Prescience, Genetic Memory, and Personal Identity in Frank Herbert's Dune Trilogy

Prescience, Genetic Memory, and Personal Identity in Frank Herbert's Dune Trilogy

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Prescience, Genetic Memory, and Personal Identity in Frank Herbert's Dune Trilogy

"Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere.  Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it's a mountain.  From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain"(Herbert, Dune 68).
–Bene Gesserit Proverb

Ben Bova begins his liner notes on Frank Herbert Reads his God Emperor of Dune (Excerpts) by stating that "All truly great art shares this characteristic: the more you study it, the more it reveals" (Herbert).  Although it refers specifically to the fourth book in the Dune Chronicles, his statement also applies to the trilogy that precedes it–Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune.  Herbert's "polyphonic" work contains themes on so many levels (ecology, politics, war, philosophy, religion, and technology, just to name a few), that it soon becomes difficult to separate one from the other.  The topic of human awareness, however, takes on a specific tone and special level of importance above all the others.  Whether looking at the Bene Gesserit sisterhood and their political intrigues and planning, or the Mentat's historical role as the human computer 1 , filing away and analyzing countless bits of data, human awareness somehow always becomes a focus.  Even in the economics of the work, where the "coin of the realm," the spice melange, is able not only to extend human life, but also to open up both past and future to the properly prepared mind, does this theme become evident.

With all of his attention on the awareness of humanity, however, Herbert had more common and more difficult questions on his mind.  By creating a character, Paul Atreides, who is able to see not only into the future, but also into the past lives that made up his long list of ancestors, the questions of personal and societal identity are brought forward.  These powers, which Herbert refers to as "prescience" and "genetic memory," respectively, give Paul so much knowledge that he is no longer able to function as an individual.  He finds himself limited to certain actions because he knows the outcomes.  Once on top of the mountain, so to speak, he can no longer see where he stands.  In turn, Paul's son Leto II and daughter Ghanima, as well as his sister Alia, are also forced to deal with the issues of such knowledge in the entirely different light of "Abomination," a condition that befalls those whose inherited memories are unearthed before they are born.

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  Other characters, too, share the abilities to see into the past and future.  By examining the effects of this "talent" on the characters, one discovers surprising insights into the most basic of questions of who we are, who we become, and why we act in the ways we do.

Before one can understand the situation in which the Atreides find themselves, though, one must first understand two organizations who have similar abilities: the Bene Gesserit sisterhood and the Spacing Guild.  Each has a specific specialty in the field of human awareness that dictates not only what members see, but how they act, as well.  Both groups differ from other organizations in human history only in the fact that they are able to exercise a kind of power which, in turn, is "not qualitatively different from those of ordinary human beings; they are the result of painful and slow personal progress" (Prieto-Pablos 67).  Monastic orders, schools of philosophy, secret societies, and educational institutions all encourage, if not affect or create, a certain type of behavioral pattern in their members.  By taking part in what the Group has to offer, a member begins to take on the Group's set of values and thereby also takes on the Group's set of limitations. By understanding them and the way their powers affect the way they act, the reader can better understand the Atreides.

The Bene Gesserit, for instance, offers the member a place in a sisterhood, training in languages, meditative techniques, control of others using the Voice 2 , and physical training down to the control of individual muscles. It also provides the opportunity to become a Reverend Mother, a dangerous title to acquire, since it means the ingestion of the Water of Life, an awareness-spectrum narcotic that is highly poisonous unless transformed within the body. Having completed this, however, a Reverend Mother can "remember" things buried at the cellular level–unlock memories that belonged to her female ancestors back to the beginning of time.  This genetic memory can now be called upon as a wealth of advisors and wisdom for the individual, as well as the sisterhood.  The author is careful to point out, however, that, "To use such a substance, you pay the great price.  You no longer live in the protective and gregarious midst of your own kind.  Now, you are the shaman, alone and forced to master your own madness" (Herbert, Sandworms liner notes).

That danger notwithstanding, the Initiate has a great deal to gain from the sisterhood. In return for its teachings, however, she also carries a great responsibility to the group.  She must allow herself to be used in the breeding program to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, the only male able to transform the Water of Life without succumbing to its toxic nature, and thus the only "Reverend Father."  He will be able to go to a place within himself and in the past where no other Bene Gesserit dares look: he can see the male lineage as well as the female, and thus is whole in his memory of the past.  The Bene Gesserit initiate must also always act in the best interests of the sisterhood, spying, cheating, controlling, seducing, and using all the wiles available to them in order to do so–an ironic fact, since one of the favorite maxims they quote is, "I am Bene Gesserit: I exist only to serve" (Herbert, Dune 23).  In fact, they serve no one but themselves.

The second Group, the Spacing Guild, are on the other side of the perceptive coin, with their abilities grounded in the future rather than in the past.  The Guild navigators guide massive ships that travel at incredible speeds between stars.  In order to do this without the assistance of taboo "thinking machinery," the Guild must look into the future, and choose the course that will not take the ship too close to a sun or planet.  Thus, they use their knowledge to remain safe while taking a dangerous journey.  In order to accomplish this prescience, they rely heavily on melange–eat it, drink it, and, in some cases, breathe it.  Some navigators, in fact, have so accustomed themselves to the spice that they have mutated into a curious fish-like form perfectly adapted for floating in zero gravity and must be surrounded by the drug's orange gas form at all times.

For all of their reliance on melange, however, the Guild has not dared to take control of the one place where it is produced: Arrakis.  They do not wish anyone to know exactly how much they require the spice, and the direct controlling of that element would most certainly reveal this fact.  Instead, they choose the safe path, just as they do while steering their ships: they store and stockpile the drug, keeping a vast horde that can be used in a time of need.

Like any stockpile, though, the Guild's "nest egg" is finite, and they are thus very watchful of those who wish to control Arrakis. Since they have a monopoly on all interstellar trade and transit, the Guild can use this powerful arm in blackmailing others, threatening to deny services to any party who threatens them.  They can also deny services such as planetary satellites for observation and scientific purposes.  This manipulation is strong enough to move almost anything, and thus the Guild has no real need to develop strong arm tactics.  They can simply leave a people stranded on a remote planet without any contact for two or three generations–just long enough for the population to have calmed down and to "reconsider" cooperating.  When this method of pushing the rest of the Imperium around no longer works, however, the Guild has nothing on which to fall back.  They are powerful because of the spice, and they are terribly weak because of it, as well.

Herbert, a student of Jungian psychological thought 3 , designed both groups along the lines of specific archetypes.  By looking at these two parties, their strengths and their weaknesses, the reader can understand certain parts of the personalities on which they were grounded.  Both prefer to work openly, but without being seen–the Bene Gesserit by their political planning and manipulation, and the Guild by the use of a tactic to scare governments in private, rather than to threaten the individual  in public.  The realms of sight, however, become an issue for each.

The sisterhood relies on past lives and wisdom in order to construct a better future for themselves and, in their line of thinking, all of humanity.  This is simply an expansion of the tradition of passing wisdom down from generation to generation prevalent since the first hints of recorded history, but an important expansion in two distinctly different ways.  First, it offers a remarkably vast amount of information, experiences, and reflection to the individual.  Over the course of generations, there are nearly infinite numbers of memories and skills that a sister could "receive" as a part of uncovering genetic memory–languages, special abilities, and secrets that would take an entire lifetime to learn must no longer be lost when that life is over.  Instead, they can be passed on to the next generation, as in a last will and testament.

The other, and perhaps most reassuring advantage of the Bene Gesserit genetic memory  is that it secures the  place of the individual in the framework of time.  All that a sister has learned and become, personality and beliefs included, is passed on as a part of the next generation's genetic makeup, ready to be unlocked by the right individuals.  This form of immortality through progeny is also exceedingly old, but very effective in the human psyche.  Even without the prospect of passing on one's mind, it provides comfort and hope in the times of greatest need, as almost any parent will testify, and is often seen as the greatest joy life has to offer.  One only has to imagine what kind of strength can come from knowing that, even should the body die, the mind will live on as long as the genetic code does.

With all of these strengths, it is not difficult to understand the ability of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood to survive for over ninety generations, but many tend to overlook the weaknesses and limitations that come along with their abilities and skills.  The first, discussed earlier, is the necessity of the Initiate to comply with the wishes of her superiors, and the serious consequences of failing to do so.  Paul's mother, Jessica, for example, was ordered to bear a daughter to the Atreides duke Leto, but out of love for him decided to break from the sisterhood and give him the son he desired.  In doing so, she not only found herself cast out of the sisterhood, but she also nearly loses her son when the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam tests him with the Gom Jabbar, a poisoned needle placed at the neck of a subject while she (or, less often, he) is exposed to extreme pain.  If the subject cannot endure the pain, she or he feels the prick of the Gom Jabbar.

The amount of pressure on the individual to do what is commanded of them, though, causes problems when the sisterhood begins to breed stagnation within itself.  Rather than being able to act according to what she thinks best, a sister must always defer to the wisdom of her elders.  This attitude, although highly disciplined and organized, also makes change difficult, and puts boundaries on individual and independent thought.  William Touponce writes, "On many occasions Herbert remarked that we live in a universe dominated by indeterminacy and chance, yet our intellects keep demanding absolute truths" (26).  Those who make the decisions for the Bene Gesserit also make a great mistake when they require  their followers to adhere to their words as law, setting in motion programs that will span centuries, even though their wisdom is finite and the impact their decisions may have is infinite.

The absolute trust in genetic memory also limits the user, since the memory of those experiences, although great, were made in the past, and the past is a fixed and immovable thing.  Regardless of how much one can learn from them, the individuals who made these memories, as well as the times of the memories themselves, are dead, and must be treated as such.  Herbert writes, "characteristics and systems valuable in one age can be deadly in another" (Herbert, Battles liner notes).  If one continues to look only to the past for answers to long-term problems, those answers will invariably come up wrong because the answer will not be able to match the evolution of the problem.

The best illustration of these weaknesses lies in the creation of the Kwisatz Haderach.  As a part of her training, Jessica learned to do the sisterhood's bidding, just like every other Bene Gesserit  Initiate, including the wife of the Emperor Shaddam IV.  Both were ordered to bear only female offspring, but where the Emperor's wife obeyed, Jessica did not.  Jessica sensed within her the ability to produce the culmination of the sisterhood's breeding program, and decided to give her Duke the son he wanted.  As the Princess Irulan, Shaddam's daughter, writes, "My mother obeyed her Sister Superiors where the Lady Jessica disobeyed.  Which of them was the stronger?  History already has answered" (Herbert, Dune 291).

The Bene Gesserit, then, looking at them in a Jungian light, become those who look to the past for their answers.  They have experience and skill because of their history, but they have a hard time adapting to change in the present.  They are the old-fashioned types who never bother with new ways because they consider them to be passing fads and because the old ways are the only proper ways of doing anything.  Thus, when their plans, which involve only the old ways, come to fruition, they often lose control of them in the context of the new.  For example, when computers first began to enter homes, many considered them simply a better form of typewriter, but little more.  As time went on, however, students learned how to use this tool to adapt to assignments by increasing font size, changing spacing, and adjusting margins by small amounts.  The instructors couldn't catch them in the act because they were still thinking in the old terms, just as the Bene Gesserit could not stop the development of Paul Atreides before they lost control of their prized Kwisatz Haderach.

The all-male Spacing Guild, on the other hand, rather than focusing on the past, can see into the shades of things to come, and thus lead themselves along the safest path, avoiding confrontations and dangerous situations.  This is an enormous power, however limited it may be.  It allows the interplanetary transport of goods, news, and individuals to continue for thousands of years unhindered by anything, from interstellar natural disasters to politics, and affords a kind of protection from the scrutiny other prescient beings, as it seems that one prescient cannot see another in the winds of time.

Prescience, however, is not the only power the Guild has, nor is it the only one they are willing to flaunt.  After the Butlerian Jihad, which removed all thinking machines from service and once again demanded that humans think for themselves, the Guild began "to build its monopoly over all interstellar travel" (Herbert, Dune 498).  Soon it was the only means of traveling from one planet to another, and as is the tendency in all monopolies, this cornering of the market soon became a mechanism for both economic and political power.  Nothing, from a grain of pundi rice to a legion of Sardaukar warriors can be taken off-planet without the Guild's knowledge and permission.  Punishments for planetary governments who disregard the laws of the Imperium or Guild are thus often very damaging; either it becomes too costly to bring things in from off-planet, or the Guild refuses all contact with that planet whatsoever, leaving the inhabitants planet-bound.  This is a frightening prospect, indeed, considering the amount of unique staple products required in the society of the time; some are required for businesses and government, some are necessary for personal reasons, and some are addictive, as in the case of melange itself.

The spice is not just the fulcrum of a lever with which the Guild can move others, however.  It is also the one item that gives them power to traverse the great reaches of space, and thus the one item that grants them the political and social power they so brazenly wield.  If that item were to come suddenly into short supply, or destroyed altogether, then the Guild would no longer be able to function.  All of its navigators, workers, and authority figures would die from drug withdrawal, and all interstellar commerce and communication would cease.

This single leg of power on which the Guild stands has two effects on the way in which the members act.  First, they tend to look to the future for all of their solutions.  The typical member,  as is shown in Dune and Dune Messiah, reacts according to the usual way in which a Guildsman is treated, usually as an individual who is  "above the law."  They know how to read the winds of time, and can react accordingly.  When their high status is revoked by a power that poses a real threat, however, they display their second trait, and bury themselves in a subservient role–over time they have developed an affinity for the safe and sure ways they can see through the use of their powers, and have avoided any real conflicts.  As a result, they can no longer fight for themselves, even if the conditions demand it.

"The Guild doesn't take your orders!" the taller of the two barked.  He and his companion pushed through to the barrier lances, which were raised at a nod from Paul.  The two men stepped out and the taller leveled an arm at Paul, said: "You may very well be under embargo for your–"
"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."
"Are you mad?" the tall Guildsman demanded.  He fell back half a step.
"You grant that I have the power to do this thing, then?" Paul asked.
The Guildsman seemed to stare into space for a moment, then: "Yes, you could do it, but you must not" (Herbert, Dune 469).

In this instance, of course, if they wish to avoid destruction the Guild has no recourse but to give in. In Dune Messiah, however, they have had time to plan and act against Emperor Paul Atreides.  Twelve years have passed, and still the only action they have taken is to join a conspiracy against their opponent, to which they can only bring two advantages.  They can offer secret transportation, which is a weak offering in a time where transport can only be handled by a single company, anyway.  Also, since prescient beings cannot detect each other using their power, they provide a sort of "screen" that keeps Paul from seeing the conspiracy's schemes.  The other members, then, must fill in the cracks and provide the means with which to accomplish the goals.

In contrast to the Bene Gesserit, then, the Guildsmen live in the future, rather than in the past.  They provide themselves with the necessary information to avoid short-term problems and stare at the horizon for more things to come.  Difficulties are solved through careful consideration of the future and manipulations of trade and transport that will bring that future, either through pricing of their services or through out-and-out extortion–two very powerful levers in the Imperium.  When they are truly threatened, however, and should  resort to another tactic to defend themselves, they turn and find they have nothing else up their sleeve.  This makes them more or less a "bully" type: one who acts the part of a tough, unyielding individual, but no longer causes problems once their one strong move has been effectively countered.

As stated above, the Atreides are four separate manifestations of the powers of both genetic memory and prescience.  The personality traits caused by the powers that appear in the two groups can therefore also be expected to appear in Paul, Alia, Leto II, and Ghanima 4 .  Whereas one could make broad assumptions about the members of those groups, however, one cannot generalize about the Atreides.  Each mixes and matches these powers in a unique way, and therefore becomes a unique blend of these traits, both beneficial and hindering.

Paul, the first to mix these two areas of awareness, is also by far the most unique of the four.  Having been born on Caladan, a water-rich world, he is the only one to have lived on a planet other than Arrakis, and the only one who was not raised with the water discipline necessary for survival on the desert planet.  He is also the only one to have been born without his powers, forcing him to learn them as he grows.  He dreams of things to come, and can remember them, when he is still a boy on Caladan, but his talent for reading the future does not fully arise in him until he arrives on Arrakis.  Once there, the spice that infuses everything else, from the food he eats to the air he breathes, also infuses him, flooding his muscles and organs, embedding itself into the very cells of his body.  This saturation of his system comes in stages, though; first he comes to terms with his prescience, and only when he drinks the water of life, as in the Bene Gesserit ritual of ascension to Reverend Mother status, does he gain his powers of genetic recall.  He becomes the Kwisatz Haderach, the one who can see both the male and female lines of his ancestry.  These differences make Paul a member of the old order of the universe, rather than the one that develops under the younger Atreides, who are all "pre-born" (Herbert, Children 8).

Although during his reign he possesses the ability to see both backward and forward in time more effectively than anyone else in the Imperium besides his own sister, the talent that Paul is most associated with throughout the Dune trilogy is his prescience.  No one else seems to be able to see as clearly or as far into the future as he does, and "strides" where the others can only "toddle" (Messiah 189).  In fact, his character is so attached to this end of his ability that, except for brief passages, his genetic memory is never even mentioned.  This reliance on the future, as with the Guildsmen, causes a few distinct personality traits to appear in him.  These traits, though, are also influenced by other talents and teachings that the Guild never had access to, and thus do not manifest themselves in the same way.

First and foremost, Paul chooses paths with the same precision and reasoning that the Guild  does.  Since his abilities are so much broader and far-reaching, however, he can better judge what he is doing.  He realizes that the safe path is not always the best path, and is willing to sacrifice in  order to bring humanity as a whole out of a dangerous series of events, rather than just act in his own best interests.  In the end this willingness to sacrifice rather than let the universe collapse around him does lead to his destruction.  This is something the Guild would never have been capable of doing.  Alia surmises his actions in the last pages of Dune Messiah:

"Love?  Duncan, he had but to step off the track!  What matter that the rest of the universe would have come shattering down behind him?  He'd have been safe. . .and Chani with him!"
"Then. . .why didn't he?"
"For the love of heaven," she whispered.  Then, more loudly, she said: "Paul's entire life was a struggle to escape his Jihad and its deification" (327-28).

This shows a deepness of understanding that the rest of the Imperium, whether noble house or commoner, cannot fathom.  Paul's ability to interpret what his visions mean does not mean that he can translate them so that others comprehend them.  Struggling to escape his role as a God-figure and deemed absolute by all those around him, rather than the human he is and the human failings he was subject to, Paul began to lose faith in himself.

As the planet flowers, Paul grows barren, watching the friends of his exile become sycophants and his teachings an absolute creed.  His people demand from him the illusion of absolute certainty.  They want a god, and although he continues to warn them against such a dream, he cannot deny them.  The religious juggernaut that he rode to power has turned on him (O'Reilly 150-151).

This understanding of what absolutes mean in an uncertain universe seems to be inherent in him, coming directly from his ability to practice prescience.  The only other individual who shows this understanding within Paul's lifetime is Alia, who shares his gift of prediction.  The reader should not forget, however, that there is another side to his power, and that its teachings, along with those ingrained in him through his Bene Gesserit training, add the insight of millennia of learning.  He is a complex, compound creature who has first-hand knowledge of how small the human life span really is, even when extended through the use of the spice.  This knowledge of near-infinite ancestors must show him the inconstancy of the universe at a level those without genetic memory could never grasp.  The Bene Gesserit, who can remember at least the female half of their genetic line, include a lesson in their manuals that reads, "All proofs inevitably lead to propositions which have no proof!  All things are known because we want to believe in them" (Herbert, Children 150).  Even when embracing this teaching, though, the Bene Gesserit put absolute trust in the past and in their teaching, which is a mistake that Paul finds he cannot make.

However well he understands his powers, though, Paul ultimately does not find himself in control of them.  To the contrary, he finds that his powers have a control over him that he can never quite escape.  As he progresses, he learns more and more to rely on his ability to sense the next moments.  This is a pit that he attempts to skirt, and with some success, because he knows the ultimate end of that dependence is the ineffectiveness of the Guild.  When he is robbed of his sight by a plot within his own theocratic government to martyr him, however, Paul finds a new manifestation of his prescient powers–he "remembers" every moment in time, and can "see"  what happens around him, simply by focusing on his vision of the present.  This second form of sight, which had become a part of him, quickly becomes overriding in him.  Herbert writes, "None of us can be completely separated from the natural forces which formed us.  And nature is always right, always has the last word" (Herbert, Banquet liner notes). He can no longer avoid his reliance on prescience, so he wanders out into the desert in an attempt to escape through death.

Also, as he begins to see clearly into the future, he can pick out the "best" of all possible outcomes, and can chose to bring it about, just as he can chose to avoid disaster.  By knowing the effect that each action has on time, Paul finds himself more and more locked into the one future he can accept.  He denies himself all other actions besides those that will bring about an acceptable future, and follows that path regardless of its cost to himself or the ones he loves.  By making himself into the very model of a hero, following Joseph Campbell's formula of separation or departure, trials and victories of initiation, and the return and reintegration with society (36) to the letter, Paul makes his one error–he is now no longer leading himself with his prescience, but the entire Imperium, as well.

Paul is less of a hero to be worshiped and more of a man to be pitied.  In his power, he gains mobility that no other human has, but that mobility also traps him against his will to the actions that ultimately destroy him.  He is the one who looks towards the long term, and is noble enough to sacrifice for the greater good, even though that greater good might change as time changes.  He sees the entire expanse of time, but once on top of his mountain, he can no longer see where he stands.  These are the dangers of looking far into the future and finding the path from which one cannot stray.

Alia, on the other hand, does not move in the same way her brother does.  Although her powers are somewhat similar, she is herself very different, since her genetic makeup is manifested in a female body, which changes the scope of what she can perceive.  This perception is changed even further by the fact that she was awakened in the womb by the Water of Life, and thus was born aware of herself and her surroundings.  These differences lead to a character equally as strong, but perhaps a little more tragic than her brother.

Although Alia, too, possesses the power of prescience, she is not tied to it in the same way Paul is.  Her abilities center, instead, on her status as a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother.  Her female traits make it easier for her to focus there, where so many of her gender have gone before her, regardless of the fact that she can see both sides of her ancestry, just like her brother.  Whereas Paul was created to be a male Reverend Mother, something that had supposedly never been achieved,  Alia could follow the long tradition of women Bene Gesserits–a role of great power and less resistance.  That does not mean, however, that she does not take part in the visions of the future.  If anything, she is more balanced, and can rely on both faculties to bring her to the correct end.  Her personality also reflects this stability, but as she grows older, she must also come to terms with her abilities in a way Paul was never forced to face.

Alia, like other Reverend Mothers, uses her genetic memory to play out certain situations of the past in order to answer certain questions.  This ability brings with it the surety and stability discussed above. Mentally and emotionally, she is even able to handle questions as instinctive as sexual need by employing the experiences of the others inside her.  In Dune Messiah, as Alia's body is reaching physical maturity, the Atreides receive a gift from the bio-technological wizards of Bene Tleilax–a ghola, or "being reconstructed from the flesh of the original" (86-7).  This ghola, called Hayt, was made of the flesh of Duncan Idaho, who had served the Atreides on Caladan and had died protecting Paul and his mother as they fled from the Harkonnens during the invasion of Arrakis.  The Tleilaxu know that by using this individual's history and by giving him specialized training they not only force Paul to open himself as a target of their schemes, but they also ensnare Alia by making him irresistibly attractive to her.

He was near.
It was lust in tension with chastity, she thought.  Her flesh desired a mate.  Sex held no casual mystery for a Reverend Mother who had presided at the sietch orgies.  The tau awareness of her other-selves could supply any detail her curiosity required.  This feeling of nearness could be nothing other than flesh reaching for flesh (112-13)

By understanding her own mind, she can draw a line between its needs and the needs of her body, which helps her better understand her own motivations.  This self-reflection is part of the Bene Gesserit way.

On the other hand, Alia is also able to look into the possible future, and has a great amount of power in that respect, as well.  In some instances she even surpasses her brother.   In Dune, as the Atreides Fremen army recaptures the capitol of Arrakeen, Alia sends a sort of message to Paul using her presence in time.  "Of all the uses of time-vision, this was the strangest. ‘I have breasted the future to place my words where only you can hear them,' Alia had said.  ‘Even you cannot do that, my brother.  I find it an interesting play'" (461).

The balance she achieves between the two powers also becomes evident in her personality.  She is not the introspective, self-critical 5 , and over-responsible individual her brother becomes.  Instead, she uses her prescient abilities and memory of lives past to increase her understanding of the present.  She is able to carry herself not only with the regal air that is due to her because of her birth, but also with the sure command of a Reverend Mother, and when it becomes necessary she is also able to deal with others with the ruthlessness evident in the Guild's practices.  She is also more practical than Paul, and is able to act according to the needs of the current situation because she is never forced to sacrifice herself to her own powers.  The result of this practicality is the ability to act with a relatively free will, rather than becoming more and more confined by the choices she makes.

With all of this balanced power at her disposal, however, Alia still must come to terms with problems of her own which center on her own identity.  As pre-born, she was given an infinite number of experiences before she even had her own.  She was not allowed the chance to discover a personality before the minds of countless individuals were thrust upon her in the womb.  Meshed with the fact that she was born a refugee and was not accepted into the Fremen society because of her early self-awareness, it is not a surprise that Alia's personality also takes on many hard edges that eventually bring her downfall.  By emulating the inner toughness of a society in which even the language reflects the harshness of life (Kaye), she hopes to be accepted as member of the Sietch.  She becomes as "witty, vulgar, cruel, as destructive as a coriolis storm" (Herbert, Messiah 109), one who would rather fight than talk.

It is this predisposition towards fighting that lets the voices of the past take control of her and turn her into an Abomination, or one possessed by the spirit or memory of another.  Alia feels the need to keep everything separate from herself, and rather than let something as unpleasant as the countless voices inside her become a part of her, she incorporates them as a separate whole into her psyche.  As Jacques Derrida describes in his introduction to The Wolf Man's Magic Word,

Sealing the loss of the object, but also marking the refusal to mourn, such a maneuver is foreign to and actually opposed to the process of introjection.  I pretend to keep the dead alive, intact, safe (save) inside me, but it is only in order to refuse, in a necessarily equivocal way, to love the dead as a living part of me... (xvi).

Although not all of the circumstances above apply directly, Alia's situation is remarkably similar in many ways.  Rather than integrate the memories of the dead into her own, she chooses to keep them at bay, as a separate part of herself.  Having never had the opportunity to create an independent personality, however, this approach could not be maintained indefinitely.  She has no place within herself to truly call safe.  When Leto II and Ghanima discuss their aunt's state, they realize what they must do in order to avoid it.

"‘Alia resisted.  That gave the powers within her their strength.  By her own strength she was overcome.  We've dared to search within, to seek out the old languages and the old knowledge.  We're already amalgams of those lives within us.  We don't resist; we ride with them'" (Herbert, Children 79).

Alia's need to fight against everything that would exercise control over her own will displays her need to be in control herself.  She was born into a world where she had little ability to think what she wanted to think, and was not able to act as she saw fit.  By struggling, she found a way to identify herself.  She becomes St. Alia of the Knife, always struggling externally so she would never have to deal with herself internally.  She busies herself by dealing with the Harkonnen threat or by caring for the spiritual needs of the Fremen during Muad'Dib's Jihad.  Then, when the external battles are won, she finds that she has been fighting so long she can no longer stop.  She is trapped by one of the cardinal Bene Gesserit weaknesses: resistance to change.  She is forced to turn and fight again versus the onslaught of personalities and memories that would take over her body.  By making herself so immovable and hard against others, though, she gives strength to the parts within her that want control.  Even her last action–struggling against the personality of her grandfather, the Baron Harkonnen, for enough control of her own body to throw herself out of a window onto the stone steps below–is a fight for control over her own identity.

The final two Atreides one must examine in the first three books of the Dune Chronicles, Paul's twin children Leto II and Ghanima, present a unique problem for such a personality analysis.  Much can be said about their individuality, as they both are faced with separate difficulties and provide different solutions to problems.  When one looks at the way in which the twins talk to each other, however, one begins to realize that they are also remarkably alike in ability and thought, as well as genetics and background.  They are inseparable, finish each other's sentences, and dress alike.  Rather than examine them separately, then, in the case of personality and identity, one should recognize that they both face different directions, but do so from the same vantage point.  Even Paul's prescience saw them as a single baby until they were born (Herbert, Messiah 308).  One must, then, consider them as two different facets–male and female–of the same individual.

The twins differ from the older generation of Atreides in several important respects.  First, although they are pre-born like Alia, they are not of a Bene Gesserit mother.  Just as Paul refused to be a part of the sisterhood's plans, he now grants that same freedom to his children by introducing an uncontrolled genetic variable–a wild Fremen woman, whose background cannot be traced nor understood by any Reverend Mother.  The twins are not hindered, then, from the kinds of hierarchies that limit the actions of any other member of that group.  Whether Paul protected their independence in order to grant the future rulers of the universe the freedom to reign without answering to another authority, or he did so simply to spite the Bene Gesserit who would have controlled him, the Atreides remain unconfined by the limitations of the sisterhood.

Another effect of awakening in the womb of a non-Bene Gesserit mother involves the presence of consciousness without using the Water of Life as an agent.  Both Paul and Alia embrace the abilities the Water gives them, but Leto II and Ghanima learn from the mistakes of the older generation.

Ghanima drew in a deep, sighing breath, thinking of how she had observed her aunt, using the way she knew best from her own accumulation of ancestral experiences.  "Spice trance did it?" she asked, knowing what Leto would say.
"Do you have a better suggestion?"
"For the sake of argument, why didn't our father. . .or even our grandmother succumb?"
He studied her a moment.  Then: "You know the answer as well as I do.  They had secure personalities by the time they came to Arrakis.  The spice trance, well..."  He shrugged.  "They weren't born into this world already possessed of their ancestors.  Alia, though..." (Herbert, Children 11).

They realize early in the story that the Water reveals the future, but also opens the uncontrollable channels of the past, and thus leads to possession and Abomination.  The longer they manage to avoid using the drug, the more mature and stable their own personalities can become.  Only when it is forced on him by order of his grandmother does Leto II face this test, and even though he had prepared himself for it, he still loses his own identity to become "a community dominated by one who was ancient and surpassingly powerful" (Herbert, Children 404).  Rather than surrender to a single voice, he becomes a conglomerate.  Ghanima alone remains untouched by the Water's curse.

The past, however, figures early in the twin's lives.  It is the way in which the twins playfully incorporate their powers into everyday life that sets them apart from their aunt.  They speak to each other in long-lost languages that not even Alia can recall, take on the roles of ancestors buried in their memories, and actively use the knowledge that is a part of their cellular makeup.  This fusion, or introjection, of the past with their own personalities has already been referenced as their means of escaping Alia's fate.  Derrida points out that, "By including the object–whence the name introjection–the process expands the self.  It does not retreat; it advances, propagates itself, assimilates, takes over" (xvi).  By partially digesting this material and making it a part of their personalities, in other words, the twins made themselves stronger, rather than damming it up and allowing the inner personalities to build up strength for a later flood.

Together, the twins are powerful enough to avoid repeating the mistakes Paul and Alia made.  They are the summation all of the powerful aspects of their abilities, but manage to skirt the negative side effects that come along with them.  By committing himself to the Golden Path, Leto II promises stability and a ruthless reign that will bring peace to the universe, just as his father before him, but also takes on the role that his father was unable to bear.  Ghanima, on the other hand, through the use of self-hypnotic techniques, is able to overcome the dangers of Abomination and construct a safe place for herself deep inside her mind.

The young Atreides are not completely equal to one another, however.  Just as an individual may have two or more sides to a personality, the twins represent two sides of a single point of reference.  They were born at the same time, drew upon the same genetic knowledge of their background, and had many of the same experiences after birth.  All of what might be called "nurture" in their case cannot explain the differences in their personalities, so the reader is forced to look to what differs in their nature: gender.  Where Leto II is direct and unwavering in his dedication to the Golden Path, his sister is hesitant and tries to find a way around it.  Ghanima's discussion alone with her grandmother carries a loving tone, whereas Leto only uses his time with her to provoke her and lead her thoughts where he wants them to go.  Even talents for music, Leto's well-practiced baliset and Ghanima's more personal singing, reveal distinct differences in the two that reflect on the dispositions of their sex.  In the case of powers, however, Leto II outshines his sister with early dreams of the future–the male realm of time-awareness–whereas Ghanima is more in tune with the memories in her inner self, a trait that is considered typically female.

This contrast of man and woman is ultimately brought to a close with the end of Children of Dune.  Leto II, now emperor, has taken on the skin of a sandworm and changed himself into something other than human which will allow him to endure for thousands of years.  Ghanima remains, for the most part, unchanged.  She is to become the mother of the new Atreides dynasty, which will remain when her brother is gone, and has the possibility of happiness with her mate, the grandson of the old emperor Shaddam IV.  Leto II, however, must endure his millennia alone.  Like his father, he accepts the responsibility and the pain of ruling.  Ghanima closes the book with the remark, "‘One of us had to accept the agony. . .and he was always the stronger'" (408).  The male response to difficulty is to bear the burden, and he must often do it alone.

The powers of perception available to the Atreides shape their reactions to their surroundings in the way that any sense (stimulus) changes behavior (response).  One who sees can walk where the blind would have great trouble, but also runs the risk of becoming so dependent on that faculty that he or she becomes helpless without it.  This influence goes further than behavior, though, just as being able to see or not determines, in part, the kind of personality one develops.  Strong rooting in the past and knowledge of the future affect the ways in which Paul Muad'Dib and his legacy deal with others and each other, as well as permanently altering the ways in which they manage themselves.  By understanding where these changes come from and how to control their influence, it becomes possible to grasp the reins of one's own identity.


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Touponce, William F.  Frank Herbert.  Twayne's United States Authors Series.  Boston: Twayne, 1988
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