Study Guide

Dune Insect Imagery

By Frank Herbert

Insect Imagery

When you think of an animal closely related to humans, what do you think of? An ape? A chimpanzee? Maybe a dolphin? But certainly not an ant, right?

In Dune, insect imagery is used often to describe human beings and human activities. Here are a few examples:

  • Paul mentions that the Harkonnens are attacking the Atreides as if they are trying to "stamp out a nest of insects" (23.65).
  • Jessica says that the rice paddies of Caladan look like "ant lines" with the "man-gangs carrying their loads on suspensor-buoyed shoulder poles" (27.229)
  • The smuggler ornithopters are compared to "a swarm of insects following its queen" (43.1).
  • The Fremen sietch have many similarities to the underground habitats of insects such as termites or ants.

There are more examples to be found throughout the novel, but you get the point. Humans and insects are constantly compared in Dune. But why? There are a number of possibilities, and we've come up with a few of our favorites.

Oh! The Thinks You Can Think

When humans are compared to insects, they are often shown performing tasks that serve basic survival needs: gathering food, running from an enemy, hunting. These activities are also performed as group activities. In contrast, the Reverend Mother notes that the gom jabbar is for separating humans from animals, and humans "are almost always lonely" (3.44). Maybe Dune separates lower, base pursuits—the stuff that gets the insect imagery—from higher pursuits and ideals, like Paul's search for identity, which get human imagery.

Another possibility is that the insect imagery serves to underline the novel's infatuation with heredity and genealogy. Some insect species, such as ants or bees, serve the community before individual needs. Their survival depends not on the prospering of the individual but on the prospering of the entire colony.

The Fremen definitely have this kind of "insect" mentality. As Stilgar says, "[the Fremen] obey the preservation of the tribe" (32.24). Now, it's just possible that Dune is extolling this type of behavior—you know, putting the group before your individuality as the best means of preserving and serving ecology. There's a lot of ambiguity in the novel, and it's hard to pin down whether Herbert thinks one philosophy is better than another.

As we said, there are numerous possibilities. What do you think?