Dune | Study Guide

Frank Herbert

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Dune | Symbols



Water often symbolizes life, birth, or rebirth because of its importance to every kind of life and its use in baptism rituals. But in Dune these symbolic associations take on greater significance because of water's scarcity. Arrakis is a desert planet, where rain does not fall. While spice is its main export, water is the most valuable resource on Arrakis.

To the Fremen, water symbolizes life at both the individual and community levels. When a person dies, the water of his or her body is rendered out of the flesh, and the funeral ritual includes a measuring of the person's water. The measured water represents the person's life. Then the water is given to the tribe for safekeeping and storage. The water represents the part of the person belonging to the community as well as the hopes and dreams of that community for a better future.


The spice produced by the worms, melange, has properties that give users extraordinary understanding and abilities. It allows them to live longer; it allows some users to see into time and navigate through space. Yet it is addictive and, once intake reaches a certain level, becomes necessary for survival. This has caused some readers to see parallels between spice and natural resources such as oil, especially given the use of Arabic words in the novel. Like oil, spice gives humans the ability to travel great distances and live longer, easier lives. Yet once a culture relies on oil or other fossil fuels, it can't go back to living without them. Other readers see spice as representing the hallucinogenic drugs of the 1960s. At the time some people believed these drugs could unlock parts of the brain usually dormant. This idea tracks well with the use of spice, which does bestow greater perception to a person while being dangerously addictive.


The great sandworms of Arrakis symbolize the natural world. Their life cycle produces spice, and so they are a necessary natural resource. Yet they are a force of wildness and chaos set in opposition to the human desire for control. They are drawn to and attack the shields designed to protect and set apart human cities. Where humans try to impose order without regard for the natural world, sandworms bring destruction. Yet the Fremen have learned to use the sandworms not by controlling them completely, but by riding along on them. Rather than impose order, the Fremen adapt to natural conditions. The tension between exploitation and adaptation is one of many concerns in the novel, which is related to the exercise of power and control.

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