Study Guide

Foundation Plot Analysis

By Isaac Asimov

Plot Analysis


Foundation isn't really a novel in the sense that it tells one complete story. It's actually five different stories sharing a fictional history, which happen to be bundled beneath the same cover. So, each of the five stories will have its own plot structure.

We're going to demonstrate how to analyze the classic plot of Foundation's third story, "The Mayors." After seeing one example, it should be easier for you to recognize the classic plot structure at work in the other four stories—or any story for that matter. Feel free to try plotting the next story yourself. Who knows? You might actually enjoy it.



The exposition stage gives you all the information you'll need to understand the story as it answers all the questions a reader will have when entering a new story. Questions like:

  • Who are the characters? How are they related?
  • What's the setting of the story (place and time)?
  • What's the conflict? What are the characters struggling against?
  • What are the stakes?
  • What special rules do we need to learn to understand or believe this story? (This one is especially important in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres.)

"Hey, no problem," we imagine some of you thinking. How much background information could there possibly be?

Bunches and bunches, actually. "The Mayors" is science fiction, meaning Asimov must explain the inner workings of an entirely fictional universe to you. Then there's the fact that this is the third story in a series, so there's that entire backstory to keep nice and tidy.

Add to that the characters, the conflicts of the whole series, and the conflicts of this particular story, and you've got a whole lot of ground to cover, mate.

That's why it takes Asimov four of his nine chapters just to get through the exposition. In the first four chapters, we catch up with Salvor Hardin from "The Encyclopedists" and learn what's happened to him in the last thirty years. We discover who his political adversaries are, both in the Foundation and abroad. We also find out about the conflict between Anacreon and Foundation regarding the battle cruiser, and the ruckus Hardin created when he introduced science as a religion to the Four Kingdoms.

Oh, and we haven't even covered Hari Seldon and the Seldon Plan or even the fall and decay of the Galactic Empire.

See what we mean? Even paraphrased, it is a lot to take in. You're lucky we're here to help you.

Rising Action

The Snowball Effect

All that exposition has to do something; it can't just sit there on the page. That's where the rising action comes in. Rising action refers to the part of the story where the conflict gets complicated and the protagonist has to rise to the challenge and meet the various obstacles put in his path.

The rising conflict is a little hard to pin down in "The Mayors" because Seldon is such a cool customer. We don't see him actively doing anything as he waits and lets everything fall into place for him to strike. But just because it's not obvious doesn't mean he's not acting to overcome the conflict.

In "the Mayors," the rising action basically comes into play during Chapters 5 and 6. Here, the conflict gets more complicated as the Action Party attempts to impeach Hardin. Then Hardin goes to Anacreon and gets himself captured right as Wienis's fleet is set to bomb the Foundation back to Science and Technology 101. What's a mayor to do? Find out in at the Climax.


Boom Goes the Lack of Dynamite

To put it simply, the climax is the turning point. Everything changes and all the actions the characters take afterward are in response to the events of the climax.

In "The Mayors," the climax is Chapter 7. When Theo Aporat commandeers the flagship Wienis, he cripples Anacreon's fleet. The ships no longer pose a threat to the Foundation, and they even plan to attack Anacreon if Hardin isn't released. This event changes everything. Hardin now has the upper-hand in his dealings with Wienis, and without having to fire a single shot, the war ends.

Hm, maybe this should be called the anti-climax.

Falling Action

A Bit of the Old Ultraviolence

With falling action, we've got the events leading up to, and the end of, the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist. In "The Mayors," that's teeny-tiny Chapter 7.

Hardin has won, with Aporat taking over the ship. Anacreon can't attack the Foundation, and the society's technology won't work until Hardin is freed. You'd think that'd be the end of it, but Wienis is a proud man and attacks Hardin with a blaster. Only, Hardin is wearing a forcefield that reflects the blast back, instantly vaporizing Wienis's upper torso.

Conflicts don't end much more efficiently than that.

Resolution (Denouement)

The Scientific Fairy Godfather

Ah, resolution, how we love you. The resolution is the end, the finale that ties up those annoying and dangling plot threads and gives us that nice "ah-ha" moment when we see everything reach the conclusion.

Since Chapter 9 is the only one left, that has to be our resolution. And it is:

We learn that Hardin returned home a hero and secured a treaty with Anacreon. Hari Seldon also appears to congratulate the people of the Foundation for using spiritual power to succeed in passing the second crisis. This affirmation from Seldon really deflates Hardin's political rivals, insuring that he won't have to worry about their attacks again. And then there's Hardin himself, who feels like he can finally relax—since he's pretty sure he won't be facing another Seldon crisis in his lifetime.

And that, as they say, is that. Resolution successful. The End.