Jessica is one of the most complicated characters in Dune.
Like her son, she is the product of centuries of genetic breeding
by the Bene Gesserit, an ancient school that teaches women how to
develop superhuman mental and physical abilities. Jessica rebels
against the school—she was instructed by the Bene Gesserit to bear
a daughter, but she defied them and bore a son instead.
Jessica’s character undergoes many changes. At the beginning
of the novel, she is Duke Leto’s concubine. The two are in love,
but Leto will not marry her for political reasons. Leto knows that
as long as he is unmarried, he has something to offer the other
Great Houses. Despite her concubine status, both Leto and Jessica
treat the relationship as a marriage, and Jessica is accustomed
to her life as a wealthy duke’s partner. Jessica’s life changes
once the Harkonnen kill Leto. She is forced to live in the harsh
desert among the Fremen and use all her abilities to survive, including
seducing her captors.
Jessica resigns her wifelike role and becomes a reverend
mother, serving as a matriarchal figure to thousands of people.
Jessica has been preparing for such a role by training as a Bene
Gesserit from birth. Throughout the novel, however, she is often
troubled by emotions that intercede with her loyalty to the Bene
Gesserit. Most significantly, she regrets that she groomed Paul
so well for the messianic role of Kwisatz Haderach. She realizes
that she has robbed Paul of his innocence—he never has a childhood,
a normal adulthood, or even the normal life as a duke’s heir.
Like Paul, Jessica finds herself swept along by a subtle,
yet firm current of time, leading inexorably to an unknown conclusion.
Jessica is far more passive than Paul in receiving her fate because
of her Bene Gesserit training. She accepts that her purpose in life
is to work toward the collective goals of the Bene Gesserit. Only
near the end of her exile on Arrakis does Jessica begin to see the
infinite future possibilities that Paul has perceived all along.