Alia is the daughter of Leto and Jessica. She was conceived only a few days before her father’s death. As a result of Jessica drinking the water of life, the sacramental poison of the Fremen, while pregnant with her, Alia becomes fully self-aware while still in the womb and has an adult consciousness. She becomes known as St. Alia of the Knife because she takes revenge for her father by assassinating her grandfather, Baron Harkonnen.
Duke Leto Atreides
Duke Leto is Paul’s father. The family name derives from the family that led the Greek forces in the Trojan War (perhaps because of the fulfilled prophecy concerning Agamemnon’s treacherous death). Leto is aware that a member of the nobility is supposed to act in the ideal—with honor, justice, and courage—and does so to the best of his ability. His genuine virtues make him popular among the other noble houses of the Landsraad. Even the emperor, ultimately his deadly enemy, secretly wishes that Leto were his son. However, the duke’s very popularity creates jealously among other houses, such as the Harkonnens, and the emperor, whose lack of a male heir makes him nervous of any potential rival. Overwhelmed by the Byzantine plots in which he finds himself enmeshed on Arrakis and disgusted by what he views as his own hypocrisy in promoting his image through propaganda, the duke finally tells Paul, ‘‘I’m morally tired. The melancholy degeneration of the Great Houses has afflicted me at last, perhaps.’’ After his assassination by the Harkonnens, he becomes a venerated martyr in the new political and religious order instituted by Paul.
Paul is the son of Duke Leto Atreides and his concubine Lady Jessica. His birth was part of the Bene Gesserit breeding program to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit. However, he was intended to be born a girl who would breed with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen and complete the program. When Jessica used her prana-bindu training to produce a son to satisfy the desires of the Duke, the birth completely upset the Bene Gesserit plans and the static system of the Imperium. Trained as a Bene Gesserit and a mentat and a user of the prophecy-inducing spice, Paul combines in himself all of the mental disciplines developed to expand human potential in place of technology. In a development completely unforeseen by the Bene Gesserit, he discovers he has the ability not only to see into the future but to shape it, realizing that small decisions of his will produce disproportionate changes in events as they unfold. His abilities are not unlimited, but he eventually chooses a path that makes him emperor and allows the fulfillment of what Herbert considers to be the primary human instinct, to indiscriminately mix pools of genetic difference. The cost, however, is the unleashing of a galaxy-wide war that will cause billions of deaths.
At the beginning of the story, Paul is a fifteen-year-old boy who must rapidly face the death of his father, his exile into a community of the desert, and the realization of his unique powers and position. Becoming a guerilla leader fighting against the Harkonnen, he must come to terms with the necessities of killing, as well as with the new experience of love with his mistress Chani. Among the Fremen, he is given the personal name Usul (meaning ‘‘base of the pillar’’) and the public name Muad’Dib (after the constellation of the mouse). As the plot of the novel develops, the presentation of Paul’s character becomes less distinct and immediate; many of the sayings attributed to him in the epigraphs by Irulan cannot easily be reconciled with his character as portrayed in the novel. Perhaps these developments are deliberate, emphasizing Paul’s movement beyond the sphere of the comprehensibly human.
Chani is the daughter of Liet-Kynes. Once Paul takes up life among the Fremen, she becomes his concubine and the heir to his mother as Reverend Mother. She also bears his son Leto II, who is killed in a Sardaukar raid. Paul praises her for her wisdom.
Count Hasimir Fenring
‘‘A dapper and ugly little man,’’ Count Fenring had been the imperial agent on Arrakis before the transferal of the planet to the Atreides. The closest friend of Emperor Shaddam IV, he is a ‘‘Genetic-eunuch and one of the deadliest fighters in the Imperium.’’ His sterility was a failure of Bene Gesserit breeding. He had been intended as a candidate to become the Kwisatz Haderach. In the climax of the novel, he saves his friend Shaddam’s life by refusing to duel with Paul.
Countess Margot Fenring
Countess Fenring, a Bene Gesserit, is the wife of Count Fenring. As a fellow member of the sisterhood, she leaves in the ducal residence in Arrakeen a document warning Jessica of various traps and plots prepared on Arrakis by the Harkonnens. She is later assigned by the Bene Gesserit to become pregnant by Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen so as not to lose his genetic material for their breeding program.
Halleck is a senior officer in Duke Leto’s military; he serves as fencing master to Paul. His personality possesses curious, contrary features: ‘‘a head full of songs, quotations, and flowery phrases . . . and the heart of an assassin when it [comes] to dealing with the Harkonnens.’’ He survived the Harkonnen coup and led a small remnant of Atreides soldiers who worked as spice smugglers. He eventually rejoins Paul and his Death Commandos. After Paul becomes emperor, Gurney is made Earl of Caladan.
Feyd-Rautha Rabban Harkonnen
Feyd-Rautha is the younger nephew of Baron Harkonnen. Though he has been corrupted by his uncle’s influence, his genetic material is vital to the Bene Gesserit, and when it proves impossible to breed him with a daughter of Duke Leto, his line is preserved by having Countess Fenring seduce him. He is chosen by the baron not only as his successor but as a potential heir to the imperial succession. His public persona is based on his prominence as a gladiator on the Harkonnen home world of Gedei Prime. Like the ancient Roman emperor Commodus, he has won more than a thousand matches, all of which were rigged in his favor. At the climax of the novel he is anxious to resolve the feud between the Houses of Harkonnen and Atreides in a duel with Paul (a scene based on the ending of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, complete with poisoned swords), in part because he longs to test himself in a relatively fair fight. He proves no match for Paul, who is hardened by years of actual combat experience.
Count Glossu Rabban Harkonnen
Rabban is the older nephew of Baron Harkonnen. He was the ineffectual governor of Arrakis before the plot of the novel begins, becoming known as Beast Rabban because of his excessive cruelty. He was restored to that post after the baron regained control of the planet and given instructions to maximize revenue at all costs. This is part of the baron’s plan to make his eventual replacement by his younger brother seem like a deliverance.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Vladimir Harkonnen is the chief villain of Dune. While many names in the novel were chosen to evoke Arabic culture, the baron’s is decidedly Russian, to evoke the Cold War hostility toward the Soviet Union prevalent in the early 1960s. In contrast to Duke Leto’s asceticism, the baron devotes himself to every kind of depravity in pursuit of physical pleasure. One result of this is that he is immensely fat and has to support his weight with ‘‘suspensors.’’ Also in contrast to Leto, the baron believes that people can be ruled only by manipulation and cruelty. He sets in motion the action of the novel by involving the emperor in a complicated scheme of treachery and deception that he hopes will destroy his ancestral enemies, the Atredies, and eventually maneuver his nephew Feyd-Rautha into a position to succeed the emperor. His motivation is largely simple hatred of the Atreides, of whose more legitimate and popular position he is jealous, and because ‘‘an Atreides had a Harkonnen banished for cowardice after the battle of Corrin.’’ His family is nevertheless of great interest to the Bene Gesserit eugenics program to breed the Kwisatz Haderach. Accordingly, the Bene Gesserit lured him into fathering a child who eventually became Lady Jessica. She was later ordered to produce a daughter with Duke Leto, whose offspring from FeydRautha would hopefully become the male Bene Gesserit. This makes Baron Harkonnen not only Jessica’s father but the grandfather of her children, Paul and Alia. His granddaughter Alia eventually assassinates him in revenge for her father’s death.
Hawat is Duke Leto’s mentat, effectively his chief of staff. He is recognized as one of the greatest mentats in the galaxy and has served the Atreides family for generations. Once he is taken captive by the Baron Harkonnen, he begins to work for him as a mentat in exchange for the possibility of taking revenge against the emperor. Remaining loyal to Paul to the last, he reveals in the final meeting between Paul and the emperor that the latter has been foolish enough to order him to assassinate his rightful lord.
A top official in Duke Leto’s military, Duncan is made ambassador to the Fremen once Leto takes control of Arrakis. During Baron Harkonnen’s coup, he dies fighting Sardaukar to buy time for Paul and Jessica’s escape. He is later venerated as an important martyr of the Atreides regime.
Irulan is a Bene Gesserit and the daughter of the emperor. She plays a relatively minor role in the text of the novel. Paul must marry her to legitimize his succession as emperor. The marriage is entirely for form’s sake, and she will live out her days in the fashion of a wife sent to a convent in the Middle Ages. However, she devotes the rest of her life to the production of scholarly works about Paul, and it is from these that the epigraphs at the head of each chapter are drawn
Jessica is the concubine of Duke Leto Atreides and mother of his heir, Paul. A Bene Gesserit, she betrays her order’s plan to breed the duke’s daughter with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. Escaping to the desert Fremen with Paul, she becomes his closest adviser and mentor. She becomes a Reverend Mother through the biochemical transformation of poison, a Bene Gesserit practice that has been preserved among the Fremen. Jessica shapes Paul’s life into the pattern of messianic expectation among the Fremen. This pattern of belief was in turn sown as myth among them thousands of years before by Bene Gesserit agents of the Missonaria Protectiva so that it could be exploited by any future Bene Gesserit marooned among the Fremen.
See Paul Atreides
Pardot Liet-Kynes is the Imperial Planetologist on Arrakis. As an imperial official, he holds the position of Judge of the Change for the transition of power between the Harkonnens and Atreides. He inherited his position as planetologist from his father, also named Pardot. The elder planetologist had convinced the Fremen that by following his plan they could convert Arrakis into a paradise with open water and large tracts of vegetation. In deference to this plan, he became their de facto leader, using them as a work force to plant and protect plants in the southern hemisphere. He married a Fremen woman, and his son also has the Fremen name, Liet. During the coup, Liet-Kynes saves Paul and Jessica by sending them to the Fremen of the deep desert, but he dies while trying to escape the Sardaukar.
Gaius Helen Mohaim
She is a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and the emperor’s truthsayer. She has had the mind-expanding experience of consciously using her body’s biochemistry to neutralize the water of life poison, the highest level of Bene Gesserit training. As a result, she has a heightened awareness of subtle cues in her perceptual field, and can easily tell whether someone speaking to her is lying or not. She makes a special trip to Caladan to test Paul with the gom jabr. Ordered to evaluate Paul to see whether he is the Kwisatz Haderach, she unconsciously blinds herself to the evidence. She is present in the final audience scene with Paul, principally as the representative of the Bene Gesserit order, so that Paul can gloat to her over his complete destruction of their breeding scheme.
Emperor Shadam IV
Shadam is the emperor of the galactic Imperium. He sets the plot of Dune in motion by conspiring with the Harkonnens to destroy the Atreides family, something he feels is a political necessity because they have trained their own military to a standard equivalent to his Sardaukar corps, upsetting the balance between emperor and nobles. Nevertheless, he idealizes Duke Leto more than anyone else, and his daughter Irulan perceives that her father wishes the duke were his son. When he is utterly defeated, Paul offers him the face-saving way out of accepting Paul as heir through marriage to Princess Irulan. Irulan prevents her father from rejecting Paul’s mercy by using the Bene Gesserit trick of appealing to his deepest unconscious wishes at a moment of crisis, telling him of Paul, ‘‘But here’s a man fit to be your son.’’
Stilgar is the leader of the Sietch Tabr. (This community is probably named after Mt. Tabor, the hill outside Jerusalem where tradition says the Transfiguration of Christ took place, and an important name in medieval messianic movements in Central Europe.) He originally led the Fremen embassy to Duke Leto and created a stir with the duke’s bodyguard by spitting at his feet, but this was a sign of desert honor rather than a challenge. He becomes Paul’s protector among the Fremen after the Harkonnen coup. Although Stilgar becomes Paul’s chief lieutenant during the guerilla war against the Harkonnen and governor of Arakkis after Paul becomes emperor, Paul considers that he is inherently diminished to something less than human to the same degree Paul himself must play the role of the more than human: ‘‘Paul saw how Stilgar has been transformed from the Fremen nain to a creature of the Lisan al-Gaib, a receptacle for awe and obedience. It was a lessening of the man.’’
See Paul Atreides
Piter De Vries
De Vries is the sadistic mentat of the Baron Harkonnen. Before being killed in Duke Leto’s final attempt to assassinate the baron, De Vries invents a poison that will remain in the body indefinitely with no effect so long as an antidote is regularly administered. This is later used by the baron to control Thufir Hawat.
Yueh is the personal physician of Duke Leto. He was a Suk Doctor, meaning he has undergone psychological conditioning to make it impossible for him to betray his master, an important consideration among nobles who live in constant dread of assassination. His betrayal of the duke makes the swift advance of the baron’s coup possible. The baron believes he has broken Yueh’s conditioning by torturing his wife and securing his treachery in exchange for stopping the torture and the promise returning her to him. However, the actual factor involved was Yueh’s hope for revenge against the baron, which he nearly achieves by implanting a false tooth filled with poison gas into Duke Leto’s mouth, to kill the baron as he gloats over him in triumph. However, this plan does not ultimately work.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Frank Herbert, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.