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.