‘Dune’: Is Paul Atreides Actually a Bad Guy? His Dark Destiny Explained

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‘Dune’ is one of the most notable sci-fi masterpieces of all time. But besides excellent and complex world-building there are also a plethora of well-created 3D characters with complicated personalities, goals, and aspirations. The central character in the story is Paul Atreides and more often than not he is described as a hero to some and as a villain to others. He is a victim of moral complexities, prophecies, and a vast sea of unforeseen consequences. Although at first, he is the hero of the story, we decided to explore a different approach and analyze all the aspects in which he can be regarded as the bad guy.

  • Article Breakdown:
  • Paul is not fully a hero but he is also not a bad guy in the conventional sense of the word.
  • Paul’s most recognizable traits are certainly his leadership, fight against oppression, and environmental protection, but at the same time he was also a skilled manipulator who started a holy war and most of his goals were fueled by revenge.
  • I guess, Paul should be classified as an anti-hero, since he does most of the right things for mostly the wrong reasons, although ultimately he is definitely not a bad guy, which makes him such a well-written character.

Paul’s past reveals a lot about his motivations

When we first met Paul we met him as a teenager who holds a high position in society due to being a son of the duke. He has access to Bene Gesserit education and he has been groomed since a young age to eventually develop as mentat. He is also a prescient and a seer.

But, luck turns quickly and he loses almost everything he has overnight. His family, father, and friends are killed in cold blood following a massive betrayal. He is forced to seek shelter with the Fremen people and ultimately discovers that the only way to settle his grief and wrath is revenge. And the best way to serve revenge is with power, so this is what Paul starts seeking. Now his path is multifaceted as there are several important things that he needs to “fulfill” in order to justify his existence.

First, he is Kwisatz Haderach, A powerful psychic superbeing who was foretold to break the limits imposed on humanity by the Bene Gesserit breeding program. The Fremen depicted him as the messiah as they recognized him as Mahdi – someone who would lead them into jihad and establish a new order. He was also their political leader, but despite having all the powers in the world that wasn’t always enough to bring political stability.

As you can see there is a lot on his plate, and he did not always make the right choices.

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Arguments for Paul Atreides being a good guy

Now obviously as the hero of the story, Paul did plenty of good things. He led the Fremen people and secured their liberation from the Harkonnen rule, and he also ensured that the spice production remained in their hands.

Speaking of spice, Paul was also extremely environmentally conscious and worked tirelessly to preserve the desert ecosystem, the survival of sandworms, and the spice. Living among the Fremen people, he became completely costumed to their way of life, cultural heritage, rituals, and tradition meaning that he integrated himself completely without too many prejudices. When he seized power, he tried to minimize bloodshed as much as he could, even during the holy war. He was also never above making personal sacrifices when the situation called for it.

Overall, Paul is the hero of the story and the majority of his cause is good, however, it’s unclear to what extent and what were his motivations for it.

Not all is good, sometimes Paul was driven by dark desires

Even though Paul tried to preserve lives, the jihad sometimes resulted in widespread bloodshed and Paul struggled with its consequences. He manipulated events to fulfill the Kwisatz Haderach prophecy, shaping history but often at the expense of lives and freedom. While battling the Harkonnens, Paul also pursued personal power, eventually becoming Emperor, albeit with compromises. This transformation came at a cost, leading to the loss of innocence, inner turmoil, and the weight of destiny. His alliance with the Fremen involved betraying House Harkonnen, causing suffering and upheaval on both sides.

But all of this stemmed from vengeance and was done under the guise of fulfilling a higher purpose. His status as Kwisatz Haderach is godlike and as such he is aware of the far-reaching consequences of his actions and is ready to throw himself at them. Paul is the living embodiment of “end justifies the means.” He knew what he was doing was sometimes wrong, and he ultimately made difficult decisions because he knew he wouldn’t be the one to pay for it, hell he already paid for it at the beginning of the story. The liberation of Fremen people is fine, but as I’ve said before it was motivated by mythical and selfish reasons.

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It’s extremely hard to classify Paul as either a good guy or a bad guy that would completely miss the point of ‘Dune.’ The best characters are often written “morally gray,” at best. Frank Herbert himself meant for the story to be understood as a sort of playbook of what happens when a charismatic leader takes over and what kind of danger it presents. But ultimately, Paul is doing the best with what he has, and what he has was set long before he was even born. He ultimately prioritized survival and protection for the people he cared for and did the best he could with his difficult purpose.

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