Hunter home from the hill


The Subversion of Heroic Masculinity in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and its Main Film Adaptations

Amaya Fernández-Menicucci

University of the Basque Country

Abstract | The present essay explores the way in which the main character in Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel I Am Legend (1954) and its three main film adaptations so far – Ubaldo Ragona’s and Sidney Salkow’s The Last Man on Earth (1964), Boris Sagal’s The Omega Man (1971), and Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend (2007) – is represented as the embodiment of a once hegemonic masculinity now on the verge of extinction. In particular, I contend that the four texts in question deliberately subvert expectations of triumphant male heroism in order to question the dominant western discourse which each successive version of the main character represents. This discourse seems to be clearly identified in each of the four texts with a middle-class, heterosexual, still traditionally patriarchal masculinity. Therefore, the differences in the literary or filmic construction of the protagonist’s gendered identity can be read as differences in the way each author perceives and depicts contemporary mainstream socio-cultural forces as hegemonic. Not only does each version of the “legend” of the main character’s heroic masculinity challenge the latter’s supremacy, but it also subverts his every claim to cultural leadership, as he is turned into a mythical Other.

Keywords | Masculinity; hero; science fiction; subversion; I Am Legend.