These are the final chapters. Matheson does a great job of continuing
to create change in Neville. He’s encountered another human who is
apparently immune as well, Ruth. He’s cold and distrustful at first,
now having been in isolation for about 3 years.
He suddenly realized that he had become an ill-tempered and inveterate
bachelor again. He no longer thought about his wife, his child, his
past life. The present was enough.
But one night, he wakes to see Ruth standing in the shadows, and
confuses her with his long dead wife. It breaks him, and he is reduced
to tears, embracing Ruth in a moment of common comfort.
I have one issue with how Matheson starts Chapter 17. It may seem
small, but it pulled me out of the story. Neville wakes, crying out
“Virge!”. So far as I can tell, unless I missed something, this is the
first instance we have of Neville referring to his wife this way.
Prior, it was always Virginia. As a reader, I was confused, as I’ve
never heard Virge used as a nickname for Virginia, although I’ve heard
it used for Virgil. It was only a page or so later that I made the
connection. As a writer, this is something I try to avoid. I believe
firmly that names need to be consistent throughout, and that any
nicknames for characters must be established as early as possible. Okay
The rest of the piece was a surprise for me. I have to admit, I saw the
movie, and so I think my expectations were tainted. Sure, there’s
similarities, but they are different stories. I wasn’t surprised by
Neville’s resistance to moving out of the house, even after Ruth’s stark
warning. It fit perfectly with what I expected of a hermit who’s so
settled in his ways.
I was, however, surprised that he had resigned not to fight when they
came for him. But, it wasn’t enough to distract me from the story.
Neville is captured and held prisoner. Even in the face of certain
death, even after all he’s been through, Neville has retained core human
In spite of having lived with death all these years, in spite of
having walked a tightrope of bare existence across an endless may of
death – in spite of that he couldn’t understand it. Personal death
still was a thing beyond comprehension.
What I find most interesting about how this ends is the parrallel
Matheson draws between that last piece of humanity as it was (Neville)
and the first establishment of humanity as it will be (the “Vampire”
society). The interaction between Neville and Ruth at the end, the
dialog, her assistance in his suicide, the kiss between them show
there’s a common thread that persists even though the biology has
The realization at the end is powerful as well. Matheson has set things
up very well to pull of what happens to Neville and what he thinks as he
stares out the window at the new society, preparing to kill himself:
Then sudden silence, as though a heavy blanket had fallen over their
heads. They all stood looking up at him with their white faces. He
stared back. And suddenly he thought, I’m the abnormal one now.
It is the stake in his heart, so to speak. A deep understanding that
his fight for survival was a key part in the transition of the human
race, and that his part was at an end. I can’t imagine a more
appropriate way to end this story, nor a more appropriate title:
I am legend.