Themes and Meanings
“Nightfall” is one of the most famous and highly regarded of all science-fiction stories. This is not because of its highly conventional style and characterization but rather because of its theme of humankind’s contact with an unknown universe. A quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson prefaces the story. “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!” “Nightfall” puts this statement to the test and finds it inadequate. Asimov’s universe is naturalistic, the stars are not the city of God but natural phenomena to be explained scientifically and this scientific knowledge is to be used to help humankind. This belief is held by Aton and Sheerin and is expressed by the various works at Saro University. They have learned of the disaster, built the Hideout, and are preparing to record the eclipse for future generations at the price of their sanity.
Opposing the scientists are the Cultists, represented by Latimer, and the masses, represented by the reporter Theremon. The Cultists know of the impending disaster. Indeed, their knowledge is greater than the scientists who suspect that the Stars are only a myth, but they know it through faith, not reason. Thus, they oppose scientific knowledge even when it validates their beliefs, because it destroys the need for faith. Rather than avoiding the disaster that will destroy civilization, they...
(The entire section is 487 words.)