thought of Cortman’s being killed by these brutal strangers. Objectively, it was pointless, but he could not repress the feeling. Cortman was not theirs to put to rest” (Matheson, 148). When he says “it was pointless”, it’s apparent that he means “it’s pointless to put myself in denial”. Neville knew that it’s likely that Cortman was hiding out somewhere in his own home. It’s impossible not to make the connection: Neville decided to bury his wife instead of burn her, and when she came back as a vampire, she walked up to the front door of their home. The simple fact that Vampires are aware of their past life to some degree (Even the little things, like Cortman’s “Come out Neville!” Ultimatums. He knows his friend’s name still.) should be a big sign that Neville needs to look in Cortman’s home. But instead, he claims to look in any space a human body can climb into, and suffers the results of his denial by seeing Cortman killed by strangers. Neville likely chose to keep Cortman “alive” because he had the last connection to his personal life: Neville and Cortman carpooled to work in the morning just after he said goodbye to Kathy and Virginia. Put yourself in the same scenario; would you really want to let go of your past entirely? All the memories and everything you miss? Quite possibly, the only living memorabilia of what your life used to be?
If you said yes–even Neville knew “it wouldn’t be that easy”
Speaking of things that aren’t easy to do, Neville struggles with companionship throughout the novel. No duh, says the reader of this essay, don’t you remember the fact that, he was, like, alone? Well, yes, he was alone, but not the whole time. Twice, he comes across possible companions: the dog, and Ruth. What’s interesting about this, though, is the way he reacts to seeing them, individually. With the dog, Neville pursued it shortly, but then decided to take the approach of gaining its trust by leaving it food. But the dog brings on his deep thoughts: “[Neville] had clung to the hope that someday he would find someone like himself–a man, a woman, a child, it didn’t matter… Loneliness he still felt. Sometimes he had indulged in daydreams about finding someone” (Matheson, 90-91). Even though he has the possibility of having a dog to keep him company, he still wants another human being to associate himself with. I don’t blame him. It’s kind of hard to relate to a dog. Even though he’s still interacting with another living being, he still dreams of a day that he finds a human companion. Which likely explains his caveman-like-instinct of “NEVILLE KEEP WOMAN!!” When he sees Ruth for the first time, chasing after her, pinning her down, and bringing her home against her will. He dreamed so much that the very moment he saw someone like him, his first thought was to capture her at any expense necessary. Matheson likely used the two events to enhance the timeline of loneliness–the fact that the longer he’s isolated, the more extreme he is likely to react when presented with an issue that includes the presence of another person. Neville’s reactions to the dog show that he had a more stable mindset earlier on, thinking before he acted. Neville’s reactions to Ruth show that he unstable, and didn’t choose to think before acting upon things. He also had to cope with the fact that he lost the dog. Neville was so excited when he saw the dog was alive. And then as soon as he brings it in, it dies. It quite possibly could have been the last living thing he would have come into contact with. When one hasn’t seen another living being in months, even years, it’s reasonable that Neville would react the way he did to Ruth. The instability just all piles up until it shows its ugly face.
In the end, Neville finally realizes how much of a monster he is in his moment of catharsis. What he realizes in specific is that “To [the living vampires] he was some terrible scourge… even worse than the disease they had come to live with. He was an invisible specter who had left for evidence the bloodless bodies of their loved ones. And he understood what they felt and did not hate them” (Matheson, 159). This is Neville’s catharsis because he’s ultimately realized what he had been doing–killing the vampires–was not right. He had no awareness of the fact that there were “living vampires”. He assumed they were all dead and bloodthirsty, before he met the living vampires. But still, what reason did he have to kill them? He was safe in his home, which he only needed to stay in at night. During the day, the vampires had not been a threat. He had no reason to kill them, other than the fact that it kind of pleased him to. This is why he says he understands why he is getting executed, and why he even had been captured. This is why he didn’t fight his death sentence. That very moment, he realizes that the vampires are not the monsters; he is.
Neville was no hero. When we think of legends, we typically think of heroes. Neville was a pretty messed up individual, to say the least. During his time alone, he never really did any good, not even to himself. And he still came out to be a legend–I mean, it’s not often you become the monsters you’ve been fighting all these years.
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