I Am Legend contains a surprising amount of psychological insight about grief, loneliness, and depression. The novel’s main character, Robert Neville, is the last human being left on Earth—everyone else has been turned into a vampire. Neville thus has to deal with the psychological effects of being completely alone—a fate that is, in some ways, worse than becoming a vampire.
Without any human connection whatsoever, Neville is forced to take refuge in his memories of other people. Every day, it’s suggested, he thinks about his wife, Virginia, and his child, Kathy, both of whom died in the vampire plague of 1975. Neville’s memories of his wife and child are horrific: after Kathy succumbed to the plague, he burned her body. Furthermore, after Virginia died of the plague, Neville buried her underground; when she rose from the grave, a full-fledged vampire, Neville was forced to kill her with a wooden stake. The way that Neville relives the death of wife and his child day after day suggests the symptoms of trauma. While some human beings overcome their trauma by interacting with other people—in essence, diluting their old, traumatizing memories with new, happy ones—Neville has no one to talk to: he’s all alone with his depression. As a result, he spends his time drinking heavily and playing loud music, in a vain effort to escape his own grief.
Neville tries many different remedies for his grief, loneliness, and depression, none of which “cure” him entirely. Throughout the novel, he drinks heavily—a remedy that staves off depression temporarily, but ultimately makes it worse. More successfully, he tries to set himself a routine: driving around Los Angeles to kill vampires, researching the science of vampirism, fortifying his house, etc. Routine gives Neville the strength to survive his new life; it gives him a sense of control over his own destiny, and provides him with something to look forward to when he goes to bed every night. Finally, Neville seizes the opportunity to make connections with an outsider—first a dog, and then a woman named Ruth, whom Neville believes to be a human being (but who is actually a vampire). In both cases, Neville risks his own safety in order to bond with an outsider: his hunger for someone to talk to easily outweighs the possibility that his new acquaintance will hurt him. But in both cases, Neville fails to forge an emotional connection between himself and his new acquaintance. The dog succumbs to the vampire plague, and Ruth betrays Neville to her fellow vampires. Ruth’s betrayal steers Neville (and the novel) toward a frightening conclusion: as the last human being left on Earth, Neville will never truly escape his own loneliness and depression. The other potential interpretation of the book’s final line (in addition to the one discussed in the Otherness theme) is that Neville has finally come to accept his own mortality and his own isolation from the rest of the world. As the last member of the human race, his days are numbered—soon, he, and the entire human race, will fade into a distant memory.
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression ThemeTracker
Grief, Loneliness, and Depression Quotes in I Am Legend
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.