Nightfall Questions and Answers
by Isaac Asimov

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What point do you think Asimov was trying to make with this story? Provide proof.

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The science fiction novella "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov takes place on a planet that experiences continual daylight because it is immersed in a system with multiple stars. A journalist visits an observatory to interview scientists, who warn that every 2,000 years, the world is plunged into darkness by a total eclipse. This time period coincides with evidence of the collapse of civilization, which has happened again and again on this planet. Because they are always in constant daylight, the planet's inhabitants have an extreme fear of the dark. The scientists speculate that when total darkness comes, people go insane, and they burn cities due to an irrational desire for light. At the end of the story, the eclipse happens: the world is plunged into darkness, and the planet's inhabitants discover that they are in the midst of a star cluster with tens of thousands of remote suns visible in the night sky. Everyone goes insane, and the cities begin to burn.

In his autobiography I, Asimov, Isaac Asimov devotes a chapter to the story "Nightfall"—specifically how it came to be written and how it became one of the most popular pieces of short science fiction ever published. He writes that John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, brought Asimov into his office and read him this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God.

According to Asimov, Campbell went on to say,

I think Emerson is wrong. I think that if the stars would appear one night in a thousand years, people would go crazy. I want you to write a story about that and call it "Nightfall."

Asimov dutifully wrote the story for Campbell, who paid him top rates plus a bonus because he was so pleased with the result.

In writing this story, then, Asimov was consciously attempting to make the point that Campbell suggested: if people in constant sunlight only saw darkness every few thousand years, they would go mad. Most of the story is buildup, but this point is brought out strongly in the last few paragraphs of the story when the eclipse actually happens—the men in the observatory go mad, and the cities start to burn.

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