Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What makes a hero?

“What do you think of Robert Neville as our 'hero'? Is he a hero at all?”
At first when I read this question, the answer that came to me immediately was no, Robert Neville is not a hero. I thought, who has he protected/saved other than himself? I guess I could say that he was his own hero but not anybody elses. But then I started to think about what it is that makes a hero. To me, a hero is someone who is brave in the face of imminent danger. A hero is someone who is strong and never gives up. And lastly, although not always successful, a hero is someone who tries to protect others. And when I thought about what it takes to be a hero, I decided that Robert Neville is in fact one of them.
Robert Neville is brave. Day after day, Neville goes “from house to house... us[ing] up all his stakes” by killing all the vampires he can find before sunset (Matheson 28). There were times when he would “ha[ve] to go to the burning pit everyday for weeks at a time” to dispose of the ones that died in front of his house (Matheson 26). He has even had to face those that needed his blood; those who's “need was their only motivation” (Matheson 23). Even when “a sound of helpless terror filled his throat” at the sight of the vampires “in front of his house, waiting,” he fought through them and made it into his house alive (Matheson 42). Which is why I consider him to be a man who never gives up.
Robert Neville is strong. Because of this germ, or bacteria that infected the town, Neville lost his wife and daughter. And while he often questioned “why not go out” and give himself up to the vampires to end his suffereing and “to be free of them,” he refused to give up. He knew “be[ing] one of them” would have ended the pain for him but it wasn't an option (Matheson 29). He vowed to “kill every mother's son of [the vampires] before [he would] give in” (Matheson 30). He also hoped that there were “others like him [that] existed somewhere” (Matheson 30).
Robert Neville is a protector. While his wife and daughter, Kathy were still alive, he tried his best to take care of them. With dust everywhere from the storms, Neville built “a tent over Kathy's bed to keep the dust from her face” (Matheson 53). When his wife first got sick, he would order her to “'go back to bed'” so that she could get her rest and get better (Matheson 54). After they died, he searched fro answers to his questions about vampires so that one day he would be able “to cure those still living” (Matheson 87).
At first glance, I did not think that Neville was a hero. However, with everything that I believe to be characteristics of a hero, Robert Neville, in my opinion is one after all.


  1. I agree with you, I think that Neville should be looked at as a hero. The fact that he tries to cure the ‘disease’ himself shows that he has heroic intentions. Neville certainly doesn’t do everything that a typical ‘hero’ does. He kills un-armed vampires by day when they can’t fight back, but the thing is that the vampires would do the same to him. But if you look back at the male ‘heroes’ from Dracula and Carmilla, they were all flawed and had questionable motives. What makes Neville an interesting character is how he deals with everything while being so alienated and depressed. Even though he isn’t the typical hero, as you point out, he is ‘brave‘, ‘strong’, and ‘a protector’. Neville certainly has a good reason to be bitter towards life and the world, yet he shows all of these heroic qualities. I actually see him as more of a Byronic hero because of his reliance on emotions and his tragic flaw: his need for companionship.

  2. Now that I think about it, I agree with you. You bring up some interesting points I didn't think of before. For instance, he did try to protect his family both in life and in death. He did not want to burn his wife, but he was dead-set on giving her a proper burial like he believed she deserved. He was also very protective of his child and he became quite enraged when he thought the vampires had broken into her crypt and disturbed her body.

    I like Tom's point about him being a Byronic Hero. He is definitely bitter and angry--but who wouldn't be? He still retains some redeemable qualities so he is definitely a step above our other Byronic Heroes we've read about so far. He has more of a sense of what's right and he feels bad about killing the vampires that remind him of his family.

  3. Nice post Sara, the question of whether or not Neville should be thought of as a hero is certainly one of the more compelling aspects of this novel. As you point out, at certain points as a reader you may be disturbed by his behavior yet at the end he seems to realize that, in fact, he was the monster that the vampires perceive him to be.

    You wrote at the end of your post, “However, with everything that I believe to be characteristics of a hero, Robert Neville, in my opinion is one after all.” Have read your post and your reasons, along with the reasoning of others, I don’t know that I agree. I actually found him to be more of an antihero, someone who at times shows his human frailties. The novel provides numerous examples of this, his dependence on alcohol, his self-loathing for his fate (especially in the earlier chapters), even his absentmindedness when kidnapping an experiment victim and failing to check to see if his watch was wound properly. All of these provide examples of humanity. Heroes tend to be more righteously portrayed. What I mean is they tend to portray an uncompromising nobility and virtue, which I am sorry, Neville simply does not possess. Don’t get me wrong, he has his moments but by in large he is as prone to weakness as the rest of us.