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Dystopias in Asimov’s Foundation and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Updated on June 2, 2012
By Patrick Swint from Knoxville, TN, United States (EMP-SFM (4)  Uploaded by Guitarpop) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Patrick Swint from Knoxville, TN, United States (EMP-SFM (4) Uploaded by Guitarpop) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Foundation didn’t remind me so much of a dystopia as of the current state of America. The Patriot Act seems to give the executive branch about as much power as the rulers of the empire seem to have. The empire, as it exists at the beginning of the story, is corrupt and concerned more about surviving than it is about its people’s surviving. It had its own secret police (quite active ones that capture Gaal shortly after his arrival on Trantor), its own private judgments (when Hari is “convicted”), and its own near-police state. They are able to investigate Seldon, arrest people with Seldon, and finally exile Seldon (although that seems to have been what Seldon wanted). Regardless of the facts, the government thinks they are in complete control. Later, when the government of the empire comes out to visit them, they don’t “say one damned thing, and said it so you never noticed” (Asimov, Foundation, 83).

By the end of the five stories in Foundation, it seems that the foundation itself is becoming a dystopia -- once Mayor Hardin takes over, he basically rules it as an emperor and controls the rest of the area through the new nuclear religion. Slowly, the foundation is taken over by the merchant princes, and I’m not sure if it is still a dystopia at that point. No matter what, they aren’t in an ideal situation, but I’m not convinced that it was a dystopia. It just doesn’t seem bad enough to me. It is unpleasant, yes, but not truly as bad as it could be. In many ways, Van Vogt’s “Weapon Shop” is a far more extreme dystopia, with a lot more control given to a more repressive government.

Fahrenheit 451, on the other hand, is a total dystopia. The people aren’t allowed personal freedoms with which to be themselves in any way, shape, or form. They aren’t allowed to read, they aren’t allowed to question, and they aren’t really allowed to think. “’You think too many things,’said Montag, uneasily” (Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 9). The scariest part is that the people had done it to themselves.

The government is completely in control. For example, it can choose to execute for any crime -- there is no trial when Guy is accused of killing his chief. Since they can’t find him, however, they chose to go ahead and execute a random man. The government is always there, and it always knows everything. It is bad, it is evil, it is pervasive, getting into all the cracks and crevices. It is in complete control. On top of it, the people themselves are just bad people -- by our standards, anyway. They don’t care about each other; they care about their television families much more than their own families. They have no connection with each other, mostly because they don’t communicate with each others, so there are no connections. The people who die are just left behind and forgotten “Killed jumping off buildings, yes, like Gloria’s husband last week…” (Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 94).

It’s really a place that you can’t help hating if you enjoy reading. When I read it, I fear what America could become if it goes that far, but at the same time, I don’t know if it would ever be that bad. While reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, it seems clear to me that the majority of the repressed in such societies would be a lot more internally active. I’m not sure that the country could have become so controlled so quickly. In Bradbury’s world, it seems to have taken less than a generation. I find that hard to believe, but it still makes for a chilling read.


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    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      I agree with you that Bradbury's world in Fahrenheit 451 seems worse than the Asimov world. But in Bradbury's world there is still a way out. Run away and wait for the cities to be destroyed in a nuclear war while you build a living library of books. But what about George Orwell's world in 1984? It doesn't seem like there would be any way out of that one. Especially if the thought police really can read your mind. The Proletariat are just fodder for the bombs sent by their own government to simulate the war that they use to control the masses. They will never be organized into a revolt because the people who would organize them have no opportunity to do so. (Even thinking about it is enough to get them arrested). And if Winston is correct and the only hope is in the Proletariat, then they have no hope at all.