About the Book

Book Protagonist: Paul Atreides, Alia Atreides, Jessica
Publication Date: 1965
Genre: Action and Adventure, Science Fiction

Themes and Analysis


By Frank Herbert

'Dune' is a novel immersed in an extensive world where politics govern the flow of a resource crucial to man's survival. Because of its great thematic structure, the story progresses fluidly, making its reader follow the trail of a massive universe.

Frank Herbert’s extensive use of accurate measurements to make a detailed description of the story of ‘Dune’ is both an upside and a shortcoming. Because his pinpoint description sometimes makes the reader lose track of other elements in a scene diluting the story’s intensity.

Dune Themes and Analysis


The Rise and Fall of Empires

In Dune,’ Frank Herbert intentionally dilutes the technological element of the story to show how empires rise and fall because of politics around a specific resource. Melange became a substance that caused empires to rise and fall. Frank’s depiction of the imperium and the noble houses in ‘Dune’ resembles real-world empires like the Roman and Ottoman Empires. Many people have compared Frank’s ‘Dune’ to Edward Gibbon’s novel ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.’

Frank Herbert’s depiction of empires crumbling shows how the gradual decline of power from the grasp of a gigantic system brings revolution. Paul Atreides used the idea of a revolution to force Shaddam into abdicating his throne. Paul would never have created a successful resistance against the imperium if he did not have the tool crucially needed in achieving his goals; this tool was the faith the Fremen had in him to be their savior.


‘Dune’ is a novel that brings to life the image of what heroism is. Paul’s life before becoming a superhuman followed the basic storyline of how heroes are born. First, he had a rough early life due to his father getting killed, he had to live among a group of people who were not his own and ended up gaining their faith and trust in him, and in the end, he got powers that made him fight his greatest enemies with victory.

Paul’s transcendence from being a young naïve boy to being a great leader perfectly fits into Frank’s depiction of heroism. However, as most hero tales go, heroes lose someone or something most precious to them. Paul had to fight not only his enemies but his emotions as all heroes do. Losing his son, Leto II should have broken him, but he showed strength and still took the Fremen to victory and glory.


‘Dune’ was the starting point for a trend in the science fiction genre. Frank Herbert’s focus on the planet’s ecology raised awareness of what the future might look like with the continuous use of resources harmful to the Earth. Frank stated that picking the name for the novel was a deliberate attempt in creating environmental awareness, and he wanted to, as he put it, “echo the sound of doom.” The success of ‘Dune’ made science fiction writers shift their focus to ecological change and the adverse effects on the Earth in future years. ‘Dune’ gave rise to books such as ‘A Door into Ocean’ by Joan Slonczewski.

The Power of Politics

Politics plays a crucial role in the story of ‘Dune’ as it shows the flow of power around great powers. Though written in the 1960s, ‘Dune’ applies to today’s world, where there is an interwoven control system around specific commodities and resources limited in supply. In ‘Dune,’ the control of spice made the difference between having and being subordinate. When faced against an enemy, the card of gaining control over its crucial source of power is necessary to bring it to its knees. Paul discovered that with both his superhuman capabilities and control over the desert, he could seize control of Arrakeen. With Paul exercising exceptional political control over the Fremen, he was successfully able to cripple the imperium.

The Vital Role of Lineage in Power

Lineage plays a crucial role in ‘Dune.’ In the novel, ancestry is synonymous with power; this was evident because Paul only became emperor by marring Shaddam’s daughter. With the chain of command moving from the emperor to the noble houses, the control of shares in CHOAM was necessary for each noble house to retain power. Also, lineage and gender control were vital to the Bene Gesserit, as they enabled them to exercise control over the bloodline of each house from the shadows. Bene Gesserit’s control over ancestry made them maintain the balance of power between the noble houses by creating an avenue for marriages that forged political bonds.

Analysis of Key Moments

  1. Duke Leto of House Atreides, ruler of water planet Caladan, gets assigned by Shaddam IV, emperor of the Padishah Empire and ruler of the known universe, to govern planet Arrakis.
  2. Baron Vladimir of House Harkonnen and former governor of planet Arrakis conspire with Shaddam to destroy Leto, his son, Paul, and the house of Atreides.
  3. Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother and a votary of the Bene Gesserit, brings Paul before her superior, Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, speculating he was the child of prophecy.
  4. Paul passes the blinding pain test set by the reverend mother by enduring the Gom Jabbar.
  5. Leto and his house leave Cladan for planet Arrakis.
  6. Harkonnen and Sardaukar troops attack the Atreides on Arrakeen, capital of Arrakis. Leto is by Yueh, his doctor who poisons him but lets Paul and Jessica escape.
  7. Thufir Hawat, Leto’s mentat, gets captured, and Gurney Halleck escapes.
  8. Leto dies in a failed attempt to kill the Baron of Harkonnen.
  9. Paul realizes he had powers which he harnessed by taking Melange, the drug known to grant its users youth and mental capabilities. Paul discovers he can see into the future as he foresees a future where he lived among the Fremen, the local inhabitants of Arrakis.
  10. Jessica finds out that her father is Baron Vladimir of House Harkonnen.
  11. Paul and Jessica get accepted into the Fremen community, Sietch Tabr.
  12. Paul proves his manhood to the Fremen and chooses the name Usal Paul Muad’Dib.
  13. Jessica drinks the water of life and becomes a reverend mother, granting her and her unborn child, Alia, powers.
  14. Paul falls in love with a Fremen woman, Chani, who conceives a son for him, Leto II.
  15. Two years later, Paul becomes more powerful, and the Fremen begin seeing him as the messiah of prophecy.
  16. Destructive raids by the Fremen cut down spice production.
  17. With the production cut, Baron Vladimir orders his nephew to rule Arrakis with an iron fist; this makes the emperor’s trust in him wane as the emperor sends spies to Arrakis.
  18. Gurney reunites with Paul and threatens to kill Jessica.
  19. Paul drinks the water of life and gains telepathy across space and time.
  20. The emperor arrives on Arrakis with his army seizing a Fremen outpost, killing Leto II, and capturing Alia.
  21. Paul attacks Arrakeen under an electric storm, with Alia killing Baron Vladimir and Paul defeating the emperor and Baron’s troops.
  22. Paul kills Feyd-Rautha and forces the emperor to abdicate the throne and give his daughter, princess Irulan to him.
  23. Paul becomes emperor.

Analysis of Symbols

The Crysknife

The crysknife is a tool with a doubled-edged purpose as it had the capability of being a maker and a destroyer. The crysknife is a tool made from a sandworm’s tooth, and it possesses a technical advantage against shields. The crysknife symbolizes destiny as it holds a religious value in the eyes of the Fremen, who believed that once a person sees it, they had to either become the blade’s owner or die by its edges.


On planet Arrakis, water is a crucial resource for the Fremen. Jessica stated that on Arrakis, the mention of water plagued her everywhere she went; this is because water had significant value to the Fremen. Later in the story, a truth is revealed that the sandworms which produced Melange were negatively affected by the presence of water, thus creating an ironic relationship between the most valuable substance on Arrakis and the most valuable substance in the universe.


Melange is a drug-like substance that enhances its taker’s mental capabilities but at the same time makes them addicted to taking it. Melange symbolizes a commodity that shapes the flow of power and at the same time, a tool for the heightening of man’s mental and physical capabilities. As a commodity, the struggle for Melange symbolizes how a substance can drive humanity to a mad fight for control and domination. As a drug, Melange as a symbol shows how people wanting to escape their life into a perfect state of mind creates an ever-raging addiction to a substance.


Arrakis was a desert that produced a resource people fought over. The desert of Arrakis is the stark opposite of what deserts symbolize to humanity; barrenness. However, though it lacked water, the desert of Arrakis still created an avenue for a substance more valuable than anything in the universe.


What are the main themes in Dune?

The main themes in ‘Dune’ focus on politics, religion, the fall of empires, revenge, ecology, and heroism.

What is the message behind Dune?

When asked, Frank Herbert stated that he created ‘Dune’ to sound the alarm of doom on humanity if it doesn’t pay attention to how the harvesting of natural resources harm the environment.

What real-world issues does Dune deal with?

‘Dune’ deals with real-world issues like capitalism, environmentalism, and politics.

Is Dune a dystopian novel?

With all certainty, ‘Dune’ is a dystopian novel.

What was one of the best parts of Dune?

One great thing about ‘Dune’ is the remarkable detail of planets portrayed in the story.

Joshua Ehiosun
About Joshua Ehiosun
Joshua is an undying lover of literary works. With a keen sense of humor and passion for coining vague ideas into state-of-the-art worded content, he ensures he puts everything he's got into making his work stand out. With his expertise in writing, Joshua works to scrutinize pieces of literature.
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