Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Am Fear of Racial Change

"The vampire was real. It was only that his true story had never been told."

In the essay Echoes of Dracula by Katy Davis Patterson, there is an idea explored called Africanist. This idea is quoted, from another essay titled Playing in the Dark… by Morrison, that states that Africanist is: “the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people”. These ideas run into the novel I Am Legend quite profoundly. As, in I Am Legend, it is a novel about change, and as Patterson explains, WHAT DOES HE EXPLAIN?! This aspect of change and race is easy to see, as those that cannot change are stuck into past preconceptions. The current preconceptions in I Am Legend, with the case of Robert Neville, is racism. The very creatures he fights, the reformed vampires, are the actual future of planet earth. In this case, the vampires are the heroes.

            Robert Neville is a monster attacking the aspects of what it is to be Africanist. How do we know this, as a reader? As noted by Patterson, vampirism is not supernatural, it is actually natural. Man did not bioengineer this virus, it was introduced. The vampires, having survived, are actually the stronger of the species, or races. This fear of Neville is a fear of white people who believed in manifest destiny. I wonder what Berkley would think, reading I Am Legend, or anyone who believed in Westward Expansion. It is interesting that Neville also quips about a vampire not being so bad as “all they do is drink blood”. Is this commentary on how the white race feels about the black population?
            Fear has always been used as a way to control a population. I Am Legend is filled with fear, all coming from up and coming species; the adaptable vampires. In a way, I Am Legend promotes the idea that Darwin has long believed: it is not the strongest or the smartest, but those most prone to adapt that survive. Clearly, Robert Neville was not ready to adapt on a biological sense. He becomes a raving madmen, destroying those that are rebuilding. Robert Neville is a legend because he is the new monster, the new scary monster in the shadows that the upcoming species of vampires will talk about. He is a creature of fibula, even though his fibula is one of fear. But, that is understandable, as again, fear is used as a controlling agent.

            When considering the Africanist presence, of what blackness is, it explores what race is. Patterson also explains how I Am Legend speaks toward the issue of black and white relations exactly; Robert Neville always describes the vampires in blackness, which is the heart of Africanist thought. Neville is attacking the very essence of blackness.

            When analyizing any novel critically, it is important to consider all avenues and incorporate them. I Am Legend leaves many possible outcomes, however, after reading Patterson, it seems obvious that racial commentary is the primary force behind I Am Legend. Interestingly enough, when one considers Night of the Living Dead, which is inspired by I Am Legend, director George A. Romero also believed in the aspect of Africanist being attacked. While not said directly, consider the finaly scene: white hillbillys, aiming their rifles, looking to take down one of the zombies, only to kill the only human remaining in a farmhouse. This same man, an African American, was hidden in the shadows. He also was the only man with a conciouse or any set of morality. This begs a question; does Matheson see attacking blackness as the downfall of society? I believe this is the case, and in a way, I Am Legend speaks towards a collective consciousness of understanding, promoting peaceful resolution instead of knee jerk reactionary violence.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, after reading Patterson’s essay, it was hard not to think of the story in a different way. It really seems as if every vampire novel/story that we’ve read this semester has racial matters in the subtext, regardless of what country the story was written in. I noticed quite a few references to “black” and “blackness” in the story, and at first I thought that they might have been used because “black” can be associated with death or the unknown, but there were so many uses of the terms that Patterson’s theory makes a lot of sense. I like how you bring up the original Night of the Living Dead, as the end does relate quite a bit to Matheson’s story. Not only does the film have the “survivalist” fight against the undead, it has many of the same racial themes.

    I also like how you relate the vampires in the book to Darwin’s theory of evolution/adapting. It is because of this adapting (or lack of ability to do so) that Robert Neville is “legend” (170). He poses just as much of a threat to the vampire society as the vampires pose to him. He knows that he can’t win this battle against evolution, and as much as the vampires are monsters to him, he is a monster to the vampires.