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Dune

Frank Herbert

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Describe Paul’s relationship to the Fremen. Do they use Paul to achieve their ends, or does Paul use them?

When Paul becomes a member of the Fremen, he has three competing priorities in his life. The first is vengeance. The Harkonnens killed Paul’s father, and under the rules of kanly, Paul is required to avenge his father’s death. Second, Paul shares the Fremen’s desire to transform Arrakis from a desert world into a lush, Edenic paradise. Finally, Paul is compelled by a “terrible purpose” that was instilled in him by the Bene Gesserit because he is the Kwisatz Haderach. Paul’s purpose, according to the beliefs of the Bene Gesserit, is to start a jihad across the universe that will promote genetic crossbreeding among human populations, since the gene pool has begun to stagnate.

Paul befriends the Fremen and manipulates them to achieve his three main goals. In the battle at the end of the novel, Paul and the Fremen kill the Harkonnens and Paul secures a position as emperor of the universe. As a result, Paul has gained revenge and the power to alter the Arrakis climate. As the leader of the universe, he can also control the jihad. While Paul embraces the dream of the Fremen to turn Arrakis into an Eden, he is also aware that the Fremen are merely the tool of other groups. For example, the Bene Gesserit used the Fremen and their belief in prophecies to protect their own people in case they were stranded. Likewise, Paul used the Fremen as a way of getting revenge on the Harkonnens and gaining control of the Imperium.

Paul is aware that the Fremen are manipulated by their religion, but he also respects their vision, and he embraces it sincerely. Paul reluctantly accepts his other goals because he has no choice: his father was murdered, and by law, he must avenge the death and follow his “terrible purpose.” Paul is not obliged to help the Fremen, however. So although Paul does use the power of the Fremen to achieve his goals, he helps them because he also supports their goal to make Arrakis a lush, beautiful planet.

2.

Dune has been referred to as “science fiction’s supreme masterpiece,” yet science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said only J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, could match it. Is Dune is a work of science fiction or a work of fantasy?

Herbert originally published Dune as a serial story in the well-known science fiction magazine Analog in the early 1960s. Serial science fiction was part of a long tradition dating back to the early work of Clarke and Isaac Asimov in the 1930s and 1940s. Dune, however, represented a shift in the science-fiction genre away from concept-based writing to a form that paid more attention to plot and character. In the process, Dune co-opted a process formerly found in fantasy fiction known as world-building. World-building is the foundation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and it also plays a central role in Dune. Like Tolkien’s novels, Dune presents its reader with a bewildering number of imaginary people, places, things, and ideas. Herbert creates a world set some 20,000 years in the future. The effect of world-building, however, is to move the story from a familiar future scenario to a more and more unrecognizable one. The progression moves the novel from the somewhat familiar sphere of speculative science fiction into a more unrecognizable world of fantasy.

Dune was one of the first major works of science fiction to blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy—two genres that are now so similar that they almost always share the same shelves at bookstores. The fantasy and science-fiction genres were combined perhaps most successfully in the Star Wars films, which placed fantasy tales in science fiction-influenced settings. Whereas Star Wars used the combination primarily for spectacle and entertainment, Herbert used Dune’s combination of fantasy and science fiction to address serious ecological, religious, and political issues.

3.

Discuss the role of loyalty in Dune.

Arrakis is a desolate, harsh, dry planet, filled with smugglers and two rival houses—the Atreides and the Harkonnens—that would do anything to destroy each other. Arrakis is known for its supply of melange, an addictive drug that many people in the universe use and want to buy. The limited supply of melange has led to rampant crime and deceit on Arrakis.

The Arrakeen climate of vengeance, crime, and rivalry makes loyalty a key component of survival and peril. A breach of loyalty brings down the House of Atreides: Yueh betrays them to Baron Harkonnen. Similarly, Halleck’s distrust of Jessica leads to serious trouble—he thinks that she betrayed Leto, so he tries to kill her. Both Duke Leto and Paul command fanatical devotion from their men by inspiring their loyalty and trust. Duke Leto wins loyalty through his sincere concern for the lives of his men. On the other hand, Paul, whose Fremen care little for their own lives, wins loyalty through his effective leadership and his belief in the Fremen’s dream of an Edenic Arrakis.

The baron, who is loyal only to his own cause, perishes in defeat. He fails to rally the support of the Harkonnens and instead uses them to gain more power for himself. The baron is not loyal to the emperor and uses the imperial soldiers without permission. The baron is also disloyal to his family—he cuts off supplies and assistance to his nephew Rabban, allowing the Fremen to regain control of Arrakis. In the end, the baron falls victim to his failure to inspire the loyalty of his own family—his granddaughter, Alia, kills him with a knife.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Discuss how the character of Paul Atreides changes through the course of Dune. Does he mature at all, or did he always act like an adult?

2. Analyze the behavior and beliefs of the Fremen. What are their morals? Are they noble freedom fighters, or simply fanatical killers?

3. How does the climate of Arrakis affect the everyday life of those who live there? What values and symbols are important on this desert planet?

4. Describe the political organization of the universe in Dune. Be sure to discuss the Bene Gesserit, the Imperium, the Great Houses of the Landsraad, and the Spacing Guild.

5. How does Jessica deal with her divided loyalties between the Bene Gesserit, the Atreides, and the Fremen? In the end, which is she the most loyal to and why?

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