Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Patterson Essay

Much of my online artifact focuses on this very topic.  Matheson's  I Am Legend was written in a very volatile time in American history.  It was the start of the modern civil rights movement and the dawn of the Cold War.  There was much uncertainty about the future of the world and America's place in it.  In many ways Matheson's novel is a commentary on this simple fact.  

As the civil rights movement gained steam, many Americans in the majority felt that they should be contained, i.e. separate but equal.  Race was seen as a consequence of humanity much like vampirism is in the novel.  "In this novel, vampirism is not a supernatural curse but a consequence of biological warfare."  Matheson's commentary on this fact is clear when analyzing the character of Robert Neville.  

Neville focuses on an understanding of the creatures that torment him throughout his nights of solitude.  He is not a scientist, like in the movie, but performs tests of all kinds on the creatures blood and other samples to gain an understanding.  Through his tests he discovers that these creatures are more human than he once thought.  This same philosophy can be applied to the social climate of the times.  

Matheson is clearly suggesting that, although civil right movement members represent a minority aspect of the population, they are people and deserve to be treated as such.  Furthermore, if we seek to understand those who are different than us a common ground will almost always be found. Matheson challenges the reader to approach the current social climate through a scientific/observational perspective.  Simply siding with the majority, who usually holds incorrect assumptions, leads to dangerous consequences.  "His character parallels, in many ways, the “self-conscious but highly problematic construction of the American as a new white man.”


  1. The period in which this story was written is important. One part of the story that emphasizes the period in which the novel is written is when Neville is thinking about how once he spoke to a "negro." This is a very offensive word now, but then that was a very common word for white people to use.
    The other part about this thought that Neville has is that he makes it seem out of the ordinary that he was speaking to an African American, but your comment that Matheson is supporting civil rights is that Neville did not seem at all uncomfortable with his conversation with an African American.
    Civil rights could definitely have a big play in this novel since it started around 1955. Matheson could have been using this novel to express his views. I guess I'm not sure how exactly it applies though. Is Neville the minority? Or are the vampires? If the vampires are, then they swiftly became the majority because everyone (or almost everyone) like Neville is supposedly gone.
    I am not sure how I feel about either one being the minority though because the vampires are significantly less intelligent than Neville. In that case Matheson would be implying that one race is more intelligent than the other. I do like what you said about Neville discovering that the vampires are not so different from humans. “He is not a scientist, like in the movie, but performs tests of all kinds on the creature’s blood and other samples to gain an understanding. Through his tests he discovers that these creatures are more human than he once thought.” I think that the fact that the vampires do not like crosses, mirrors, ect. because they are superstitious relates them to humans much more. Neville discovered that this superstition was carried over from their human life. It is interesting because throughout the story Neville is trying to find a scientific reason for the vampires not liking crosses when it turns out that it is psychological.

  2. I’m still debating whether Neville sees the vampires as nothing but objects, or more specifically test subjects or if he cares about them enough to feel uncomfortable testing on them. I think in the beginning he saw them as the others, the ones that are not like him, the ones that are dangerous and unable to be trusted. They are portrayed as vulgar or barbaric, like the women that tried to lure him out by acting sexy or holding up their clothes. Later into the novel when he started experimenting on them he was trying to further his knowledge about the disease but he didn’t really seem to care for them all that much. I think after a while, perhaps after meeting the dog which had become infected he had a little more sympathy for them? In any case, he started experimenting as a way to save people instead of just gaining knowledge about killing the vampires. I think that was an important turning point.

    I can see the racial undertones in the novel, and looking at Neville throughout it’s clear he was angry that the vampires had appeared and afraid of them and the new society they were going to bring about. I agree with the point, “if we seek to understand those who are different than us a common ground will almost always be found” because that is always true. Understanding is the first step and it no doubt takes time and effort but it can lead to a better society.