Frank Herbert

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Power and Violence Theme Analysis

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Power and Violence Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Dune, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Power and Violence Theme Icon

Set in a future world of intergalactic human occupation, Frank Herbert’s Dune relates the story of the young nobleman Paul Atreides’s rise to total authority by taking control of the planet Arrakis and its indigenous Fremen. Dune is a political novel that examines influential individuals and organizations who wield power by maintaining control of people and events. There are many types of power prevalent in Dune, including control over politics, environments, resources, genetics, and military strength. Furthermore, this power is consistently linked to acts of corruption and revenge. Through the numerous and complex power plays that take place in Dune, Herbert suggests that power—the ability to maintain control over people and events—is a necessary political tool that is always attached to violent force. Even when power is wielded for intentions of greater good, violent consequences are inevitable.

Dune encompasses an elaborate system of power structures that drive the key plot actions throughout the novel, and Herbert explicitly associates all of these structures with violence. Dune’s intergalactic setting is based on a feudal system in which all planets belong to the Padishah Emperor. The Emperor’s ruling power is dependent on and enforced by the Laandsrat, an alliance of Great Houses who use strength of arms to uphold the Emperor’s authority (and their own accompanying influence). Many citizens lose their lives in the violent clashes that occur regularly in the Imperium, as the Great Houses control their assets and feud for political leverage. The Emperor’s authority also arises from his monopoly over spice, which is the most valuable commodity in Dune’s universe and only harvested from the planet Arrakis. The plot of Dune centers on brutal warfare that occurs on spice-laden Arrakis to challenge the Emperor’s monopoly over the prized resource. This violence has been repeated throughout Arrakeen history because of its unique spice production, showing how violence is necessarily bound up in power. A number of power structures also derive from various groups’ strengths or talents in Dune. Showing extreme military strength, the Emperor’s fearsome Sardokaur troops and Paul’s formidable Fremen are quick to slaughter any groups that their leaders declare as enemies. Strength of mind is also a powerful weapon that leads to great violence; for example, the best Mentats—individuals with comprehension capabilities well beyond a normal human intellect—are also known as “Masters of Assassins” because of their chilling influence over violent power plays in the Imperium. Demonstrating a different talent, Duke Leto commands authority due to his strength of popularity; however, even then is violence connected to power. Despite Leto’s honorable leadership, the Emperor perceives the Duke’s power as a threat and causes great bloodshed by killing the Duke and attacking House Atreides with House Harkonnen, showing how violence is a necessary tool for attaining and maintaining power in Dune.

Later on in the novel, Paul realizes that he may be the Bene Gesserit’s Kwisatz Haderach, a powerful political and religious commander is prophesized to lead humanity away from annihilation. Despite his genuine desire to avoid violence committed in his name, Paul realizes that he must establish political charge through destructive, often brutal force of arms. Paul wants to develop his powers of control over people and events in order to save the fate of humanity as well as avenging his dead father. He therefore capitalizes on cunning strategy to secure political and religious influence on Arrakis as the visionary prophet Muad’Dib—a role that he first feigns and stumbles through, before developing into the genuine legendary prophet. Paul draws on his unique Mentat, Bene Gesserit, and weapons training to convince the formidable desert Fremen to form a fiercely loyal following that would die for him. This results in Paul’s control of a powerful army of fanatic fighters, who efficiently massacre Imperial and Harkonnen forces to give Paul a strategic edge over his enemies. Paul eventually leads the Fremen to victory over the tyrannous Padishah Emperor, but this comes at a cost. Upon taking control of the Empire, Paul realizes he cannot prevent a Fremen holy crusade from sweeping the universe, as his image has become too powerful to keep his followers in check. Ironically, then, political power—and its ensuing violence—has the ability to overwhelm even the noblest of intentions.

From his opening episode of Bene Gesserit authority through to his final scenes of Paul’s military and political take down of the Padishah Emperor, Herbert uses the fictional world of Arrakis to interrogate the results of power. While many characters such as the Emperor wield power with outright evil intentions, even those such as Paul and Duke Leto who desire control and authority for the greater good find that their power is corrupted by violence. Political instability means that power needs to be earned and shored up by violent force. Through Paul’s epic rise to controlling the Imperium, Dune suggests that the most influential leaders need to be willing to destroy something—even a galaxy—in order to gain power over people and events.

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Power and Violence Quotes in Dune

Below you will find the important quotes in Dune related to the theme of Power and Violence.
Book 1, Part 1 Quotes

“A duke’s son must know about poisons,” she said. “It’s the way of our times, eh? Musky, to be poisoned in your drink. Aumas, to be poisoned in your food. The quick ones and the slow ones and the ones in between. Here’s a new one for you: the gom jabbar. It kills only animals.”

Related Symbols: Gom Jabbar
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. 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.

Related Symbols: Gom Jabbar
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 3 Quotes

The willow submits to the wind and prospers until one day it is many willows—a wall against the wind. That is the willow's purpose.

Related Symbols: Gom Jabbar
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 4 Quotes

“Mood?” Halleck’s voice betrayed his outrage even through the shield’s filtering. “What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises—no matter the mood! Mood’s a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It’s not for fighting.”

Related Characters: Gurney Halleck (speaker), Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 9 Quotes

Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad’Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.

Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 13 Quotes

I must rule with eye and claw—as the the hawk among lesser birds.

Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 16 Quotes

Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.

Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ve heard you have a saying,” Paul said, “that polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert.”

Related Characters: Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib (speaker), Dr. Liet-Kynes
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 19 Quotes

There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles.

Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 21 Quotes

The whole universe sat there, open to the man who could make the right decisions. The uncertain rabbits had to be exposed, made to run for their burrows. Else how could you control them and breed them? He pictured his fighting men as bees routing the rabbits. And he thought: The day hums sweetly when you have enough bees working for you.

Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1, Part 22 Quotes

People are the true strength of a Great House, Paul thought. And he remembered Hawat’s words: “Parting with people is a sadness; a place is only a place.”

Related Symbols: Spice
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 2 Quotes

“We will treat your comrade with the same reverence we treat our own,” the Fremen said. “This is the bond of water. We know the rites. A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe.”

Related Characters: Thufir Hawat
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 346
Explanation and Analysis:

And Paul, walking behind Chani, felt that a vital moment had passed him, that he had missed an essential decision and was now caught up in his own myth. He knew he had seen this place before, experienced it in a fragment of prescient dream on faraway Caladan, but details of the place were being filled in now that he had not seen. He felt a new sense of wonder at the limits of his gift. It was as though rode within the wave of time, sometimes in its trough, sometimes on a crest—and all around him the other waves lifted and fell, revealing and then hiding what they bore on their surface.

And through it all, the wild jihad still loomed ahead of him, the violence and the slaughter.

Page Number: 518
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 4 Quotes

Let him sweat a little, the Baron thought. One must always keep the tools of statecraft sharp and ready. Power and fear—sharp and ready.

Page Number: 372
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 6 Quotes

There existed no need on Caladan to build a physical paradise or a paradise of the mind—we could see the actuality all around us. And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving a paradise in this life—we went soft, we lost our edge.

Related Characters: Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib (speaker), Princess Irulan
Page Number: 411
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 8 Quotes

“No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero” his father said.

Related Characters: Pardot Kynes (speaker), Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib, Dr. Liet-Kynes
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 445
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 10 Quotes

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients call “spannungsbogen”—which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.

Related Characters: Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib (speaker), Princess Irulan
Page Number: 466
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 11 Quotes

My mother obeyed her Sister Superiors where the Lady Jessica disobeyed. Which of them was the stronger? History has already answered.

Page Number: 480
Explanation and Analysis:

When your opponent fears you, then’s the moment when you give the fear its own rein, give it the time to work on him. Let it become terror. The terrified man fights himself. Eventually, he attacks in desperation. That is the most dangerous moment, but the terrified man can be trusted usually to make a fatal mistake. You are being trained here to detect these mistakes and use them.”

Page Number: 493
Explanation and Analysis:

“I will tell you a thing about your new name,” Stilgar said. “The choice pleases us. Muad’Dib is wise in the ways of the desert. Muad’Dib creates his own water. Muad’Dib hides from the sun and travels in the cool night. Muad’Dib is fruitful and multiplies over the land. Muad’Dib we call ‘instructor-of-boys.’ That is a powerful base on which to build your life, Paul-Muad’Dib, who is Usul among us. We welcome you.”

Related Characters: Stilgar (speaker), Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 498
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2, Part 12 Quotes

Survival is the ability to swim in strange water.

Related Characters: Lady Jessica (speaker), Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib, Chani Kynes
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 504
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 3, Part 3 Quotes

“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movement becomes headlong—faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thought of obstacles and forget that a precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”

Related Characters: Lady Jessica (speaker), Paul Atreides / Muad’Dib
Page Number: 620
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 3, Part 10 Quotes

“I’m sorry, Grandfather,” Alia said. You’ve met the Atreides gom jabbar.”

Related Symbols: Gom Jabbar
Page Number: 753
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 3, Part 11 Quotes

“If I hear any more nonsense from either of you,” Paul said, “I’ll give the order that’ll destroy all spice production on Arrakis … forever.”


“Do it!” Paul barked. “The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it. You’ve agreed I have that power. We are not here to discuss or negotiate or compromise. You will obey my orders or suffer the immediate consequences!”

“He means it,” the shorter Guildsman said. And Paul saw the fear grip them.

Related Symbols: Spice
Page Number: 772-3
Explanation and Analysis:

"Do you know so little of my son?" Jessica whispered. "See that princess standing there, so haughty and confident. They say she has pretensions of a literary nature. Let us hope she finds solace in such things; she'll have little else." A bitter laugh escaped Jessica. "Think on it, Chani: that princess will have the name, yet she'll live as less than a concubine — never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she's bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine — history will call us wives.”

Page Number: 794
Explanation and Analysis: