I Am Legend Characters
by Richard Matheson

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Character List

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

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...

(The entire section is 921 words.)