Legends And Its Importance in I Am Legend
Legend, I Am
“Matheson isn’t just content with his dissection of the vampire mythos, but [he] also dives head first into an exploration of what legends mean and the associated perceptions of truth, fear, and understanding based on a majority of a population thinking a certain way.”
What are legends? From examining various myths, one can conclude that legends are manifestations of the fears of civilization. A dark progeny of insecurity and imagination, legends serve as a tangible way for humans to convey and express their societal fears. In his book I Am Legend, Richard Matheson utilizes the vampire myth to explore and question various social factors surrounding legends.
Initially, Neville blindly follows the superstitions of the vampire myth. His daily routine consisted of many actions, including, but not limited to, hoarding tons of garlic, striking the vampires with wooden stakes, and utilizing the cross. His actions show how deeply these myths and legends are ingrained into humans. Without ever questioning why, Neville utilizes methods that would otherwise seem absurd if used on any other creature. By having Neville blindly follow the various vampire warding techniques, Matheson makes readers aware of how legends cause us to overlook the ridiculous elements they contain. This idea is further played with when Neville tests the theory that vampires cannot cross running water. After Neville sets up a water system, Ben Cortman grins and mocks Neville by jumping back and forth across the water. By creating incredibly hopeless and unworldly circumstances, legends make it so that people have no choice but to accept any method, no matter how unbelievable or preposterous, in order to alleviate it.
The meat of Matheson’s dissection of legends lies at the very end of the book when Neville is captured and is waiting for death. In the final pages, it becomes blatantly obvious that Matheson is using legends to expose the thinking of what is not understood and is in the minority should be quarantined and destroyed. Through his conversion about the new society with Ruth, the line between who is just becomes increasingly vague. Neville argues that the vampires who came to his house seemed to enjoy the massacre, but Ruth responded by asking “Did you ever see your face…when you killed?”(Matheson, 156). Although both Neville and the vampires are killers, Neville is the one behind bars and about to be executed. Being a social construct, justice is on the side of whoever is the majority. As Neville is about to die, he says to himself “I’m the abnormal one now. Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not one man”(Matheson, 159). Just like many creatures of legend, Neville has no say in how he is viewed because he is in the minority. This drives home the notion that legends group and annihilate what society fears and doesn’t understand, disregarding who makes up the society as long as they’re the majority.
In his dissection of the vampire myth, Matheson implores readers to consider the different aspects of legends. He makes readers question the practicality of superstitions that originate from legends and also challenges the societal tendency to fear and isolate the unknown. Using the contrast between Neville’s scientific knowledge about the vampires and the vampires’ skewed perception of Neville, Matheson seems to be saying that society should strive to understand and coexist with our fears, rather than trying to wipe them out.
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