Study Guide

Dune Family

By Frank Herbert


"No, it would not!" the Baron growled. "I must have him dead and his line ended." (2.78)

The Baron goes straight-up mafia here. It's family versus family in a duel to the death.

"You thought only of your Duke's desire for a son," the [Reverend Mother] snapped. "And his desires don't figure in this. An Atreides daughter could've been wed to a Harkonnen heir and sealed the breach. You've hopelessly complicated matters. We may lose both bloodlines now." (3.14)

Jessica finds herself stuck between her families. There's the surrogate family of the Bene Gesserit, and there's the family she created with Duke Leto. Considering how handsome Jessica thinks Leto is, you can bet which one she'll side with.

You have read that Muad'Dib had no playmates his own age on Caladan. The dangers were too great. But Muad'Dib did have wonderful companion-teachers. (4.Intro)

In Dune, the family doesn't just come in the vanilla mother, father, and children variety. Paul's teachers Hawat, Idaho, Gurney, and even Yueh all comprise the Atreides family.

"Gurney's a romantic," the Duke growled. This talk of killing suddenly disturbed him, coming from his son. "I'd sooner you never had to kill… but if the need arises, you do it however you can—tip or edge." (6.69)

Poor Leto. It's his duty to his son and his family to make sure Paul is ready to face whatever the world throws at him. Unfortunately, that's not just teaching Paul to drive stick. It's also teaching him how to properly kill a man.

Abruptly, [Yueh] stiffened, whirled with mustache flopping over his purpled lips. "Forgive me, my Lady! My thoughts were far away… I … did not mean to be familiar." [Jessica] smiled, held out her right hand. For a moment, she was afraid he might kneel. "Wellington, please." (8.7-8)

Jessica's willingness for Yueh to be on such common ground with her shows him to be a part of the family. Of course, that just makes his inevitable betrayal all the more poignant and tragic.

"[…] I've walked the future, I've looked at a record, I've seen a place, I have all the data. We're Harkonnens."
"A… renegade branch of the family," [Jessica] said. "That's it, isn't it? Some Harkonnen cousin who—"
"You're the Baron's own daughter," [Paul] said, and watched the way she pressed her hands to her mouth. (22.176-178)

Wow, talk about family drama. Lady Jessica learns of her heritage. In a society that places so much emphasis on genealogy and bloodlines, that's a whopper of a revelation.

The Baron suddenly wondered at himself. Why did I do that? Why did I boast to this fool nephew of mine—the nephew I must use and discard? (26.123)

Unlike Duke Leto, the Baron Harkonnen is more than willing to use his family members to accomplish his goals. On the other hand, the Baron's plan also benefits the family as a whole.

The Atreides training—"We care for our own!"—it held like a core of native rock in them, Halleck noted. (28.102)

Compare this with the last quote. We can really see the difference in between the Atreides and Harkonnen views on family. Even the Atreides family's hired soldiers see each other as family and have a "no man left behind" attitude.

"Muad'Dib is wise in the ways of the desert. […] That is a powerful base on which to build your life, Paul-Muad'Dib, who is Usul among us. We welcome you." (33.169)

Paul enters a new family and so receives a new name. Interesting, isn't it? Although we use names to identify ourselves, it is our family who gives our names to us.

"He is dead, beloved," Chani said. "Our son is dead."
Holding himself under stiff control, Paul got to his feet. He reached out, touched Chani's cheek, feeling the dampness of her tears. "He cannot be replaced," Paul said, "but there will be other sons. It is Usul who promises this." Gently, he moved her aside […].

Paul very unceremoniously deals with the death of his son. His attitude suggests that maybe Paul at the story's end has more in common with the Baron Harkonnen than with Duke Leto. That's a scary and pretty all-around depressing thought.