Foundation Themes and Analysis 📖

Though it got created as five separate stories, each part of ‘Foundation’ presents its array of themes, and combining each section makes the novel intricately interesting.


Isaac Asimov

‘Foundation’ is a novel that presents itself with themes that tune with the human mind and its society. With the story focusing on the rise and fall of an Empire, its themes tend to the delicate nature of human interaction with society and the role politics and the want for freedom play in creating and destroying society.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov Themes and Analysis


Religion and Belief

Religion and belief are the primary themes of ‘Foundation.’ In the story, the character of Hari Seldon tells Gaal that the only way to save humanity from the threat of a dark age is to build a foundation that would create the Encyclopedia Galactica. However, Hari leveraged the belief people had in him as a mathematician and psychologist and used it to lead almost 100,000 people to Terminus, which is a planet and a part of the unique vocabulary in the book ‘Foundation.’ 

Hari Seldon knew that people would have never followed him to Terminus if they did not believe that they were going to save humanity. Belief became a weapon for Hari, and soon, the Foundation also utilized that weapon to propel its advancement through the four kingdoms. After Hardin realized the Foundation’s disadvantage against the kingdom, he championed the formation of scientism, a religion that maintained the Foundation’s relevance in the outer periphery; this move showed how powerful religion gets when ignorance is also in play.

The novel showed how blind faith turns one’s mind away from impending doom. Because the scientists believed in Hari Seldon, they threw their attention away from the political tensions between the four Kingdoms and concluded that Hari’s encyclopedia was their only job; this shows how dangerous blind faith can be.

Fate, Time, and Necessity

Though ‘Foundation’ got created as a science fiction novel, Isaac Asimov made its story rest on the intricate nature of fate. In the story, Hari predicted that the Foundation would face many crises. Part of Hari’s plan for the Foundation to save itself and expand rested on fate, and even he knew that. Time was also a crucial element of the story. In the story, the Foundation raced desperately against time as they knew that the Galactic Empire was nearing its fall. The struggle of the Foundation against time became imminent with the first crisis, and it was at this point that they discovered their true purpose.

After discovering the true purpose of their mission on Terminus, the Foundation entered a political struggle for dominance. With the risk of their freedom, the organization had to change from a scientific organization to a politically religious one; this shows how necessity causes drastic change.

Politics, Power, and Governments

‘Foundation’ is among the first science fiction novels to focus on politics rather than aesthetic fiction. From the beginning of the story, the commission for public safety realized that Hari held a stronghold over the politics of the Galactic Empire and that his death would create more turmoil; this leads to him getting exiled in the first place. The novel also explores the intricate nature of politics and power in society. The Galactic Empire tilted towards plutocracy as power got split among the wealthy and elite.

In the story of ‘Foundation,’ political power became a commodity everyone struggled to get. After the Foundation got set up on Terminus, Hardin realized it had to change and become a political organization.

The novel showed the political struggle of the Foundation as the delicate balance of power between them and their neighbors got tested severally. However, the Foundation utilized science to become an organization that used scientific knowledge to instill fanatical faith.


A primary theme that Isaac Asimov tries to explain is human society. In the first part of the novel, the Galactic Empire was the most powerful government. However, psychohistory predicted it to fall in 500 years because of its stagnancy. The story shows that stagnancy causes the rapid decay of the pillars that hold society. After the Foundation got formed, it almost faced the same fate Trantor faced because the scientists shut their minds to the idea of flexibility; this showed that for a society to keep moving forward, there needs to be flexibility and open-mindedness.

The Rise and Fall of Empires

The rise and fall of empires define Isaac Asimov’s story. ‘Foundation’ showed how the Galactic Empire fell due to stagnation. It also showed how some scientists fought through many crises to become the nucleus for the next Empire. Empires rise and fall, but between the creation and destruction of new Empires, there are times of hardships; this is where ‘Foundation’ got the basis of its story structure.

Science and Mathematics

In the novel, science and mathematics played a huge part in defining the decline of the Galactic Empire. Psychohistory got created after Hari Seldon combined mathematics and psychology to predict the trend of huge societies over time. After the Foundation’s creation, science became a tool for domination. The Foundation used it as a religious and commercial weapon; this led to it surviving the crisis it faced.

Analysis of Key Moments

  1. Hari Seldon develops psychohistory, and it predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire that has existed for 12,000 years.
  2. Hari meets Gaal Dornick and shows him his work on psychohistory. Gaal confirms Hari’s theory to be correct.
  3. Hari’s work causes an uproar in the commission for public safety.
  4. Hari and Gaal get arrested and brought before the court, where they get tried for treason. Hari defends his work and tells the commission that the Galactic Empire would fall in just 500 years into a dark age that would last for 30,000 years.
  5. Hari suggests a solution for the fall and proposes the idea of the Encyclopedia Galactica, a compendium for all knowledge.
  6. For fear of causing an uprising, the commission exiles Hari and his followers to Terminus, a planet on the outer periphery of the galaxy.
  7. Hari tells Gaal of his terminal illness and admits it was in his plan to go to Terminus. He also tells Gaal of a second Foundation that would get built on Star’s end.
  8. Fifty years later, the encyclopedists keep on with the task set by Hari Seldon.
  9. Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Terminus, realizes the growing tension between the four newly independent kingdoms of the outer periphery. He tries to warn the board of trustees of the political issue but is given no face as the Board of Trustees chooses to wait for the time vault planted by Hari Seldon on Terminus to open.
  10. Hardin prevents the kingdom of Anacreon from exploiting Terminus.
  11. The time vault opens, and a recording of Hari Seldon tells Hardin he is right.
  12. Hardin gains more leverage and turns Terminus into a political organization.
  13. Thirty years later, the Foundation controls the four Kingdoms by using science to propel its goals. The Foundation creates scientism, a belief system around science.
  14. The Foundation trains technicians from other planets who become priests of scientism and amass a massive following.
  15. Hardin faces political opposition from Sef Sermak, the leader of the Actionists Party.
  16. Regent Prince Wienis tries to destroy the Foundation by using an abandoned Imperial battle cruiser. Hardin discovers his plan and orders slight changes to the cruiser that causes the ship to shut down.
  17. Poly Verisof leads an uprising against Wienis.
  18. Admiral Prince Leftkin gets captured by his crew, and on realizing defeat, Wienis commits suicide.
  19. Fifty-five years later, the Foundation tries to expand further but meets resistance.
  20. A master trader, Eskel Gorov, gets arrested on Askone, and Limmar Ponyets gets sent to negotiate his release.
  21. Limmar meets with Pherl, and after helping him become the Grand Master of the Elders on Askone, Gorov gets released.
  22. The Foundation negotiates a deal with Askone and begins to mine the Tin present on the planet.
  23. Twenty years later, the Foundation meets another resistance from the Republic of Korell.
  24. Hober Mallow gets sent to negotiate with Korell. On reaching the Korell, Jordan Parma gets let out of the ship. He gets arrested and sentenced to death. Though he escapes, a mob rushes to Mallow’s ship and demands Parma.
  25. Mallow hands Parma back to the angry mob.
  26. Mallow meets Asper Argo, the Commdor of Korell, and offers heavy technology tools. However, he notices Korell lacks heavy industry.
  27. Mallow notices that Korell’s guards use weapons with the Galactic Empire’s emblem and realizes the fallen Galactic Empire is trying to gain back hold on the outer periphery.
  28. Mallow leaves his ship and travels to Siwenna, where he meets Onum Barr, a former senator on Siwenna.
  29. On touring the power plant on Siwenna, Hober discovers that the planet lacks technicians skilled enough to repair the plant.
  30. One year after returning to Terminus, Mallow gets tried for the murder of the missionary. He provides a recording proving the missionary was a spy for the Republic of Korell.
  31. Mallow gains the support of the people and becomes the mayor. 
  32. The Republic of Korell declares war against the Foundation and begins to attack their ships. However, Mallow responds by placing an embargo on the republic, forcing it to submission.

Style, Tone, and Figurative Language

Using the third-person perspective, ‘Foundation’ uses an agitated tone to tell the story of a falling empire and the birth of a new one. Throughout the novel, Isaac Asimov uses agitation to create a feeling of urgency in the reader’s mind. The story’s focus on the crisis that followed the fall of the Galactic Empire made it intricately realistic. ‘Foundation’ used a figuratively rich vocabulary to tell its story. With good similes and metaphors, Isaac Asimov showed a relationship between his world and ours. Throughout the novel, the use of metaphors drew a picture of how the author imagined the Galactic Empire.

Analysis of Symbols

Time Vault

The time vault represents the element of belief and fate. In the novel, Hari Seldon used the power of faith to gain followers who willingly went to Terminus. Realizing that the people would need something to hold on to for hope and guidance, Hari Seldon recorded messages for the future into a time vault. The vault not only became a beacon for hope, but it also became a tool for guidance as Hari Seldon used it to lead the Foundation long after his death.

The Galactic Empire

The Galactic Empire symbolizes the height of human civilization. In the story, Hari Seldon realized that the Galactic Empire was fading. With Psychohistory, he proved that the primary cause of the Empire’s decline would be stagnation.


Mathematics symbolizes the language used to interpret the trends of the time. In the novel, Hari Seldon created psychohistory, a field of study that used the past to predict the future. However, mathematics was the only thing that could interpret psychohistory.

Encyclopedia Galactica

The Encyclopedia Galactica is a term coined by Hari Seldon. After being brought before the commission, Hari Seldon proposed that the only way humanity could avoid the 30,000-year dark age was to create an encyclopedia that would contain all the knowledge collected over the millennia. However, Hari later reveals that the encyclopedia was a scam meant to avert the eye of the Galactic Empire from the Foundation; this made the encyclopedia an instrument of blind faith.


What is the main theme of Foundation by Isaac Asimov?

‘Foundation’ is a novel that does not focus on just one theme. However, some primary themes in the novel include the role of religion in society, governments and governance, and change.

Does Foundation purely focus on politics?

Though the novel focuses on politics, it also pays attention to human society and the mind. The story peeks into the mind of its characters and shows their view of the world.

Does Foundation have the same themes as Dune?

‘Foundation’ and ‘Dune’ share similar themes because they focus on politics and religion. However, subtle differences exist in their thematic structures. ‘Foundation’ focuses on the fall of an Empire, while ‘Dune’ focuses on the political struggle for a commodity.

What happens to Hari Seldon in Foundation?

After getting exiled to Terminus, Hari reveals to Gaal Dornick that he had only two years to live. However, he provided a recording of himself to Gaal and tasked him to lead the Foundation in his absence. Hari’s recording became the time vault.

Joshua Ehiosun
About Joshua Ehiosun
Joshua is an undying lover of literary works. With a keen sense of humor and passion for coining vague ideas into state-of-the-art worded content, he ensures he puts everything he's got into making his work stand out. With his expertise in writing, Joshua works to scrutinize pieces of literature.
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