Robert Neville is the main character in I Am Legend and in some ways almost the only character of the novel. This is essential to the story because he is the last human alive in a population converted to vampirism. It is also central to who Neville is as a character and a human being: he used to be married and part of a community, but he is now completely defined by an essentially random element in his past. (He thinks he may be immune to the vampirism plague because he was bitten by a vampire bat years earlier, but he is not sure.) Moreover, any hopes and ambitions Neville had for his life are completely reshaped by the plague. Since Neville is German-English by ancestry, he is an average American in the 1950s (the period the book was written), married, and living in a middle-class suburb. He is an American Everyman, dropped into an unending nightmare.
Neville is completely reshaped by what he goes through. He repeatedly mentions having resisted his father’s disciplined scientific approach to life when he was growing up, but it is this sort of methodical, self-directed scientific inquiry that leads him to understand the sources of the vampire plague. The few preplague glimpses readers get of Neville show an average, even boring man. Now he scavenges for survival—and slaughters undead creatures daily, his face transformed by the violent anger driving him to kill.
Ben Cortman is the most realized and recurrent of the vampires storming Neville’s house. He is the one Robert recognizes, and so the one who most embodies the drastic changes that have happened to the world and humanity. Ben physically resembles the comedy actor Oliver Hardy and, before the plague, was friendly, even ridiculous. His body, his prevampirism jokes about drinking, and his persona become deeply ironic once he is turned into a vampire. Where Oliver Hardy could be treated with slapstick violence because none of it was real, Ben Cortman is damaged and keeps going because he is no longer human: he is a member of the living dead. His thirst is no longer for alcohol, but for human blood. He no longer calls...
(The entire section is 876 words.)