Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Am Legend Part Two

Before reading the literary criticism article, I never thought about the racial undertones in I Am Legend, but they now seem obvious.
This book was written at a time of great turmoil in America. Not only was World War II just ending, this was also during the civil rights movement, around the exact time that Brown vs Board of Education was passed, undoing the doctrine of "separate but equal." Some White-Americans at the time, were afraid that their way of life was being undone, much the way that Neville's life had been undone by the vampires.
The vampires in I Am Legend are a plague. They have caught the unsuspecting humans off guard and threaten everything they know and believe in. The fear of their takeover is similar to the fear that Anglo-Americans might have had in the 50s-60s about African-Americans taking over. The vampires are inherently evil and different, a race that must be stamped out or contained.
Patterson talks about the "half breed" in this novel, which definitely mirrors a lot of western ideas about race. There is lots of fear associated with the half breed. Fear that they will assimilate into society unbeknownst to the masses, forever changing what that "mass" is. After Reconstruction, the idea of a half breed was introduced. It was decided that only people who had 1/8 of African ancestry could still be considered white. This rule was strictly enforced, so that no one might escape it and be considered white when they were not (in the eyes of the law).
White blood was considered to be pure blood and whites did not want their race to be "dirtied" with the blood of a different ethnicity. That is why half breeds were looked down upon, they were neither one ethnicity nor the other, they were a group all to themselves.
Neville sees himself as "normal" and the vampires as defected. We can see this when he is talking to Ruth and says "You're on trial, not me." He is insinuating that she and all the others must be judged against him, the "normal" one.


  1. I definitely agree about the racial undertones in this book. As I was reading it, the thought had never occured to me, but after reading Kathy Davis Patterson's article that's on D2L, it really does seem obvious. I think that the most interesting aspect of it all was the way the blood tied into everything. I never associated the idea that contaminated blood is bad with xenophobia.

  2. I really enjoyed your post. I also did not notice the racial undertones, but now they do seem so obvious. I think I also did not notice the undertones, because I have seen the movie adaptation and it was not present in the movie, and kept reading the novel and focusing on the differences between the movie and the novel. This may have drawn my attention away from the undertones about racial issues of the time. I also did not really focus on the time in which it was written. I did not even look at the year in which it was published, this did help explain a lot.

  3. I can definitely see the undertones of race that ran through the novel. Neville was afraid of the vampires contaminating him the "normal" one, much the same way many anglo-americans were afraid that african-americans would contaminate their race. This mirrors the way that Neville regards Ruth. She can act like a uninfected person, even though she is infected. This scares him because his normal way of identify infected people is gone. This is how many anglo-americans viewed interracial marriage. They were afraid the boundaries would become too skewed.

    I think that's a fear that people innately harbor; people are afraid of things that are different from what they know. If something, or someone, goes against what they consider the "norms" of a society people become afraid, and when people get afraid they try to get rid of the thing they are afraid of. That was the main cause of the civil rights movement; african-americans wanted the right to be different and not be persecuted. This is also what the vampires in I am Legend are looking for, the ability to live without being killed simply for existing.

  4. After reading this I also thought about how this could be related to the scare of communism. People were terrified of communists taking over the country and would turn others in if they thought them to be one just like people were turned over if they had the disease. fear makes people do crazy things and i think its because people are not informed that they have fear.