In my reading of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, I appreciated the story as one well crafted with an unreliable narrator in Robert Neville. By Neville’s own admission, he was crazy, driven insane by the isolation he imposed on himself as protection from the vampires that hunted him. Because he obviously lost it, I didn’t completely believe many of the things he told us, specifically when he said that scientists had not been able to figure out the cause for the spread of the vampirism. What I did believe was that he believed that, and it was enough for me to go with the rest of the story.
The thing is, Neville in the story is a lot like a writer who writes in total isolation and uses that protective stance to keep him or herself out of the writing world. He never reads or interacts with other writers in any way. This writer will slave over what she is convinced is The Best Book Ever, EVER, with the most original ideas known to mankind and even animal kind, and she’ll make money hand over fist because no one has ever seen anything like her book before. His simple isolation is his downfall, because he has no idea what is going on in the rest of the writing world, what is being published, who is writing the stories. For all she knows, this story has been told millions of times. And then spawned a million more retellings.
Neville has no idea what the scientists were able to find out because he never ventures much further than his own neighborhood. For all he knows, the vampires of the new society could have been the scientists in the old world, or even been created in a laboratory. Just because it took him years to decide to study doesn’t mean that no studying had been done.
This is made most obvious when Ruth comes into his life. He hasn’t lost his instincts, which told him that something was not quite right about her when he first sees her. But his need for companionship dulls that sharpness so that she can get inside his home and his head. I thought it was pretty noble of Ruth to allow him a chance to escape, even though I figured Neville wouldn’t take it. He was still blinded by the trappings of his isolation and his belief that he was the only thinking being left on earth.
The story was also an interesting example of the creation of a monster. When we first meet Neville, he is a person a lot like we would probably imagine ourselves to be, a survivor. He continues to survive by his wits and his ability to separate his emotions from the tasks he knows he has to perform to stay alive. But we view him through our human lenses. If we looked at him through the eyes of the dominant culture in his new world, we would have seen him quite differently. He was a renegade who went about killing citizens indiscriminately to ensure his own survival. He has gone from determining who and what is “other” and disposing of them to being The Other that now has to be disposed of.