On the surface these characters do not share much in common; one is a vampire in a world of prey, while the other is the prey in a world of vampires. One searches for a cure to the ailment that has crippled his society, while the other tries to fit into a society that does not think the same as him. These characters are Louis from Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, and Robert Neville from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Louis and Neville, although completely unrelated in so many ways, do share one very important commonality when analyzing their characterization in each novel; they are both unique members of the society in which they live. Louis represents that only vampire who approaches his condition with a conscience making him extremely unique when compared to his contemporaries. Neville is the sole human in a world consumed by vampire-like creatures. Louis and Neville share the eerie title of one of a kind. Through examination of passages from each novel and examples from the popular movie titles of these novels, it can be seen that, although different in almost every conceivable way, Louis and Robert Neville share the commonality of uniqueness to their society.
Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire presents the reader with a totally new form of this classic horror character. Louis, the interviewee, is a man at the end of his rope. After the death of his brother, Louis cannot bear to live longer, but cannot find the gusto to end his own life. He encounters Lestat, a vampire, and is turned himself. Louis begins a long journey of finding himself in this new role of no longer living, but not dead. He is not like any other vampires we have encountered in literature prior to this in one distinct way; he cannot bring himself to feed on humans. This begins a unique and telling evolution of the death of the man within the vampire. By looking at a few keys passages from Rice’s novel, the evolution of Louis into full blown vampirism can be seen.
The first passage we will look from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire comes from page 54 of the novel.
I had to kill him. He started to run. He would have alarmed everyone. Perhaps it might have been handled some other way, but I had no time. So I went after him, overpowering him. But then, finding myself in the act of doing what I had not done for four years, I stopped. This was a man. He had his bone-handled knife in his hand to defend himself.
Rice describes Louis first encounter with feeding on human blood. Before this time, Louis relied on animal blood to sustain his vampirism. Louis emphasizes the necessity of the act. He seems as though he is a man with no other option. Louis stresses that he “had” to chase after and kill this human. Furthermore, Louis reminds the reader that he had “no time” to mull over the situation and think of a better course of action. Finally, Louis stops this act of vampirism when he finally realizes what has happened. It seems as though he feels a sense of remorse for his actions, commenting that this is “a man” who is trying to defend himself from an attacker. In this passage the reader sees Louis in his infant stages of becoming a vampire. He does kill for fun or sport like his maker Lestat, but rather looks at this act as a necessity to preserve his own well-being. Louis rationalizes the act by saying the man would have told everyone about the vampires in New Orleans therefore putting his safety in serious jeopardy. After this encounter, the reader understands a new form of the vampire. Louis is compassionate and conscious of the effects vampires have on the world around them.
Our next passage furthers the evolution of Louis as a vampire. Although the reader may feel some sympathy to the condition of the compassionate vampire, this does not last for long.
I could feel the fever for the kill rising in me, a knot of hunger in my insides, a throbbing in the temples as if the veins were contracting and my body might become a map of tortured vessels (Rice 122).
Again the reader experiences the thirst of a vampire, but for the first time this is coming from Louis. He describes the need for the kill in a very graphic way. Furthermore, it is important to note than many of the terms Louis uses seem to echo that of the heart. He focuses on words like throbbing, veins, contracting, and vessels. This passage is a fantastic example of the syntax Rice uses throughout the novel to stress the need for blood that courses through a vampires psyche. Louis is beginning to sound very similar to his other vampire companions. The reader feels a sense of need for blood, more specifically human. Louis no longer laments over the kill, or does it out of necessity. He feels the “fever for the kill” mounting inside him. Louis is no longer satisfied with animals and clearly needs something more. In addition, the need for a kill gives Louis “a knot of hunger inside him.” He is starving for the taste of blood. This stands in stark contrast to the Louis the reader encounters with the old man running from him. He is no longer looking to kill simply for necessity, but is searching for a victim to feed on.
Louis transformation is almost complete. The last passage we will examine comes from page 254 of Rice’s novel.
Not physical love, you must understand. I don’t speak of that at all, though Armand was beautiful and simple, and no intimacy with him would ever have been repellent. For vampires, physical love culminates and is satisfied in one thing, the kill.
One of the most human acts discussed in the novel is physical love. It is one of the few things that is common between us and vampires. Although this is true, Louis equates this act to the kill. He even goes as far to say that it “culminates and is satisfied” by a singular act of taking a victim. In this, his transformation from fully human to completely vampire has occurred. He no longer has the shreds of humanity that hold him back in the beginning of the novel. His transformation is one of the more fascinating themes of the novel for two reasons. First, Louis is the first character we have encountered that seems to hold onto his humanity even after he has become a vampire. He does so with his compassion for victims, the recognition of his actions, and their effect on others. Secondly, Louis shows compassion for his fellow vampires. Not until his, and his companions, lives are threatened does Louis commit an act of vampirism on another human. He is conscious of the peril his society lives in and does his part to protect it. The idea of the unique case within a society can also be seen in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.
Although on the surface Matheson’s I Am Legend is a simple, last man on earth novel, it presents the reader with a deeper psychological question; What do you do when everything, everyone, and the structure of your society has been destroyed? Robert Neville begins a search to not only understand the condition that has afflicted his society, but to also find a cure. Neville does this by studying the creatures. Through this investigation, the loneliness and psychological aspect of the novel becomes apparent. Furthermore, the uniqueness of Neville’s situation is evident.
A passage that illustrates this point in Matheson’s novel comes from page 206 of I Am Legend.
When you were lonely and wanted to talk and laugh and be alive? And someone spoke to you finally and asked you to go out with them?
This passage illustrates the unique condition and psychological problems that being the last man on earth presents. The context of the passage is much less important than the syntax that Matheson chooses. He uses words like talk, laugh, and most importantly, be alive. To the reader this signals the intense loneliness that having nobody to speak with presents. The society that Neville used to know relied on verbal communication to start and maintain relationships. Without anyone else to further this, Neville is very much alone. Furthermore, this passage implies that verbal communication is a sign of the living. The creatures of the novel have lost almost all of these skills and thus can be considered not human. This is a very important distinction.
Another instance of Neville’s unique condition in this new society comes from page 21 of the novel.
He walked on rigid legs to the kitchen and flung the piece into the trash box. Then he stood in the dark kitchen, eyes tightly shut, teeth clenched, hand clamped over his ears. Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone! No use, you couldn’t beat them at night. No use trying; it was their special time.
Matheson attempts to show Neville inability to deal with his new condition early on in the novel. It is important to note that humans of this time, the 1960’s, had mastered the night. Using technology like street lights, head lights on cars, and the incandescent light bulb, night simply became an extension of the daylight. Not in this new society. Neville no longer has control of the night the way he was used too. Furthermore, he becomes frustrated by his lack of control, which becomes a driving force for his search to fix things. Neville is unique in that he has nobody to aid him in his search for a cure. He does not have someone to bounce ideas off of, keep him motivated when all hope seems lost, or as a shoulder to lean on. Here in lies the much understated psychological terror of the novel. Louis and Neville conditions are also echoed in the contemporary forms of these novels; their movies.
By examining a still from each film, Louis and Neville’s unique condition becomes apparent. First, looking at one from Interview With a Vampire. Here we see Louis, played by Brad Pitt on the left, and Lestat, played by Tom Cruise on the right. Some things that indicate the conscience that Louis still possesses are evident in his characterization in the film. First, Louis is not as pale as Lestat. He still has some coloration that indicates he is still more human than vampire. Also, he is standing with his arms crossed and mouth closed; a very closed off, private position. This is not significant until compared to Lestat’s pose. He has his mouth open and arms at his sides. Lestat is more ready for whatever comes his way, thus more aggressive. Furthermore, the fact that Lestat’s mouth is open while Louis is closed-lip indicates that Lestat is ready to feed. All these factors from a still of the film support the idea that Louis still holds onto some aspect of his humanity. These same comparisons can be made by examining a still from I Am Legend.
Robert Neville, played by Will Smith, is the only human left on earth. The only other human figure that he encounters are manikins Neville has named. They are manikins. They are lifeless. As a result, they present the viewer with a stark contrast to exhilaration and exuberance of Robert Neville. He is not a manikin. He is not lifeless. None the less, he is alone. This visually reinforces the viewer that Neville is completely alone. He does not even relate to the only other human forms in the movie.
Although Louis of Interview with a Vampire and Robert Neville of I Am Legend do not seem to be related in any way, shape or form; they are. Both characters give the reader a point of reference in a world not fully understood. Louis can be characterized as a link between the world of the human and that of the vampire. He is unique in this way. Louis still has human characteristics but must feed on blood to maintain his life. As a result he is not human, but unique in his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Robert Neville is clearly unique in that he is the sole human left on earth. The reader is presented with other living things, the creatures, but in no way have they retained their human qualities. As a result, Robert Neville and Louis are one in the same; a link for the reader between the world of the know and the world of the unknown.
Links to pictures: