Course Hero Logo

Dune | Study Guide

Frank Herbert

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Dune Study Guide." Course Hero. 31 Aug. 2017. Web. 10 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, August 31). Dune Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Dune Study Guide." August 31, 2017. Accessed June 10, 2023.


Course Hero, "Dune Study Guide," August 31, 2017, accessed June 10, 2023,

Dune | Themes


Power and Control

The relationship between power and control is explored throughout the novel and from a multitude of angles: political control, control of destiny, and ecological control. Several of the main characters are military or political leaders: Duke Leto Atreides, Baron Harkonnen, and Paul Atreides. How these men gain and maintain power is explored thoroughly, and each of the three has a slightly different method. Duke Leto maintains his authority by winning the love of his followers and projecting an image of noble strength. Baron Harkonnen uses fear, addiction, blackmail, and threats to ensure the loyalty of his followers. Paul uses his unique abilities and training to play the role of messiah in the Fremen religion, gaining both military and religious authority among the desert people. In each of these cases the connection between power and control is simple and clear: power is used to exert control over individuals or a group of people.

Yet individual leaders using power to control their people is only one way power can be used. The Bene Gesserit seek control over the genetic makeup of humans, especially those in the noble Houses. They track and record family lines, inserting their agents into situations where a genetic branch needs to be maintained or bred with another genetic line to produce desirable offspring. In this way they try to control the future. Because their goal is a broad and sweeping one, the Bene Gesserit employ different kinds of power. They are trained to use the "Voice," a technique that compels all who hear them to obey. They discipline themselves mentally and physically so they are in control of all physical and mental processes.

The Fremen, led by Liet-Kynes and then by Paul, seek ecological control. Like political leaders and the Bene Gesserit, they attempt to control the future. However, the Fremen want to control the future of Arrakis, making it into a lush place rather than a desert. The power exerted by the Fremen in this endeavor is the power of strict personal and societal discipline. Their tightly controlled water supply allows the collection and storage of water in large amounts. This is not simply to ensure they have enough to drink. The Fremen's long-range plan is to collect enough water that, when it is released into the planetary systems of Arrakis, it will remake the ecology of the desert planet.

Religion and Politics

Closely tied to the theme of power and control is the theme of religion and politics. Both politics and religion offer systems that can be used to control people and events. Both offer hierarchy and structures allowing leaders to rise up through the ranks and gain increasing authority. Used together, they reinforce each other, securing greater devotion and adherence to rules. Kynes, the imperial ecologist who becomes Liet, leader of the Fremen, uses the mixture of politics and religion to make the Fremen supremely disciplined with their water use. He sees it as a necessary way to make sure obedience to rules about collecting and recapturing water is absolute. As Kynes's hallucinatory father says to him: "Religion and law among our masses must be one and the same ... An act of disobedience must be a sin and require religious penalties. This will have the dual benefit of bringing both greater obedience and greater bravery." Paul Atreides follows Kynes's example because he, too, needs the complete devotion of the Fremen.

The Bene Gesserit also mix religion and politics to achieve their goals. The group keeps detailed genetic records and controls procreation in order to breed humans as if they were livestock. One of their ultimate goals is to breed the Kwisatz Haderach, a male who can look within himself to a place the women cannot see and who can access memories of his ancestors through the male line. But the Bene Gesserit also have other goals, including control over who ends up on the emperor's throne. One strategy for achieving these goals and protecting the Bene Gesserit sisters/agents wherever they may be is planting legends and prophecies in the religions of various planets. Then, if a Bene Gesserit needs to influence people, she can use these stories to gain acceptance or authority. Jessica, Paul Atreides's mother, is a Bene Gesserit and uses her knowledge of the stories planted among the Fremen. This saves her life as well as Paul's and allows her to become a religious leader among the Fremen.


The theme of destiny is introduced in the first sections of the novel. Paul's premonitions show him a future he knows will occur, and he feels an increasing sense of "terrible purpose." As he ingests the spice, melange, on Arrakis, his natural ability to see into time and space is enhanced. He sees possible futures. In many of them he sees himself responsible for a terrible jihad—a religious war—spreading out across the galaxy. He realizes this jihad is a force of chaos and uncontrolled mingling of genetic material. Paul's ability to see the potential futures and the possibility of jihad increase the sense he has a significant destiny.

Destiny, or its cousin, fate, also surrounds the death of Duke Leto Atreides and the rise of Paul as the Fremen messiah figure Lisan al-Gaib. The fact that the duke will die as a result of Harkonnen treachery is a given, and all of his interactions therefore seem like a slow march to the inevitable. Something similar happens to Paul as he becomes both Lisan al-Gaib of the Fremen and Kwisatz Haderach to the Bene Gesserit. The seeds of these destinies are in him from the beginning of the novel, and the plot shows him gradually growing into these roles. His life takes on the mythical status of an epic character destined to do great things, whether for good or ill.

However, the concept of destiny has further complications in the novel. Destiny, and humanity's ability to grasp it, are both revealed to be of limited influence. Humanity's physical, or animal, destiny is the mingling of genetic material. While it remains a powerful force with which to constantly contend, individual actions also affect the course of destiny. The Bene Gesserit breeding program does, after all, result in the Kwisatz Haderach.


Like much of the science fiction genre, Dune focuses on questions about human nature and what it means to be human. In addition, Dune explores the ways in which humans are willing to sacrifice their own individual wills for a messiah-like leader. It shows the many ways people can be controlled as well as the types of people who do the controlling. It explores the nature of men and women and how they balance one another.

ButDunealso tackles the question of what differentiates a true human from a human animal. All humans have an animal nature. The physical urges and processes of the body are part of this nature. The involuntary responses to danger—"fight or flight"—are part of this nature. Fear is part of this nature. Rising above these physical urges and responses is seen as a human trait. So when Paul is tested with thegom jabbar, the test determines whether he is human enough to suppress his fear and pain and do what he knows he must do. The Bene Gesserit litany against fear ("Fear is the mind-killer ... ") is another example of this principle in action. Both Jessica and Paul use it to calm their fears and think clearly in a crisis situation. This shows their ability to rise above their animal nature and use their human reason to solve problems.

Questions for Themes

View all
After reviewing this introduction, you will be able to: Analyze the transition from the Renaissance to the Reformation, and major events of this period. Identify the key features of sixteenth-century
Please correct it Please please please. Thank you very much.
Hebrew Law From your reading, think about the ethical foundations of Judaism. Chapter Four - Discussion Board Option #1 - Hebrew Law Respond in writing to the following questions after reading Chapter
Respond: Part 1: In “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe critiques Conrad’s representation of Africa and European imperialism. Discuss Achebe’s ow
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Dune? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!