Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Inheritance and Nepotism
It is ironic that Dune’s futuristic political system is based on the feudal system of the Middle Ages. Dukes and barons rule planets and sectors of space, and control passes down from one relative to the next in line. After the death of Duke Leto, Paul becomes the duke of Arrakis. Similarly, Baron Harkonnen plans to hand his power to his nephew Feyd-Rautha.
In the future society depicted in Dune, relatives inherit more than wealth. The “sins of the father” often pass to the children as well. The Atreides and the Harkonnens hold something called kanly against one another. Kanly is the right of vengeance. Any act performed by one against another can be lawfully reacted to in kind. The tenet of “an eye for an eye” applies to families and communities, not just to individuals. The Atreides and the Harkonnens spend their time raiding and killing one another, and each generation of Atreides and Harkonnens continues the cycle of vengeance and hatred.
Read about the related theme of the cyclical nature of blood crimes in Aeschylus’s The Libation Bearers.
Inheritance is important to both males and females for preserving knowledge and power. Paul’s mother trains Paul in the skills of the Bene Gesserit. Jessica also passes her powers to her daughter, Alia. Similarly, Lady Fenring seduces Feyd-Rautha in order to carry his child as part of the Bene Gesserit breeding program. Paul worries that the Bene Gesserit’s plan to reinvigorate the human gene pool can be accomplished only through jihad, a war that will spread across the universe. Birth and family lines are an integral aspect of relationships in Dune because they maintain tradition throughout thousands of years and thousands of worlds.
Read about the related theme of race and lineage in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
One of the more distinctive aspects of Dune’s environment is the existence of precognition, or knowledge about events that have not yet occurred. The mystical ability of certain human beings to see into the future brings elements of fantasy into the novel.
Most of the characters with precognitive powers are members of Bene Gesserit or the Guild, but Paul develops this power beyond all others because of three factors: his genetic heritage, his Bene Gesserit and Mentat training, and his exposure to melange. Herbert never clearly describes the exact nature of Paul’s powers, but given the improbable nature of some of Paul’s predictions, his precognitive powers must work on a level beyond mere calculation.
Paul’s precognition gives him control. By knowing the future, Paul can shape events in the present to attain the results he desires. Of all his powers, precognition is perhaps the most useful, as well as the most terrifying. Paul feels that his precognition is both a blessing and a curse. He is concerned about having too much control over people, such as the Fremen, but he also feels driven to achieve his ultimate goal of gaining control of the universe.