I Am Legend

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Robert Neville Character Analysis

The main character of I Am Legend, Robert Neville is the last human being to survive after a vampire plague hits Los Angeles in the year 1975. While his friends and family become vampires, Neville converts his house into a fortress, and spends his days traveling around the city, killing any sleeping vampires he can find. Over the course of the book, Neville tries to understand the causes of the vampire plague. He also battles depression and alcoholism—without anyone left to talk to, whiskey is one of the few pleasures left to him. Throughout the book, Neville expresses his fear and hatred for the vampires, and it’s his goal to rid the city of vampires altogether. However, after he meets Ruth, a “living vampire,” Neville begins to see the truth: from the perspective of the vampires, Neville is a hideous monster, who spends his waking life killing vampires in their sleep (just as vampires are said to spend their waking lives killing slumbering humans). Thus, as the novel comes to a close, Neville seems to see the world through the eyes of a vampire: he is the monster, the antagonist, and the “legend.”

Robert Neville Quotes in I Am Legend

The I Am Legend quotes below are all either spoken by Robert Neville or refer to Robert Neville. 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 1 Quotes

With a stiffening of rage, he wrenched up the record and snapped it over his right knee. He'd meant to break it long ago. He walked on rigid legs to the kitchen and flung the pieces into the trash box. Then he stood in the dark kitchen, eyes tightly shut, teeth clenched, hands clamped over his ears. Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Music
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter One, Robert Neville has been defending himself from the vampires of Los Angeles for five months. He’s fortified his house, boarding up all the windows and reinforcing the doors. By day, Neville travels around the city, killing any sleeping vampires he can find. In the evenings, he barricades himself in his house, trying to distract himself from the sounds of vampires outside by listening to old classical music records.

In the passage, it becomes clear that Neville is having a hard time adjusting to his new role as last uninfected man in Earth. The records can’t entirely distract him from the vampires, and in this scene, he becomes so furious with his isolation that he breaks the record over his knee.

Another aspect of Neville’s psychological torment that’s hinted at in the passage (in addition to his isolation) is his celibacy. On more than one occasion, Neville is sexually drawn to the vampires of the night—he hasn’t been with a woman since the death of his wife in 1975, and every night, the female vampires try to lure him outside. Matheson is fond of using phallic, sexualized language to hint at Neville’s erotic torment, and in this passage, the word “stiffening” could suggest his sexual frustrations.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

He checked the oil, water, battery water, and tires. Everything was in good condition. It usually was, because he took special care of the car. If it ever broke down so that he couldn't get back to the house by sunset ...
Well, there was no point in even worrying about that. If it ever happened, that was the end.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Two, Neville drives around Los Angeles, killing vampires in their sleep. Neville drives a Willys station wagon (a common car of the 1950s), and keeps it in excellent condition at all times. His reasoning is simple: if, for any reason, the station wagon were to break down in the middle of the day, Neville would be stranded far from his house—and would have to fend off the vampires from outside the safety of his house. In that case, the vampires would surely attack him and kill him.

There are two things to notice about the passage. First, notice that Matheson doesn’t actually say what would happen to Neville if he were to remain outside after sunset; instead, he leaves it unsaid. As in many horror books and films, the reader’s imagination is far more frightening than anything a writer or a director can dream up, and at various points in I Am Legend, Matheson uses similar kinds of ellipses to frighten readers. Second, notice that survival is the core value in Neville’s new life. Everything he does during the day—even something as banal as driving a station wagon down the streets of Los Angeles—is suffused with the possibility of death. It’s no wonder that Neville experiences psychological problems throughout the book—he lives in a constant state of fear.

Chapter 3 Quotes

He thought of the eleven—no, the twelve children that afternoon, and he finished his drink in two swallows.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires, Alcohol
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, Neville has wrapped up a busy day of killing vampires with wooden stakes. Back in his house, he thinks about the vampires he killed, some of whom were children, and shudders. To distract himself from his own guilt, he drinks heavily.

One of the basic questions that Matheson poses in I Am Legend is, “Is Neville morally justified in killing vampires in their sleep?” In this passage, Matheson gives us reason to believe that the answer is no. Deep down, Neville seems to know that he’s doing something horribly wrong when he kills vampires, especially children—that’s why he’s trying to forget about his acts of killing. In general, the passage foreshadows the novel’s famous ending, in which Neville comes to realize that, from the vampire’s perspective, he’s the monster.

At one time, the Dark and Middle Ages, to be succinct, the vampire's power was great, the fear of him tremendous. He was anathema and still remains anathema. Society hates him without ration.
But are his needs any more shocking than the needs of other animals and men? Are his deeds more outrageous than the deeds of the parent who drained the spirit from his child? The vampire may foster quickened heartbeats and levitated hair. But is he worse than the parent who gave to society a neurotic child who became a politician?

Related Characters: Robert Neville (speaker)
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter 3, Neville—now very drunk—delivers a mock-lecture in which he talks about the prejudice and discrimination that vampires face. Jokingly, he talks about how vampires have always been hated and unfairly vilified—even though they’re just trying to survive, humans have treated them like monsters. Neville even draws a moral comparison between vampires and human beings, such as corrupt politicians and abusive parents. Vampires may be killers, but they kill because they need to survive; evil human beings, on the other hand, commit evil acts simply because they can.

Although Neville is drunk, and not being serious in this scene, he raises some important points about Otherness. For decades, science fiction scholars have interpreted I Am Legend as a veiled metaphor for the civil rights movement, immigration, gay liberation, etc., and this passage is an important piece of evidence. Instead of regarding vampires as demonic villains, Matheson seems to be willing to entertain the possibility that they’re just misunderstood, and that the concept of the “other” is all relative.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Another thought: That man had been one of the true vampires; the living dead. Would sunlight have the same effect on those who were still alive?
The first excitement he'd felt in months made him break into a run for the station wagon.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel progresses, Neville (and we, the readers) learn more about the different kinds of vampires. In this passage, Neville speaks of “true vampires, the living dead” and “those who were still alive.” As we come to understand, some vampires have no conscious minds—they’re just feral, aggressive creatures. These vampires originated from human corpses, people who’d already died of the vampire plague and been buried in the earth. There are also vampires who are “still alive,” in the sense that they’re infected with the vampire plague, but still have some intelligence and humanity left.

For most of the novel, it won’t be clear why Matheson is bothering to make this distinction. It’s only in the final few chapters that we come to understand what he’s doing: as Neville will learn, the still-living vampires will mutate into a race of intelligent, civilized creatures, who wage war against the “living dead.” For the time being, however, the passage is a good example of how science and curiosity give Neville something to live for. All alone in the world, Neville needs something to do, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Studying vampires—reading about medicine, and conducting experiments on them—provides him with a rare sense of excitement and purpose.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Fury exploded in him. Enough!
His rage-palsied hands ripped out the clothes from the bureau drawer until they closed on the loaded pistols.
Racing through the dark living room, he knocked up the bar across the door and sent it clattering to the floor. Outside, they howled as they heard him opening the door. I'm coming out, you bastards! his mind screamed out.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter Five, Neville, having just survived being stranded outside of his house after sunset, chooses to walk outside once again. He’s become so furious with the vampires—and so uneasy with being the only man left on the planet—that he retaliates with mindless violence. He carries two loaded pistols outside, and proceeds to shoot at the vampires. However, Neville’s shots do no damage to (as we later learn, the vampires are impervious to bullets, thanks to the strength of the vampiris bacterium).

Neville’s violence isn’t supposed to serve any practical purpose—rather, it’s his frustrated way of compensating for anxiety, isolation, and depression. It’s important to notice that Neville is capable of acts of savage, useless violence; although he likes to think of himself as a civilized, rational human being (and the vampires as mindless, dangerous killers), he has more in common with the vampires than he would care to admit.

Chapter 6 Quotes

"Maybe the insects are . . . What's the word? Mutating." "What's that?"
"Oh, it means they're ... changing. Suddenly. Jumping over dozens of small evolutionary steps, maybe developing along lines they might not have followed at all if it weren't for..."
Silence.
"The bombings?" she said.
"Maybe," he said.
"Well, they're causing the dust storms. They're probably causing a lot of things."
She sighed wearily and shook her head. "And they say we won the war," she said. "Nobody won it."

Related Characters: Robert Neville (speaker), Virginia Neville (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback scene, Robert is talking with his beloved wife, Virginia, who’s already suffering from the vampire plague. Virginia and Robert talk about the possible origins of the plague—they list insects, dust storms, and nuclear fallout as potential culprits.

Although this brief passage marks the only time in I Am Legend that any characters talk about the origins of the vampire plague, it’s a good “snapshot” of 1950s paranoia. At the time that Matheson was writing his book, America was locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union: both countries had deadly nuclear missiles, and it was widely believed that they’d go to war at some point in the not-too-distant future. In I Am Legend, set two decades in the future, it appears that the U.S. and another country (probably the Soviet Union) have fought a deadly war that has ravaged the environment and caused horrible plagues.

Even if I Am Legend is a work of science fiction, it’s also an important historical document. In passages like this one, Matheson shows us what average Americans in the 1950s were scared of: war, disease, environmental degradation, and nuclear fallout.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Ten minutes later he threw her body out the front door and slammed it again in their faces. Then he stood there against the door breathing heavily. Faintly he heard through the soundproofing the sound of them fighting like jackals for the spoils.
Later he went to the bathroom and poured alcohol into the teeth gouges, enjoying fiercely the burning pain in his flesh.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Neville captures a sleeping vampire, ties her up, takes her to his home, and conducts experiments on her. At one point, the vampire becomes so frightened and frustrated that she bites Neville on the shoulder. Later, when Neville becomes exhausted, he throws her outside, leaving her to be attacked by the vicious, feral vampires outside.

The passage is intriguing because it juxtaposes the vampire’s savagery with Neville’s own perverse behavior. He seems to enjoy the pain of the vampire’s bite, and savors the feeling of pouring alcohol on the wound. There may be an erotic element to this scene, as Neville has shown repressed sexual desire for female vampires before, but it may also be that the searing pain is a reminder of Neville’s humanity and aliveness—he might be feeling something uncomfortable, but at least he’s feeling.

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.

Chapter 9 Quotes

He couldn't even scream. He just stood rooted to the spot, staring dumbly at Virginia.
"Rob...ert," she said.

Related Characters: Virginia Neville (speaker), Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter Nine, Matheson describes how Robert Neville responded to the death of his beloved wife, Virginia. After Virginia succumbed to the vampire plague, he buried her in the ground, even though the law required him to throw his wife’s body in a burning pit (to ensure that she wouldn’t come back from the dead). Shortly afterwards, Virginia arose from the dead, dug her way out of the ground, and walked back to Robert’s home.

The passage is a great example of how, in scary books and films, less is often more. Matheson doesn’t tell us what exactly happens after Virginia, now a vampire, returns to Robert—the chapter ends here, very abruptly. In this way, Matheson allows readers to imagine their own version of what happens next—a technique that builds suspense and proves more terrifying. (Later on, we find out that Robert was forced to kill his vampire wife and bury her again.)

Chapter 10 Quotes

He thought about that visionary lady. To die, he thought, never knowing the fierce joy and attendant comfort of a loved one's embrace. To sink into that hideous coma, to sink then into death and, perhaps, return to sterile, awful wanderings. All without knowing what it was to love and be loved.
That was a tragedy more terrible than becoming a vampire.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Robert Neville goes to the Los Angeles Public Library to research the science of vampirism. As he walks through the building, he finds himself thinking about the shy librarian who worked here in the final days of the vampire plague: in all likelihood, he assumes, she was unmarried, lonely, and sad—“a tragedy more terrible than becoming a vampire.”

Setting aside the fact that Neville seems to be stereotyping librarians (for all he knows, she could have been happily partnered or happily single), the passage is an interesting example of how Neville thinks about his own situation. Although Neville is ostensibly talking about the librarian, he’s really talking about himself: Neville hasn’t felt “a loved one’s embrace” in a very long time, and, as the last human being left on the planet, he has no one to love him. Indeed, there are many times in the novel when Neville seems to conclude that being the last man alive is, in fact, worse than being a vampire—in part, that’s why he’s tempted to go outside at night and join the vampires. However, Neville’s hope of finding another human being one day keeps him sane.

Chapter 11 Quotes

No, not the vampire. For now, it appeared, that prowling, vulpine ghost was as much a tool of the germ as the living innocents who were originally afflicted. It was the germ that was the villain.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Eleven, Neville begins to learn about the science of vampirism. He isolated the vampire germ, and begins to form hypotheses about how the germ spreads from host to host. Here, Neville realizes something surprising: the vampire germ takes control over its human hosts, destroying their minds and bodies, and forcing them to search for fresh blood at night. Previously, Neville had thought of vampires as demonic creatures, but now he realizes that they’re not. Rather, vampires are just as much the victims of the vampire germ as their human victims.

The passage is a good example of how science and research enlighten Neville and provide him with a sense of purpose in life. After isolating the vampire germ, Neville becomes less afraid of vampires—he realizes that they’re not evil, supernatural creatures; they’re just sick humans. Furthermore, the passage shows Neville’s moral conundrum. He seems to be sympathetic to vampires, as he recognizes that they’re people too, even if their bodies have been corrupted by infection. But in spite of his sympathy, Neville continues killing the vampires in their sleep; victims or not, the vampires are trying to kill him first.

Chapter 12 Quotes

The thought of forty more years of living as he was made him shudder.
And yet he hadn't killed himself. True, he hardly treated his body welfare with reverence. He didn't eat properly, drink properly, sleep properly, or do anything properly. His health wasn't going to last indefinitely; he was already cheating the percentages, he suspected.
But using his body carelessly wasn't suicide. He'd never even approached suicide. Why?
There seemed no answer.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Neville contemplates his future and his own mortality. He’s been living alone in Los Angeles for months, and he’s utterly miserable. He takes refuge in books, music, and alcohol, but nothing can entirely replace human contact. As a result, Neville is intensely lonely and depressed; however, as he notes here, he’s never been tempted to commit suicide.

The reason that Neville hasn’t tried to commit suicide, even with his depression, is left unclear. However, what Matheson seems to be implying is that Neville still has the willpower to survive because he wants to feel human contact once again. Survival is the most powerful instinct in the human mind—even when they’re feeling miserable, most people never seriously contemplate ending their own lives, as the hope that life will get better, against all odds, sustains them through their misery. Although he’s isolated and grieving, Neville keeps on living, praying that, some day, he’ll meet another human being.

Chapter 13 Quotes

He smiled down at the dog, his throat moving.
"You'll be all better soon," he whispered. "Real soon." The dog looked up at him with its dulled, sick eyes and then its tongue faltered out and licked roughly and moistly across the palm of Neville's hand.
Something broke in Neville's throat. He sat there silently while tears ran slowly down his cheeks.
In a week the dog was dead.

Related Characters: Robert Neville (speaker)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Twelve, Neville finds a dog running through the streets of Los Angeles. The dog shows some signs of being infected with the vampire plague, but it also can run through the streets in broad daylight. As a result, Neville isn’t sure what to do with it. However, Neville is so desperate for connection—whether with a human or with an animal—that he tries to adopt the dog as a pet. In this passage, Neville has succeeded in bringing the frightened dog into his house. However, by this point, it’s obvious to Neville that the dog is dying of the vampire plague. Neville wants to cure the dog of its illness by finding an antibiotic, but he’s unable to do so, and the dog dies a week later.

The passage is especially poignant because the dog has been Neville’s only friend since the death of his wife and child. Neville wants to save the dog’s life, not just because he likes dogs but because he needs someone to talk to (even if that “someone” can’t talk back). In the end, Neville fails to find a cure—in all likelihood, he burns the dog’s body in the flaming pit, and reverts to being alone.

Chapter 14 Quotes

The people twisted and moaned and smote their brows and shrieked in mortal terror and screamed out terrible hallelujahs.
Robert Neville was shoved about, stumbling and lost in a treadmill of hopes, in a crossfire of frenzied worship.
"God has punished us for our great transgressions! God has unleashed the terrible force of His almighty wrath!

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback scene, Neville remembers the early days of the vampire plague, when human society was trying to decide how to respond to the impending doom. He recalls attending a fundamentalist religious gathering, in which a preacher told a room full of “frenzied” congregants that God had sent the vampire plague to punish the world for its sins.

There’s a lot to notice here. First, the word “frenzied” is significant, because it’s also one of Matheson’s preferred adjectives for describing the vampires. In this way, Matheson draws an implicit connection between the fearsome, uncontrollable mob of vampires that menace Neville at night, and the wild, ecstatic mob of religious worshippers in the passage. As Neville will soon realize, this comparison is far from arbitrary. Indeed, the religious ecstasy of the final days of the vampire plague may have created more vampires: by teaching human beings to fear vampires, preachers guaranteed that, when their congregants died and arose from the dead, they’d be driven insane with self-loathing, and begin behaving like vampires.

In all, the passage seems to critique organized religion for its lack of logic and clarity. Although the preacher in this scene claims that God is punishing humanity for its sins, Neville later discovers the truth: vampirism has a rational, scientific cause, the vampiris bacterium. As in many science fiction novels, organized religion here comes across as frenzied, illogical, and potentially very dangerous.

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.

Chapter 16 Quotes

All these years, he thought, dreaming about a companion. Now I meet one and the first thing I do is distrust her, treat her crudely and impatiently.
And yet there was really nothing else he could do. He had accepted too long the proposition that he was the only normal person left. It didn't matter that she looked normal. He'd seen too many of them lying in their coma that looked as healthy as she. They weren't, though, and he knew it. The simple fact that she had been walking in the sunlight wasn't enough to tip the scales on the side of trusting acceptance. He had doubted too long. His concept of the society had become ironbound. It was almost impossible for him to believe that there were others like him. And, after the first shock had diminished, all the dogma of his long years alone had asserted itself.

Related Characters: Robert Neville, Ruth
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Neville has crossed paths with a mysterious woman named Ruth (who later turns out to be a vampire). Neville is unsure what to think about Ruth; his first instinct is to distrust her. However, he’s also sympathetic to Ruth, and wonders if he isn’t predisposed to distrust other people, simply because it’s been so long since he’s had human contact. As he notes here, he’s spent years thinking about human contact—and now that he’s found some, he’s frightened of it.

The passage shows how greatly Neville’s years of loneliness have changed him. In order to survive, Neville has forced himself to focus on the present, rather than dwelling on the past (in particular, his memories of his dead wife, Virginia). In a way, he’s built a one-man “society” for himself, founded on discipline, efficiency, and murder—and now, the idea of adding another person to that society is almost intolerable to him. Nevertheless, Neville eventually decides to let Ruth stay in his home—his suspicions aren’t enough to outweigh his persisting need for companionship.

Chapter 17 Quotes

They were silent then and the only sound in the room was the rasping of the needle on the inner grooves of the record. She wouldn't look at him, but kept staring at the floor with bleak eyes. It was strange, he thought, to find himself vaguely on the defensive for what yesterday was accepted necessity. In the years that had passed he had never once considered the possibility that he was wrong. It took her presence to bring about such thoughts. And they were strange, alien thoughts.
"Do you actually think I'm wrong?" he asked in an incredulous voice.

Related Characters: Robert Neville (speaker), Ruth
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 17, Neville tells Ruth about his one-man society: he explains that he spends his days traveling around the city, searching for Ben Cortman and other vampires to kill. To his surprise, Ruth is revolted by Neville’s descriptions of killing. She suggests that Neville is killing innocent people: some of his victims, after all, are “living vampires”—human beings who have contracted the vampire plague.

Neville is genuinely surprised by Ruth’s suggestion: he’s been killing vampires for so long that the act of killing has become an utterly uncontroversial part of his existence. Though we don’t realize it at the time, Ruth is actually a vampire—a member of the “new society” of the undead. Ironically, Ruth the vampire comes across as much more emotional, sympathetic, and “human” than Neville. Years of killing have hardened Neville, stripping him of compassion. The passage paves the way for Neville’s epiphany in the final chapter, when he realizes that, from the vampire’s perspective, he’s a heartless monster.

Chapter 18 Quotes

He didn't know how long it was they sat there holding each other close. He forgot everything, time and place; it was just the two of them together, needing each other, survivors of a black terror embracing because they had found each other.

Related Characters: Robert Neville, Ruth
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

After knowing each other for less than a day, Ruth and Neville become romantically involved. The scene is staged somewhat awkwardly, partly because 1950s publishing norms probably prevented Matheson from writing an explicit, full-scale love scene. As a result, it’s unclear what, exactly, Ruth and Neville do while “holding each other close.” (The passage is another good example of how Matheson leaves the most emotionally intense moments in I Am Legend up to his readers’ imaginations.)

On a thematic level, the passage is important because it shows Neville finding the companionship he’s craved for all these years. When Neville found Ruth in the streets, he immediately distrusted her; however, in the end, his need for a friend outweighs his distrust, and they end up loving each other. (The fact that Ruth and Neville’s love scene has been censored helps Matheson avoid an awkward plot-hole: if Ruth the vampire has disguised herself as a human being by wearing heavy makeup, wouldn’t Neville notice when he holds her close?)

Chapter 19 Quotes

When I was first given the job of spying on you, I had no feelings about your life. Because I did have a husband, Robert. You killed him.
But now it's different. I know now that you were just as much forced into your situation as we were forced into ours.

Related Characters: Ruth (speaker), Robert Neville
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

After their romantic encounter, Ruth has attacked Neville and abruptly abandoned him. She leaves a letter for Neville, in which she explains that she’s really a vampire from an intelligent, civilized society. She was sent to spy on Neville, the last remaining human being and her husband’s killer, but she decided to forgive him when she realized that Neville is just as frightened of vampires as the vampires are frightened of Neville.

The passage is important because it introduces the theme of moral relativism: although Neville has spent most of the novel thinking that he’s justified in killing vampires in their sleep, he’s inadvertently murdered Ruth’s husband (and, presumably, hundreds of other civilized vampires). But surprisingly, Ruth is willing to overlook Neville’s murders—she understands that he was just trying to survive, just as Ruth and her fellow vampires are now trying to survive. (To some, it might seem implausible that Ruth would forgive Neville for murdering her husband, and fall in love with him, after knowing him for less than a day.)

He looked into the eyepiece for a long time. Yes, he knew. And the admission of what he saw changed his entire world. How stupid and ineffective he felt for never having foreseen it! Especially after reading the phrase a hundred, a thousand times. But then he'd never really appreciated it. Such a short phrase it was, but meaning so much.
Bacteria can mutate.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Part Three of I Am Legend ends with Neville’s realization that the vampiris bacterium has mutated. Previously, he’d believed that vampires were dangerous, feral creatures who needed to be killed with the utmost speed. Now, however, he realizes that not all vampires are wild and dangerous—some, like Ruth, are intelligent, and belong to an organized society. The passage suggests that Neville has been too myopic in his view of the vampires; although he has “mutated” (completely changed his personality) in the last three years, he’s been too prejudiced against vampires to imagine that they could change.

From another perspective, this passage could be said to break one of the most basic rules of science fiction storytelling. In most good works of science fiction, authors introduce the “rules” and implausible premises of their fictional worlds early on (for example, Matheson doesn’t wait long to introduce the premise that vampires rule the world). In this passage, however, Matheson introduces a “new rule”: the vampires can evolve into other creatures. Although Neville has, apparently, read about bacterial mutations many times before, Matheson hasn’t given his readers any advance warning or foreshadowing for such an important plot point. As a result, some readers may find the passage unconvincing and, on a structural level, unsatisfying.

Chapter 20 Quotes

Robert Neville felt tight fists shaking at his sides. He didn't like the looks of them, he didn't like the methodical butchery. They were more like gangsters than men forced into a situation. There were looks of vicious triumph on their faces, white and stark in the spotlights. Their faces were cruel and emotionless.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Neville has learned that there’s a new race of intelligent, organized vampires, and late at night, he sees the new vampires attacking the wild, feral vampires with pikes and other deadly weapons. Neville immediately despises the new vampires: he finds their acts of killing to be vicious and brutal, and detects “triumph” on their faces (although Matheson says in the next sentence that the vampires’ faces are emotionless—it’s not clear how a face can look triumphant and emotionless at the same time.)

The irony of this passage is that, after nearly three years spent killing vampires on a daily basis, Neville can’t stand to see other vampires doing the same thing. What, we might well ask, is the difference between Neville’s own daily killings and the new vampires’ “methodical butchery?”

There are two possibilities. First, it’s possible that Neville treats killing vampires as an unfortunate duty—something he has to do in order to survive—whereas the new vampires clearly get real pleasure from killing their feral cousins, suggesting that the new vampires are a cruel, sadistic race. The second, more intriguing possibility is that there is no substantive difference between Neville’s killing and the vampires’—a murder is a murder. Thus, Neville’s realization that the new vampires are brutal, cruel people paves the way for his epiphany during the final chapter, during which he’ll come to realize that he, too, is a cruel monster, who’s spent years methodically taking vampire lives.

Chapter 21 Quotes

"New societies are always primitive," she answered. "You should know that. In a way we're like a revolutionary group—repossessing society by violence. It's inevitable. Violence is no stranger to you. You've killed. Many times."
"Only to ... to survive."
"That's exactly why we're killing," she said calmly.

Related Characters: Ruth (speaker), Robert Neville
Related Symbols: Vampires
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of the novel, Neville finds himself in a prison cell, next to Ruth—who, he now knows, is a member of the new vampire society. Neville accuses Ruth and her fellow vampires of being needlessly cruel and violent, but Ruth responds that all new societies are—but she implies that one day, the society of vampires may become more peaceful. Ruth also draws a comparison between Neville and the vampires. Echoing the themes of the previous chapter, Ruth points out that Neville, no less than the vampires, is a systematic, emotionless killer—he’s spent years of his life killing vampires in their sleep, and thinks of killing as an uncontroversial part of his life.

Ruth hits home her point by stressing that the new vampires kill to survive—in other words, killing is a duty, not a pleasure for them. Neville has seen first-hand that Ruth is wrong: some of the vampires do seem to enjoy killing for the sake of killing. However, over the years, Neville has also shown signs of enjoying killing vampires. Neville tries to tell himself that he’s the “good guy”—the civilized human being who kills only to survive—but he’s finding it increasingly hard to believe this.

"I'm a ranking officer in the new society," she said. His hand stirred under hers.
"Don't ... let it get . .." He coughed up blood. "Don't let it get . . . too brutal. Too heartless."
"What can I—" she started, then stopped. She smiled at him. "I'll try," she said.

Related Characters: Robert Neville (speaker), Ruth (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

In this ambiguous passage, Ruth has just informed Neville that her fellow vampires are going to execute him. Neville has spent years killing the vampires’ families and loved ones, including Ruth’s husband. Now, it’s time for Neville to pay the price for his murders.

Strangely, Neville seems calm as Ruth tells him that his life is about to end. Instead of begging for his life, he asks Ruth—who, it’s revealed, is a powerful figure in the new society of vampires—not to let “it” get too brutal.

On the most obvious level, “it” refers to Neville’s execution. However, there’s a second, more interesting interpretation of “it.” Perhaps Robert intends for “it” to refer to the “new society” that Ruth has just mentioned. After three years, during which he’s built a one-man society founded in the heartless murder of vampires, Neville encourages the vampires not to make the same mistake he (and other humans, who destroyed themselves through war) made—in other words, to be civilized and peaceful, not “heartless.”

A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend.

Related Characters: Robert Neville
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Neville experiences an epiphany. Throughout his time as the last human being on Earth, he’s thought of himself as the good guy: the vampires are his enemies, and deserve to die. While he’s often expressed sympathy for the vampires, nothing can change the fact that they’re his enemies, and that he needs to kill them in order to protect his own life.

But here in the final paragraphs of the book, Neville sees things from the vampires’ point of view. Just as human beings are brought up to fear vampires—hideous monsters who prey on the living while they sleep—the vampires of Ruth’s new society have come to see Neville as a hideous monster, too: he sneaks into vampires’ homes and kills them in their sleep. Thus Neville’s final thought, “I am legend,” could mean that Neville finally accepts his own monstrousness—even if he was just trying to survive, he’s a killer, and a menace to the vampire race.

A second, equally important interpretation of the book’s final line (and title) is that Neville, as the last representative of the human race, is about to fade into a distant memory. Human society is going to be replaced by the new vampire society—in other words, it’s going to become a “legend.”

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Robert Neville Character Timeline in I Am Legend

The timeline below shows where the character Robert Neville appears in I Am Legend. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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On a morning in January 1976, a man named Robert Neville walks around his house, carefully checking to see if it’s well-fortified. He checks the planks... (full context)
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The inside of Neville’s house is “entirely functional”—just a bed and some tools. Inside, Neville retrieves a hammer and... (full context)
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Neville smokes a cigarette, has a drink, and then goes back outside to his “hothouse.” Inside... (full context)
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Neville opens his enormous freezer and retrieves frozen vegetables and lamb; he proceeds to cook himself... (full context)
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Neville changes into his pajama bottoms—he’s never worn pajama tops since serving in Panama during “the... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Neville’s alarm goes off at 5:30 am, and Neville gets out of bed. As he stumbles... (full context)
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Neville drives off toward Compton Boulevard and heads east. He stops at a gas station where... (full context)
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Still wearing his gas mask, Neville drives out to a huge, burning pit. The pit has been burning since June 1975,... (full context)
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Neville drives to Inglewood and stops at a market to pick up some bottled water. Inside,... (full context)
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As he drives out to Sears to find a lathe, Neville tries to understand why he needs to use wooden stakes, and why he has to... (full context)
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Neville stops the car to eat his lunch. As he eats, he tries to understand why... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Later in the evening Neville sits at home reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The book is full of silly superstitions and... (full context)
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It’s nighttime. Neville drinks alcohol and hears the voice of Ben Cortman calling out to him. A little... (full context)
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Suddenly, Neville has a profound feeling that he’ll never see another human being again. Frustrated, he breaks... (full context)
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Neville continues drinking. As he becomes slowly drunker, he begins to give a mock-lecture about how... (full context)
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Neville staggers around his house, trying not to think about the beautiful bodies waiting for him... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Neville wakes up around ten o’clock the next morning, very hung-over. He walks outside and sees... (full context)
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Neville decides that he has to get out of his house, even if it’s dangerous to... (full context)
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At the cemetery, Neville goes to Virginia’s crypt. Inside, he’s shocked to see a vampire (not Virginia) curled up,... (full context)
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Neville drives away from the cemetery, still excited with his discovery that sunlight kills the vampires,... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Immediately after the events of the last chapter, Neville speeds home, praying that it isn’t after sunset yet. He remembers that he’s left his... (full context)
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Neville drives back to his house. To his horror, he finds vampires assembled outside—and when they... (full context)
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Neville circles around the corner, the vampires running behind him. He’s careful to drive at a... (full context)
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Safe again, Neville pours himself a whiskey and drinks it quickly. He hears a crash; looking through the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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It is March 1976, and Neville has made his house “livable again.” He’s soundproofed the walls, so that he no longer... (full context)
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One evening, Neville decides that it’s time to begin his investigations into the nature of vampires. He closes... (full context)
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Virginia told Neville that she was feeling strange, but couldn’t put into words what was wrong with her;... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Back in 1976, Neville reads about the chemical composition of garlic, and guesses that the chemical found in garlic... (full context)
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The next morning, Neville tries to understand the power of the cross over vampires. He returns to the female... (full context)
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After sundown, the vampire wakes up, and Neville dangles a cross in front of her face. The vampire looks repulsed, and Neville asks,... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Neville continues to explore the mystery of why vampires are repulsed by crosses. He wonders what... (full context)
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That night, Neville looks out through his peephole and sees Ben Cortman on his front lawn. Cortman has... (full context)
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Neville runs into the kitchen and turns on the water, so that the hose flows on... (full context)
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In the following days, Neville continues experimenting with vampires. He takes female vampires and stabs them with wooden stakes, sometimes... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Neville remembers a morning several years ago—the morning when Virginia’s heart stopped. On this morning, Neville... (full context)
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On the morning Virginia’s heart stops, Neville thinks about the recent death of his daughter, Kathy. After Kathy’s death, Neville threw her... (full context)
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Still in the flashback, Neville steps outside and runs over to his neighbor Ben Cortman’s house, intending to borrow Cortman’s... (full context)
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Neville sews Virginia into a blanket and carries her body to Cortman’s car. As he’s about... (full context)
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Two days after burying Virginia, Neville lies in bed, drunk and unkempt. He hears a knock at the door, opens the... (full context)
Chapter 10
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It’s April 7, 1976, and Neville is exploring the Los Angeles Public Library, intent on finding some books about blood. As... (full context)
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Neville reads that there are two ways to activate the lymphatic system: breathing and physical movements... (full context)
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Neville begins to develop some theories about the vampires. The vampire plague is certainly bacterial in... (full context)
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Neville goes to sleep, still thinking of explanations for how the vampire plague spread so quickly.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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In the next few days, Neville finds a microscope—and then, when he realizes his microscope is no good, a better one.... (full context)
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Neville obtains blood samples from vampires he encounters during his days. One day, he examines a... (full context)
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Neville tries to understand the vampiris germ. He knows that when a human being contracts the... (full context)
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In the evening, Neville continues thinking about the vampiris germ. He realizes that there are two different kinds of... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The next day, Neville notices that his sun lamp has killed the vampiris germs in his slides. He tries... (full context)
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Neville have continued to drink himself to death, the narrator notes, had it not been for... (full context)
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It also occurs to Neville that, if he doesn’t try to help the dog, the vampires will kill it at... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The next day, Neville goes outside and finds that the milk and hamburger are gone; there are also two... (full context)
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As he proceeds with his day, Neville wonders why the vampires have never tried to burn his house down—it seems like such... (full context)
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The next day, Neville opens his front door to allow the dog to come inside; the dog comes, and... (full context)
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Over the next few days, Neville continues to feed the dog, and he also begins to talk to it. Neville has... (full context)
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That night, Neville is eating dinner when he hears the sound of the dog scratching at the linoleum... (full context)
Chapter 14
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After the death of the dog, Neville resists the temptation to drink heavily. Instead, he returns to work trying to understand the... (full context)
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Neville remembers a year ago, just a few days after he put Virginia to “her second... (full context)
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Back in 1976, Neville sits in his living room, reading about psychology. It occurs to him that some of... (full context)
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Neville pauses for a moment and realizes that his life is becoming slowly more bearable. Despite... (full context)
Chapter 15
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It’s June 1978, and Neville is “out hunting for Cortman.” Hunting Cortman has become Neville’s hobby, one of the few... (full context)
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One day, Neville strolls down the streets, searching for Cortman, when he sees a white shape in the... (full context)
Chapter 16
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It’s four in the afternoon, and Ruth lies asleep in Neville’s bed. Neville sits in his living room, trying to understand what’s happened. It’s possible that... (full context)
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Ruth emerges from the bedroom, and Neville begins to ask her some questions. Ruth explains that she lived with her husband in... (full context)
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...insists that she isn’t infected at all; rather, she just has a weak stomach. Unconvinced, Neville asks to take a sample of Ruth’s blood. Ruth cries out, “Leave me alone!” Neville... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Neville and Ruth eat supper together. Neville explains to Ruth that he doesn’t understand how the... (full context)
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Neville explains to Ruth that crosses are sometimes an effective deterrent to the vampires, but not... (full context)
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Ruth looks at Neville carefully, and says, “You don’t believe a word I’ve said, do you?” Neville demands that... (full context)
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Neville tells Ruth about something else he’s discovered: he can make Cortman panic by waving a... (full context)
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Ruth asks Neville, “Tell me about yourself,” and Neville isn’t sure how to reply. Neville realizes how greatly... (full context)
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Neville also explains that wooden stakes kill the vampires. The stakes don’t have to penetrate the... (full context)
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Ruth then asks Neville a question: if, as he says, some of the vampires are still living, how can... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Very late at night, a sound wakes Neville up from the couch, where he’s been sleeping. Neville cries out, “Virge!” only to realize... (full context)
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Ruth asks Neville, “Why were we punished like this?” Neville says he doesn’t know, and apologizes to Ruth... (full context)
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After a long time, Neville stands up, gets his syringe and proceeds to draw blood from Ruth. He bends over... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Neville wakes up in his house. He sees that the front door is wide open: Ruth... (full context)
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...take special pills that help them tolerate the germ. Ruth explains that she doesn’t blame Neville for killing some of her friends with wooden stakes, as she knows that he was... (full context)
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Neville finds a small pill next to the note. He feels confused about what’s just happened:... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Late at night, Neville looks out of the peephole in his door and sees “them” coming. Then he sees... (full context)
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Neville realizes that the new society is going to kill Ben Cortman, sooner or later—somehow, he... (full context)
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It occurs to Neville that the dark-suited men are going to call for him to come outside and “surrender.”... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Neville wakes up and wonders, “Where am I?” There’s an awful pain in his chest, and... (full context)
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Suddenly the door opens and someone walks in—“my executioner,” Neville thinks. A woman asks, “Are you thirsty?”, gives him some water, then wipes his perspiring... (full context)
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...officer in the new society. Outside, the people of the new society are waiting for Neville’s execution: they are terrified of Neville, and want him dead. Neville nods as he hears... (full context)
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Neville stands up, trying to ignore the searing pain in his chest, and walks outside. He... (full context)