Characters

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Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1394

The purpose of Forward the Foundation is plainly to explore and explain the mysterious Hari Seldon, the genius who is a legendary figure in most of the other books about the Foundation. What Asimov does is create a fully rounded figure. He humanizes Seldon and explains why and how he created psychohistory. Although he does not think he is, Seldon is an astute observer of society and politics. Even so, it does not take a genius to realize that the central government is losing its grip on the Galactic Empire. The decay is there for anyone to see. Thus Seldon's focus on psychohistory is motivated in part by his hope that the new science will enable him to stave off the Galactic Empire's collapse. Eventually, when psychohistory suggests that the collapse into barbarism is inevitable, he tries to use the science to shorten the duration of the barbarism, speeding as much as he can the creation of a second empire.

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He inspires loyalty among those who work with him. Yugo Amaryl is his principal assistant. Amaryl serves as a foil, a contrast to Seldon that highlights some of Seldon's most important traits. Unlike Seldon, Amaryl does not worry much about the forthcoming barbarism. It is enough for him to have the challenges of developing psychohistory to work on. He lives for science, forgoing marriage and most social relationships. He is so obsessed by psychohistory that he works himself to death, unwilling to take even a brief vacation. When it is suggested that he would be preoccupied by administrative details if he ever supplanted Seldon as head of the psychohistory project, he remarks that he would delegate all the administrative chores to subordinates and concentrate on keeping the research into psychohistory on a steady course. This is different from Seldon, whose sense of responsibility pushes him into public affairs. For instance, he would prefer to avoid administrative responsibilities, but since he has them—whether as first minister or head of the psychohistory project—he strives to do them well. After all, people depend on him. His marriage, his adoption of a son, and his friendships are all part of a rounded life as he sees it. Even so, he worries that he neglects those who depend on him for the sake of his work on psychohistory.

Thus Seldon is a torn man. He yearns for a decent, happy family life, but the responsibility he feels as the one person best suited to save humanity from calamity makes him devote long hours to the public welfare. When First Minister Eto Demerzel engineers his own replacement by Seldon, he chooses well. Seldon is modest to a fault—he even feels guilt over wanting credit for creating psychohistory— making him a good choice to work with Emperor Cleon I, someone who wants to be in the forefront of making decisions. Seldon's devotion to the Galactic Empire makes him devoted to his emperor; his incisive intuition makes him an able councilor. In addition, his station in government as the second most powerful man in the empire makes certain that the psychohistory project receives plenty of funding. Seldon finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to devote himself to administrative duties in and out of government in order to keep his psychohistory project going.

This makes him a melancholy figure. An introspective man who develops strong emotional bonds to those he cares about, he spends much of his time wondering whether the people in his family and circle of friends are suffering because of his dedication to work. Whereas Amaryl is obsessed with psychohistory itself, Seldon is obsessed with saving humanity. During the course of Forward the Foundation, Seldon loses friends and family members, most having violent deaths. The disintegration of his family parallels the disintegration of the empire. He is barely able to save one granddaughter by sending her to the Second Foundation. When he dies, he cannot be sure he has saved her; nor can he be sure that he has saved humanity from many thousands of years of misery.

Forward the Foundation provides a close study of a creative man's aging. Seldon is acutely aware of the years passing as he struggles to master the intricacies not only of psychohistory but of his family life. He eventually dislikes birthday parties, finding them only reminders of what he has lost. As he ages, he loses energy; this diminishes his capacity for work. He is particularly alarmed by how Amaryl's refusal to give into the limitations of reduced energy prematurely ages the younger man, eventually burning him out. Seldon worries that his creative powers are diminishing. Those who know him best say that his mind is as keen as ever, but he feels as though he left his best behind him after his tenure as First Minister ended. Asimov offers considerable insight into how older people feel, their regrets, their knowledge that they probably have fewer years left to live than they have already lived. It is poignant, often moving, and in the end sad. A young person reading Forward the Foundation could get a good idea of how older people might view the world. In the end, for Seldon life seems to be a series of personal losses, all part of his obsession with saving humanity; he cannot be certain that his efforts will work, and humanity seems ungrateful for his sacrifices. This theme of aging is one of the most powerful ones in the book; it is presented with great understanding and sensitivity.

The theme of decay is also important in this complex book. At its outset, society seems to be in good shape. The people who maintain Trantor do their jobs well and usually without fuss. All Seldon needs to worry about are the various duties that come with chairing the mathematics department of Streeling University. As events unfold, decay becomes more and more evident. At first, Seldon can merely suspect, based on psychohistory, that decay will be progressive. By the book's end, the decay is obvious and pervasive.

In "Cleon I," the Joranumites are able to create public unrest by disrupting various government services in different regions of the planet. People are outraged by the disruptions, threatening the government. This markedly contrasts with the attitudes in "Wanda Seldon." In this last novella, people accept severe disruptions in services. Seldon notes that social problems that once would have inspired petitions to the emperor or even revolt now are accepted as part of everyday life. Society is falling apart partly because people let it fall, without trying to hold society up. The physical decay of Trantor is therefore representative of social decay. The barbarians are taking over the streets, just as barbarianism will soon take over the empire. This theme of decay is further enriched by the parallel Asimov draws in Seldon's personal life. Eto Demerzel is the last of the great first ministers. He has helped rule the Galactic Empire for a generation. When he leaves, the burdens he bore fall on Seldon. When Amaryl passes, the burden to push the day-today work forward falls on Seldon. When Dors dies, the burden to protect the family falls on Seldon. When his son and daughter-in-law leave, the care for their daughter Wanda falls on Seldon. Seldon never feels up to carrying these burdens, but through hard work, he manages. Each of these losses in Seldon's personal life parallels the decay of society at large, and Seldon finds himself increasingly bearing the burdens of society as he strives to build on Amaryl's idea of creating a Foundation that will not only preserve civilized knowledge but will pull the galaxy out of barbarism thousands of years early. The tying of the social decay to Seldon's personal life adds a hopeful note to the sad tone of Forward the Foundation. Wanda eventually takes up Amaryl's old burdens, relieving Seldon of them. When she leaves for the Second Foundation, she shows every likelihood of expanding upon her grandfather's work; through her Seldon's efforts will live on; through her and the others at the Second Foundation, society may recover and blossom anew. She represents a positive, optimistic point of view; when she leaves, Seldon's life darkens some more, but her leaving suggests that Seldon's labors were not in vain, that the future he has tried to shape will come to pass.

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