Study Guide

Dune Man & the Natural World

By Frank Herbert

Man & the Natural World

Pardot Kynes says that the purpose of ecology is "understanding consequences" (30.11). Now, that's a bit different from the definition you'd find in a dictionary, but it's a definition that helps us understand nature's role in Dune. In Dune, our relationship with nature is one of consequences. The environment a society lives in shapes that society's culture, economics, politics, and religion. So, a society from the forested lands of Europe will be distinctly different from one found in the Sahara Desert. The same can be said for planets like Caladan, Arrakis, and Geidi Prime in Dune. Each planet uniquely shapes the civilization found within its own ecology. Kind of weird, huh? Add or subtract a river, or a forest, or a bunch of mountains, and you could find yourself living in an entirely different society. Does that mean you'd become a different person?

Questions About Man & the Natural World

  1. Excluding the Fremen and Kynes, which character do you think best understands the ecology and nature of Arrakis? Which character understands it least? Explain your answer. Also, how does this understanding directly relate to this character's individual fate at the novel's conclusion?
  2. Everybody makes a big hullaballoo over water on Arrakis. But what other environmental differences to do you see between Arrakis and our world? List them. What do these differences say about nature? Do they teach you anything about our own ecology? Explain why or why not?
  3. Take a look at our other themes. Now, pick the one you believe is most affected by the environment of Arrakis. Explain your decision. If you want, you can go in the opposite direction and choose the one you see as least affected.
  4. Pick a novel in which the protagonist travels to a foreign place. Any book will do—the place can be fictional or real, as long as it's foreign to the protagonist. Now, what parallels can you draw between your chosen novel and Dune? Does Dune suggest new ideas about nature or ecology for your book of choice? Why or why not? Does your novel suggest new readings for the theme of ecology in Dune?

Chew on This

On the surface, the planet of Arrakis appears to be based on the Middle Eastern ecology. But when politics, religion, and economics are considered as part of Dune's ecology, the result is a distinctly American vibe.

The ultimate message of Dune is that humans can never find balance with their ecology. Either nature will destroy mankind, or humans will destroy it.