The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

As I Am Legend begins, in January, 1976, Earth has been ravaged, first by nuclear war, then by a mysterious plague that transforms its victims into vampires. One normal human being, Robert Neville, remains. Through him, Richard Matheson dramatizes humanitys desperate struggle to overcome a catastrophe that it perhaps brought upon itself.

In the first of the novel’s four parts, Neville has barricaded himself in his home against the nightly onslaughts of the vampires, among them his former friend and neighbor, Ben Corman. While Corman shouts for him to come out, Neville attempts to block the horror with classical music and alcohol. By day, while the vampires sleep, he repairs the damage to his house and hunts his tormentors. This has been his life for five months. He avoids the past, particularly memories of his wife, Virginia, and daughter, Kathy, both victims of the plague. Instead, he exists alone in the terrifying present, eating, drinking, listening to Beethoven, and killing scores of vampires.

When part 2 opens in March, 1976, Neville has refortified and soundproofed his house. More secure, he begins to diverge from his obsession with destroying vampires and seeks to understand them and the disease that engendered them. Thus begins a clever scientific inquiry that transforms into science fiction what has been so far a rather ordinary horror story. With microscope and science book in hand more frequently than mallet and stake,...

(The entire section is 552 words.)