I Am Legend

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Ben Cortman Character Analysis

Ben Cortman is Robert Neville’s friend and neighbor and, after he becomes infected with the vampire germ, one of Neville’s most dangerous enemies. Every night, Cortman stands outside Neville’s house, shouting for him to come outside. Over the course of the novel, Cortman becomes more than just Neville’s enemy: he becomes Neville’s reason for living. As Neville becomes more comfortable in his role as a vampire-killer, he begins to enjoy hunting for Cortman during the day—indeed, he doesn’t know how he’d spend his time if he ever managed to catch Cortman. In the end, then, Cortman symbolizes the strange symbiosis between vampires and human beings—one of the novel’s most important themes.

Ben Cortman Quotes in I Am Legend

The I Am Legend quotes below are all either spoken by Ben Cortman or refer to Ben Cortman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Otherness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Tor Books edition of I Am Legend published in 2007.
Chapter 8 Quotes

Oliver Hardy always coming back for more, no matter what happened. Ripped by bullets, punctured by knives, flattened by cars, smashed under collapsing chimneys and boats, submerged in water, flung through pipes. And always returning, patient and bruised. That was who Ben Cortman was—a hideously malignant Oliver Hardy buffeted and long-suffering.
My God, it was hilarious!
He couldn't stop laughing because it was more than laughter; it was release.

Related Characters: Robert Neville, Ben Cortman
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Neville looks out of his house after dark and sees the vampires gathering outside his door. He notices one vampire in particular: Ben Cortman, his former friend and neighbor. Suddenly, he realizes that Cortman reminds him of Oliver Hardy, the Hollywood comedian of the thirties and forties. Neville finds the comparison between Hardy and Cortman so amusing that he can’t stop laughing.

As Matheson makes clear, Neville isn’t just laughing because the comparison is funny; he’s laughing because he’s been lonely and depressed for months, and he needs to release some of the anxiety and fear he’s been feeling. In tense, frightening situations, human beings often respond with uncontrollable laughter—psychologists have argued that laughter in the face of danger is a survival mechanism, designed to distance the mind from fear. Neville’s laughter could be termed a survival mechanism, too: here, he’s releasing his stress and fear so that he can maintain his sanity.

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Chapter 15 Quotes

As he strolled, Neville wondered again what he'd do if he found Cortman. True, his plan had always been the same: immediate disposal. But that was on the surface. He knew it wouldn't be that easy. Oh, it wasn't that he felt anything toward Cortman. It wasn't even that Cortman represented a part of the past. The past was dead and he knew it and accepted it.
No, it wasn't either of those things. What it probably was, Neville decided, was that he didn't want to cut off a recreational activity.

Related Characters: Robert Neville, Ben Cortman
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Part Three, two years have passed since we last saw Robert Neville. In these two years, Neville has developed a new routine for himself: he doesn’t drink as much, and every day he devotes himself to hunting down vampires and killing them. Interestingly, Neville has come to enjoy hunting Ben Cortman, the vampire who was once his friend and neighbor. He wonders what would happen if he were ever to kill Cortman, and realizes that he’d be very disappointed—without Cortman to hunt for, he’d probably go back to drinking heavily.

The passage is a good example of the concept of “antagonistic cooperation”: the symbiotic relationship that often emerges between enemies or competitors. Even if Neville hates Cortman, and wants to kill him, he also needs Cortman: the hunt for Cortman provides Neville with a sense of purpose in life. The trope of antagonistic cooperation is very common in science fiction stories and comic books (in Batman comics, for example, it’s often suggested that Batman and Joker “need” each other, even though they’re sworn enemies). All alone in the world, with nothing else to do, Cortman has decided to structure his life around killing vampires—if the vampires were to disappear overnight, his life would be meaningless.

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Ben Cortman Character Timeline in I Am Legend

The timeline below shows where the character Ben Cortman appears in I Am Legend. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
...As Neville eats dinner in his home, he hears the voice of someone named Ben Cortman, shouting, “Come out, Neville.” Neville ignores the voice, finishes his meal, and tries to drown... (full context)
Chapter 2
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
Science Theme Icon
...and Neville gets out of bed. As he stumbles to his kitchen, he hears Ben Cortman calling, “Come out, Neville!” As the sun rises, Ben and “the others” go away. Neville... (full context)
Chapter 3
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
It’s nighttime. Neville drinks alcohol and hears the voice of Ben Cortman calling out to him. A little drunk, he contemplates going out to join the vampires,... (full context)
Chapter 5
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
...car, they run toward him. Neville drives his car into the vampires, crushing them. Ben Cortman runs up to the side of the car, and Neville presses his foot to the... (full context)
Otherness Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
...runs toward the garage—behind him, he can hear the other vampires running for him. Suddenly, Cortman jumps out of the shadows of the garage: he tackles Neville and tries to bite... (full context)
Chapter 6
Otherness Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
Science Theme Icon
...for work, walking outside and climbing into his car, and waving to his neighbor, Ben Cortman. (full context)
Chapter 8
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
That night, Neville looks out through his peephole and sees Ben Cortman on his front lawn. Cortman has a beard now, and his face seems thinner. Cortman... (full context)
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
Science Theme Icon
...flows on the front lawn. Neville goes back to looking through the peephole, and sees Cortman grinning and laughing—Cortman jumps over the “running water” of the hose without any hesitation. Furious,... (full context)
Chapter 9
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
Still in the flashback, Neville steps outside and runs over to his neighbor Ben Cortman’s house, intending to borrow Cortman’s car. He knocks on the door, but there’s no answer.... (full context)
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Neville sews Virginia into a blanket and carries her body to Cortman’s car. As he’s about to leave, a man down the street shouts, “Could you bring... (full context)
Chapter 13
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
...his thinking that he doesn’t notice that night has fallen—in the distance, he sees Ben Cortman running toward him, and he hurriedly rushes back to his house. (full context)
Chapter 15
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
It’s June 1978, and Neville is “out hunting for Cortman.” Hunting Cortman has become Neville’s hobby, one of the few things that brings him pleasure.... (full context)
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
One day, Neville strolls down the streets, searching for Cortman, when he sees a white shape in the distance—the shape of a woman’s body. As... (full context)
Chapter 17
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
Science Theme Icon
Neville tells Ruth about something else he’s discovered: he can make Cortman panic by waving a copy of the Torah in his face. Since Cortman was Jewish... (full context)
Chapter 20
Otherness Theme Icon
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Survival and Violence Theme Icon
Neville realizes that the new society is going to kill Ben Cortman, sooner or later—somehow, he doesn’t want Cortman to “perish like that.” Suddenly, he sees Cortman... (full context)