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Dune | Book 1, Sections 1–2 : Dune | Summary

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Dune is divided into three titled books, "Dune," "Muad'Dib," and "The Prophet," each of which has numerous sections set off by epigraphs. Sections have been combined in this study guide for the purpose of summary and analysis.

Summary

Book 1, Section 1

The novel opens as the noble family Atreides prepares to leave the lush, water-rich planet Caladan and move to the desert planet Arrakis. An old woman visits Castle Caladan and looks in on Paul Atreides, the 15-year-old son and heir of Duke Atreides and Lady Jessica, his concubine. The old woman acknowledges that Paul may be the "Kwisatz Haderach." After the woman leaves, Paul wonders what a gom jabbar is and what a Kwisatz Haderach is. He thinks about the upcoming move to Arrakis, a planet also known as Dune. Paul's father is going to take over rule of Arrakis from the Harkonnens, another noble house. The planet is known for a valuable product that can be mined only there called melange, or simply spice. The duke's Mentat and Master of Assassins, Thufir Hawat, has explained all this to Paul.

Paul sleeps and dreams of water dripping in a dimly lit cavern—a dream he knows is a prediction. When he wakes just before dawn, he considers what he has learned about Arrakis from Dr. Yueh, his teacher. He notices his own anxiety and uses a meditation technique, learned from his mother, to calm himself. Soon Jessica arrives to tell Paul the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is waiting for him.

The Reverend Mother, a "Bene Gesserit-with-the-Sight," or "Truthsayer," tests Paul with the gom jabbar. She places the gom jabbar, a poisoned needle, at his neck and instructs him to place his hand in a box and keep it there—or die. Inside the box his hand feels intense, burning pain (though, he finds out afterward, no harm is done). However, he masters his instinct to remove his hand using the Bene Gesserit "litany against fear." He passes the test, and the Reverend Mother pronounces him human. The two speak a little more before Jessica returns, and Paul reveals to her that he can tell when people are telling the truth. She says, "Perhaps you are the Kwisatz Haderach." Paul feels a sense of being "infected with terrible purpose," although he does not know what this purpose is.

After Jessica returns, relieved her son is alive, the conversation turns again to the purpose of the test. The Reverend Mother says it is to separate humans from animals, in order to set humans free. She explains the history of the Bene Gesserit and their desire to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, a man who can take a special drug only Truthsayers (who are all female) ingest that gives them the ability to look into the past through the memories of their female ancestors. The Kwisatz Haderach would be a male who could look into the past of both men and women. So far, none of the men who have tried to use the Truthsayer drug have succeeded. In fact they have all died.

Book 1, Section 2

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, an immense man held up by anti-gravity suspenders, gloats to his Mentat assassin Piter and his 16-year-old nephew Feyd-Rautha about a trap he has set for Duke Leto Atreides. He reveals Dr. Yueh is his own agent and will soon bring down House Atreides. He's made a plan that includes making sure the duke is aware of who is responsible for his demise before he dies: "The duke must know when I encompass his doom ... And the other Great Houses must learn of it. The knowledge will give them pause." Piter argues the baron is being too bold in his power grab and that this may cause the emperor to send his Sardaukar, brutal imperial soldiers, to put the baron back in his place (or worse).

Piter reminds the baron that, in return for his support, the baron has promised him the Lady Jessica. Piter and the baron discuss what to do with Paul Atreides. As a Mentat—something like a human computer—he is trained to perform many functions similar to those of a "thinking machine," but he has a human body subject to human frailties, such as addiction. At the request of the baron, Piter summarizes the plan against the Atreides, which hinges on the Harkonnen agent Dr. Yueh, whom Duke Atreides and his Mentat adviser Hawat believe to be safe because of his imperial conditioning. The imperial conditioning is believed to be absolute and unbreakable, making those conditioned entirely loyal and trustworthy. Part of the plan is to cause Hawat to suspect Jessica of treason, when all the time it is Dr. Yueh. The baron will also use Sardaukar disguised as Harkonnen soldiers to attack the capital city of Arrakis.

Analysis

These opening sections pack a great deal of information into a small space. They introduce the two noble houses whose adversarial stance provides the political backdrop of the novel. The storylines begun here set the course for the rest of the plot: the relocation to Arrakis of House Atreides, whom the Harkonnens, aided by the emperor, plan to topple; and the prophetic dreams and destiny of Paul Atreides. Throughout the novel these two threads—the political intrigue and the mystical journey of Paul as potential Kwisatz Haderach—continue and intertwine.

Despite the amount of explaining done by the Reverend Mother, it is immediately clear there is a great deal of backstory—far more than can fit in a few sections—but Herbert does not spare the reader. He introduces mysterious terms and unknown references by the handful. Some he explains and some he does not. This has the overall effect of creating a great deal of suspense and the sensation of being suddenly immersed in a different reality. The thoroughness of Herbert's world-building is one of the aspects of Dune his fans love, but it may seem overwhelming. Most of the mysteries introduced here will eventually be answered. For the rest Herbert provides helpful appendices, and many editions of the novel include a glossary of terms.

In addition to the number of mysterious and unfamiliar terms, suspense is created by several other means. The intensity of the gom jabbar test and the fear displayed by Jessica make the Reverend Mother's visit seem both perilous and significant. Paul's premonitions and ability to discern when someone is telling the truth open question of how these abilities will grow and what they mean. The intricate plot of Baron Harkonnen shows House Atreides is in immediate peril.

An interesting stylistic choice Herbert has made in this novel is to shift the omniscient point of view quickly to from person to person in a scene, with their inner thoughts indicated by text in italics. In many scenes readers read the dialogue between characters but also get the private thoughts of those characters. Because so many characters keep secrets from each other, or only reveal part of their thoughts, this gives readers a fascinating dual perspective. In many cases these private thoughts work in a similar fashion as an aside in a Shakespeare play, where a character speaks privately to themselves or the audience in the midst of a scene with other characters on stage.

Herbert uses the Reverend Mother to give readers some essential background information of the novel. She speaks of a "Great Revolt" against the crutch of machines that did people's thinking for them. Humans were forced to develop human minds and talents. (Readers may use the glossary or appendices to read more about this "Great Revolt," also called the "Butlerian Jihad.") She points to two schools who did this training—the Bene Gesserit, which focuses on politics, and the Spacing Guild, which focuses on mathematics. She also gives the methods and ultimate goals of the Bene Gesserit, which selects and trains women to bear children with specific partners to pass on desired genetic traits. Their ultimate genetic goal is to produce the Kwisatz Haderach.

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