Download Dune Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Extended Summary

Published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a classic science fiction novel about Paul Atreides. Paul is fifteen years old and is small for his age, but he is smart: he already sees the future in his dreams sometimes. House Atreides is preparing to leave its home of twenty-six generations, Castle Caladan, for Arrakis, a desert planet more commonly known as Dune. This planet is home to the “spice,” a substance that gives people a number of abilities, such as the ability to navigate safe routes through space. The Atreides are taking over the desert planet from their bitter enemies, House Harkonnen, and Paul’s family stands to gain considerable power through this new asset. However, Paul well understands what his father’s Master of Assassins, Thufir Hawat, means when he warns that Duke Leto, Paul’s father, has been given this task because of his popularity, but “a popular man arouses the jealousy of the powerful.” Thufir Hawat is a Mentat, which means that his mind is trained to calculate and analyze probabilities, and there is a great probability that Dune will mean the death of Duke Leto.

Thufir’s fears are well founded. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is plotting to destroy House Atreides and is in league with the Padashah Emperor Shaddam Corrinio IV, who controls the galaxy thanks to his elite Sardaukar soldiers. The baron has corrupted the loyalty of Leto’s servant, Doctor Wellington Yueh. When Leto takes control of Dune, he will be betrayed from within while Dune is invaded by Sardaukar troops wearing Harkonnen livery. Harkonnen’s own Mentat, Piter, reports that the possibility of the Atreides family surviving is small. Leto is well aware of the dangers of Dune, but he cannot openly defy his emperor. Furthermore, there is a great potential for House Atreides to prosper if they can survive the trap.

Although Paul is excited by the coming move to Dune, he is also anxious. He quickly settles his mind by practicing “mind-body” meditation that he has learned from his mother, Jessica, Leto’s concubine and a member of the Bene Gesserit. Paul is accustomed to seeing people treat his mother with respect, so he is surprised when the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Jessica’s Bene Gesserit superior, treats the Lady Jessica like a “common serving wench.” Paul is not sure what she means to do with him, though he overhears her referring to him as the “Kwisatz Haderach.” When he meets the Reverend Mother, she holds her “gom jabbar” against Paul’s neck and threatens to kill him if he does not take a test. Paul agrees. He will experience pain by putting his hand in a box and will pass the test if he does not withdraw his hand. The pain is excruciating, but Paul recites the Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliterations. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

He passes the test and the Reverend Mother informs Paul that he is not an animal; she explains, “A human can override any nerve in the body.” She goes on to explain that the Bene Gesserit strive to control politics through breeding. One aspect of their control is to ensure that their “breeding stock” is human. The Kwisatz Haderach is the end result of this program: a man who can see into both the past and future after taking the “Truthsayer drug.” Sadly, though Paul has the potential to become the Kwisatz Haderach, the odds are against him.

When the Atreides arrive on Dune, they quickly begin consolidating their control. The Harkonnen rulers long controlled the local population of Arrakis through brutality, but the Atreides attempt to forge relationships with Dune’s city dwellers. They also send their weapons master, Duncan Idaho, into the desert to form an alliance with the wild desert...

(The entire section is 1,835 words.)