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Alan Tantiwassadakran

Writing 39B

Professor McClure

13 February 2017

In the novel I Am Legend, diction, imagery, and metaphors are all heavily utilized

by the author, Richard Matheson, in a fictional story that follows the life of an immensely

desolate protagonist, named Robert Neville. Matheson manipulates diction to create

fear, disgust, and sheer shock factor in this fictional story. Vampires are originally

thought to be the monster of the novel, but with careful diction Matheson stimulates the

reader to ultimately questioning whether it is Neville himself who is the monster . By the

end of the novel Neville’s character embodies “universal human fears” , which Mathias

Clasen, author of Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s I

Am Legend, claims are normal psychological responses for a horror novel . Matheson

makes it apparent, with the incorporation of gory/graphic imagery, that Neville is a

fictional character who exhibits traits that can be defined as “threatening and impure” ,

traits that Noël Carroll, author of The Nature of Horror, attributes to a monster’s horror

aspect. Events and past context in the novel parallel circumstances similar to the Cold

War, a war of disagreements between the United States of America and Soviet Union .

The novel was written in the year 1954 , during the Cold War, a time that heavily

influences the underlying metaphorical events in I Am Legend. Plenty of scenes in I Am
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Legend can be interpreted as direct metaphors to the Cold War . Matheson applies

diction, imagery, and metaphors in this horror novel to serve as a warning to the two

feuding countries at battle; Matheson is sending the message that without empathy and

sympathy, the end result can be apocalyptic.

Matheson’s utilization of diction is essential for I Am Legend to be categorized as

a novel in the horror genre. Matheson continually subverts expectations throughout the

novel to produce a novel that instills fear , disgust, and shock factor. For instance, at the

end of chapter four and beginning of chapter five , fright can be instilled when Neville

realizes his punishing and unforgiving mistake of staying outside far past his usual

curfew and Matheson writes: “Cold fear poured through his veins at the thought of them

all waiting for him at his house” (Matheson 21) . “Cold fear” followed by “poured through

his veins” are indicative of Matheson’s utilization of diction . Matheson makes use of

particular words that are not typical to normal human anatomy. Blood is supposed to be

warm and flowing at a casual pace, while in this sentence the words “cold” and “poured”

are contradicting this normalcy. Contradictions of normalcy can fit in the category of

“universal human fears”, in that what is not normal is not human, and therefore terrifying

(Clasen 314). Matheson intends for his audience to feel fright when it comes to

unnatural and abnormal things so that his audience can be fearful when reading his

novel. Thoughts about warfare, death, and unforgivable mistakes become ideas that

oppose the concept of going to war.
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Initially, Robert Neville is assumed to be the hero of the novel which is common

with protagonists in horror plots, but through the employment of imagery, Matheson

once again subverts expectation. Many questionable events occur that lead the reader

to slowly put together some skepticism when thinking about who the monster truly is . Us

as the audience have a set of expectations for a monster and a set of expectations for a

standard human, but throughout the novel Matheson repeatedly sways away from these

expectations and our assumptions about labeling the monster turns out to be

obstructed. Neville shows this namely through his actions, one being how threatening

he is and another one being his impureness . Robert Neville fits the two categories that

accounts for people or entities being defined as monsters . he is “threatening and

impure”, Noël Carroll’s summation of monster qualities (Carroll 55) . We are led to

believe that he is supposed to be the man to save the existing world by finding a cure

for the vampire disease, however he is the man who ironically killed vampires thinking

he is doing the world a service. He also, is the man that has fantasized about female

vampires which can only be described as nauseating . These two points will be proven in

the following two paragraphs.

First off, Matheson’s uses imagery to reveal Neville as threatening due to his

uncontrollable fighting rage. After Neville narrowly escapes his death because of his

reliance on his watch, he becomes boiled with rage when he realizes the generator’s

connection had been severed and “stood on the porch clubbing them with insane blows ,

losing his mind almost completely when the same ones he’d shot came rushing at him
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again. And when they tore the guns out of his hands he used his fists and elbows and

he butted with his head and kicked them with his big shoes .” (Matheson 24). The entire

scene has intense and graphic images which express how dangerous Neville can

actually be. He literally gets so enraged that he engages in hand-to-hand combat by

using his “fists and elbows” and succeeds. He was previously evading all these

vampires to stay alive, yet he is capable of harming so many of them. Matheson uses

the imagery of how threatening Neville can be to make audiences worry about

possibilities in an all-out nuclear war. At the time of the Cold War much was still

unknown about nuclear bombs. Neville does not even realize his own strength, similar

to how little the general public knew about the strength of nuclear weapons. He wanted

his audience to imagine the possible outcomes of the war , these images try to create

fear of an intense and graphic war .

Secondly, Neville fits the category of being impure due to his sexual fantasies of

female vampires. Matheson relies on imagery for sexual scenes, for without imagery,

he cannot portray a scene’s sexual implications effectively nor can he portray Neville’s

impurity. Throughout the novel Neville has frequent sexual thoughts about female

vampires and in one of his fantasies he thinks about vampires outside of his home when

“his throat moved and a shaking breath passed his lips . [And says to himself that the]

women were out there, their dresses open or taken off, their flesh waiting for his touch,

their lips waiting for—My blood, my blood” (Matheson 15). The words “lips” are used in

this quote multiple times for Matheson to convey images that have sexual themes
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associated with them, these sexual desires are impure due to them being about the

vampires. Sexual themes become exceptionally apparent when Matheson writes:

“dresses open” and “dresses taken off” , these words are all associated with being

naked, further supporting Matheson’s use of imagery to convey Neville as having an

impure quality to him. Neville engages in fantasies about non-living and vile creatures

that no sane man would. The fact that he frequently considers sexual acts with

vampires attests to his impurity and road to insanity. Neville is no longer seen as an

ordinary person, rather he is seen as “extraordinary in an ordinary world” , a

characteristic Caroll says a monster can have (Caroll 52) . Imagery is another tactic

Matheson uses to make the audience have a negative view towards war . Impure

thoughts can lead to impure decisions, and impure decisions by leaders with dangerous

tools can lead to catastrophic events .

Metaphors are the strongest component Matheson puts to use in order to link his

novel to the Cold War. The comparisons between I Am Legend and the Cold War can

be observed by simply analyzing events that happen in the two , while also noting the

setting of the novel. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic time, and that alone can be

enough to argue that Matheson is using the setting as a metaphor for the consequences

of the Cold War, since the Cold War could have very well ended in an apocalypse. He

tries to stimulate and guide his audience to question the similarities of the two. When

Robert Neville takes a trip to the Los Angeles Public Library, Matheson writes: “[Neville]

stood there for a moment looking around the silent room , shaking his head slowly. All
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these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds,

the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing .”

(Matheson 42). The word “residue” is synonymous with leftovers, and in an apocalypse,

everything is considered left over. Matheson’s implication of the word “artifact” , gives off

a tone that only belongs to groups of people who have been long gone and/or forgotten.

The last words that say “save men from perishing”, completely sound like the message

Matheson is trying to get across. Nuclear warfare can no doubt leave areas completely

massacred leaving only “artifacts” and “residue” behind and Matheson’s warning is

trying to prevent such a thing. The metaphors are used to serve as a warning from

Matheson, that if the United States of America and the Soviet Union go through with

nuclear war there will not be much left .

The overall message that Matheson is trying to get across is that a war should be

avoided at all costs. He projects his message by drawing upon diction , imagery, and

metaphors in I Am Legend. Metaphors for the setting were used as the strongest piece

of evidence for the consequences of war. He wants the audience, while reading, to

question the novel while simultaneously questioning the Cold War. When Matheson

wrote the novel, Cold War tensions were rising tremendously, an impending doom

seemed likely to happen which is why Matheson carefully wrote I Am Legend.

Matheson’s intentions for the novel were to warn every reader about the dangers of

letting disagreements inflate to a point at which careless decisions can be made. In the

United States, communism was commonly viewed as the enemy, but he wanted to
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convince his readers that ideals such as compassion , understanding, and a willingness

to agree could allow the two nations to coexist. Matheson wanted a world where

everyone could live in peace and harmony, a world where every man, woman, and child

could find freedom, a world that humans struggle to find to this day.
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Works Cited

Carroll, Noel. "The Nature of Horror." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46.1 (1987): 51-55.
Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

Clasen, Mathias. "Project MUSE - Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson's
I Am Legend." Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend.
MUSE, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. N.p.: Gold Medal, 1954. Print.