I guess while I was reading I Am Legend I breezed over the subtle references to racism towards African Americans. Patterson brings up many examples that show how Matheson has incorporated the early 1900s racism into his writing, even though not all people who read the story probably pick up on it. Truth be told its really no surprise that there is racism (or sexism for that matter) in this novel taking into consideration the time it was written. In 1954 a large portion of the white race was still exhibiting prejudice towards African Americans. It seems Richard Matheson leaked some of this historic hatred into his novel through a drunken Neville. Neville even goes so far as to compare the vampire plague he is now dealing with to the black plague of the middle ages saying, ““Something black and of the night had come crawling out of the Middle Ages” (28).
During one of his drunken thoughts he gives a very sobering example of why racism still exists in our culture. Neville describes the vampire in its entirety, a human-like creature with different needs than animals and men. He asks the question of what is really so bad about them? All that differs from vampires and men are a few things; one of those is that they drink blood. It is because of one simple fact that they are biased against; men fear what they do not understand. Neville points out that the creatures have no social significance, no education, and no support from anyone else. This can be said about African American slaves as well. It is true then what Neville deduces, no wonder they find themselves preying on humans in the dark of night, what else would you do?
“The keynote of minority prejudice is this: They are loathed because they are feared …
But are his needs any more shocking than the needs of other animals and men? ... Really, now, search your soul … is the vampire so bad?
All he does is drink blood.
Why, then, this unkind prejudice, this thoughtless bias? Why cannot the vampire live where he chooses? Why must he seek out hiding places where none can find him out? Why do you wish him destroyed?
Ah, see, you have turned the poor guileless innocent into a haunted animal. He has no means of support, no measures for proper education, he has not the voting franchise. No wonder he is compelled to seek out a predatory nocturnal existence.” (32)
The similarities between how he describes the hatred of vampires and racism are incredible, and very unnerving. It brings about a question we can ask ourselves, why does the hatred still exist in our culture? Why can we not live together without the hatred for another, mostly with no apparent reason except that we know little to nothing about each other?