Matheson turns Neville’s character around in these chapters. At the end of chapter 4, Neville has forgotten to wind his watch and is stuck out after dark, not even sure what time it is. He survives the attacks, and spends the next couple of months rebuilding his home, getting to things he’d never done (like soundproofing the walls). He then sets about trying to figure out what he can about the virus or plague or whatever it is that’s caused all the people to turn.
So, back to the incident - the watch. Chapter 4 ends:
He dragged the woman back to the station wagon and tossed her in. Then he closed the gate and took off the gloves. He held up the watch and looked at it. Three o’clock. Plenty of time to –
He jerked the watch and held it against his ear, his heart suddenly jumping.
The watch had stopped.
It seems like such a small, stupid, neglectful thing. When you’re caught in a post-apocalyptic world populated by vampires, you remember to get home by dark. You remember to wind your watch. Normally, something like this would irritate the hell out of me. Characters who do stupid things like this feel like cardboard to me.
But, it works in this case. It absolutely works, I didn’t hitch on it at all. Why does it work?
Till this point, Neville has been spending his time in isolation, stuck in a rut that includes blasting music at, sleeping poorly (if at all), eating poorly, and drinking. A lot of drinking. While I still feel it’s a little contrived, I bought it.
So then we see Neville come around after his attacks. Why? He realizes:
They were all in front of his house, waiting.
A sound of helpless terror filled his throat. He didn’t want to die. He might have thought about it, even contemplated it. But he didn’t want to die. Not like this.
It wasn’t bad enough yet for him. It’s interesting to watch Neville’s scientific side come out after he gets back on his feet. He begins methodically testing the vampire legends, trying to figure out why garlic works, holding one hostage and demanding to know why she’s afraid of the cross, as well as trying to capture a memory that would give him some inidication of what has happened.