Character List

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 45

Robert Neville—the last living human

Ben Cortman—Robert’s neighbor, now a vampire

Virginia Neville—Robert’s wife, now dead

Kathy Neville—Robert’s daughter, now dead

Ruth—a representative of the new vampire race

The dog—a wounded dog Robert tries to befriend

(The entire section contains 921 words.)

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Robert Neville—the last living human

Ben Cortman—Robert’s neighbor, now a vampire

Virginia Neville—Robert’s wife, now dead

Kathy Neville—Robert’s daughter, now dead

Ruth—a representative of the new vampire race

The dog—a wounded dog Robert tries to befriend

Character Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 876

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 out to Robert as a friendly neighbor, but rather to lure him out into the night where he can be eaten.

Because vampires in this novel eat not just people but also any other animals they can find, and because the war and plague killed others, Robert Neville’s world has been scoured almost completely free of living beings above the level of the plant. When he sees a stray dog on the street in chapter 12—almost exactly at the novel’s midpoint—he is overwhelmed. The dog is limping, and one ear is damaged, but for a time Neville allows himself to believe he will have a companion. He coaxes the dog over several days, feeding it, then eventually grabs it and takes it inside the house. The dog eventually calms somewhat, but when night falls, it panics; it has avoided the vampires by sneaking under a house, and cannot get safe. While the dog does relax enough to lick Neville’s palm, it dies pretty quickly. This leaves Neville all the lonelier and serves as a symbol and foreshadowing; he is alone, and all attempts to change that will fail.

Ruth is the representative of the new biological order. She appears wandering in the daylight, apparently human, but Robert cannot bring himself to fully trust her. She spins a story about how she and her husband managed to survive; Robert insists on testing her blood for signs of infection. While she is sharing her story—and Robert is testing it for holes and inconsistencies—she is carefully quizzing him to see how much he understands about the bacillus causing vampirism. When Neville insists on testing her blood, Ruth clubs him on the head and escapes. However, she leaves him a letter revealing that while she is infected with vampirism, she has not wholly changed. Moreover, she is part of an emerging new society that has managed to find a way to stall the infection through regular medication. They have found a way to “live with the germ”—to make accommodations to the illness. They are spreading and will form a new culture that will kill both the true vampires and the few other remnants of humanity still living besides Robert Neville. Ruth shows her compassion for Robert by begging him to leave the city and take shelter in the mountains, where he will be safe longer. When Robert is finally captured by representatives of the new race, Ruth is revealed as a major figure in the emerging government and shows her complexity by leaving him suicide pills so he will not be executed.

In flashbacks, Robert Neville encounters a number of nameless men. One unnamed man tries to get Neville to drive his mother’s body to be cremated along with Virginia’s. Another tries to enlist Neville in a Christian revivalist meeting intended to save them from the threat of vampires. These men symbolize attempts to respond to the plague with science and political organization (in the first case) and with religion (in the second). Both fail.

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