Another important theme of I Am Legend is the power—both benevolent and malicious—of science. Throughout the book, Robert Neville studies the science of vampirism. In the process, he empowers himself and gives himself a new purpose in life. By researching epidemiology, bacteriology, and other “ologies” at the Los Angeles Public Library, Neville comes to realize that vampires aren’t supernatural monsters—they’re just human beings suffering from a serious disease. Neville’s discovery helps him conquer his own fear of the vampires. Because he no longer sees them as indestructible demons, he sleeps better at night, and instead of dreading tomorrow, he finds himself looking forward to the future. Furthermore, the science of vampirism helps Neville expand his moral horizons: he realizes that the vampires are the victims of their own germs, and feels sympathy for them. Perhaps most importantly, science empowers Neville by giving him something important to do every day. Neville is a natural scientist: he’s intensely curious about the vampire plague, and plans various experiments and tests to further his knowledge. He finds that, when he’s studying the vampires, he looks forward to each new day instead of dreading it, and goes for hours without fearing the vampires at all. In generally, I Am Legend suggests that fear and anxiety are often rooted in ignorance—by embracing the power of science, Neville staves off some of his own anxiety and conquers some of his fears.
In spite of Matheson’s obvious love for biology and medicine, I Am Legend doesn’t offer an entirely uncritical view of science. Like so many science fiction books of the era, the novel portrays science as a potentially dangerous force that's capable of leading to great destruction. In the process of studying the science of vampires, Neville develops some sympathy for the vampires; however, his sympathy isn’t enough to dissuade him from killing them. Neville uses his scientific training to kill vampires with expert efficiency—a violent, destructive act that ultimately leaves him a hardened, emotionless man. (See Violence theme.) In this sense, science enlightens Neville but also gives him even greater powers of destruction. Indeed, Matheson strongly implies that the deadly vampire plague itself is the result of runaway scientific experimentation. In flashbacks, we learn that the vampire plague may have originated from the nuclear fallout from a recent world war, or from germ warfare. While Matheson offers only a brief discussion of the origins of the vampire plague, the discussion is crucial for situating I Am Legend in its proper historical context. Less than a decade after the Hiroshima bombing—a “triumph” of physics that must have seemed like science fiction—many Americans regarded science and technology as being incredibly dangerous. Ultimately, I Am Legend is typical of science fiction written during the Cold War era insofar as it presents science as empowering but inherently dangerous. Neville empowers himself by learning about vampires, but his empowerment doesn’t necessarily make him a better man—only a more efficiently destructive one.
Science Quotes in I Am Legend
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.
"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..."
"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."
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.
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!
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.