Faculty of Arts
Department of English and American StudiesFRANK HERBERT'S HEROINES:
FEMALE CHARACTERS IN DUNE AND ITS FILM
(M. A. Thesis)
Supervisor: PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr.
I declare that I have worked on this M. A. Thesis independently, using only the primary and
secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
27 April 2007 in Dolní Bukovsko
Let me express many thanks to my supervisor PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr. who appeared to be a wise
and patient counselor. I particularly want to thank him for valuable remarks and observations and
for scholarly advice that aided to completion of this M. A. Thesis.
Table of contents
Creation of the World of Dune .................................................................................8
Female Roles in Literature and Film..........................................................................16
Male-dominated World of Dune................................................................................24
Frank Herbert was an American journalist and science fiction writer who lived between years
1920 and 1986 and wrote several works that are popular among the sci-fi fans. But in 1965, his
book called Dune was published and it created a cult. It was so successful because Herbert created
not only the story and main characters, but the whole world. He made up the universe that is full of
people with extraordinary abilities and secret plans, and also of creatures and techniques absolutely
different from everything the readers had known before. On the outskirts of this universe, the desert
planet called Arrakis or Dune lies and the precious substance of spice is mined there and only there.
The story about fights for spice and power have fascinated the fans. But the novel is also about
religion, ecology, messiahs, traditions, genetics and politics. It offers many different layers and so it
is more than a very-well-written adventure book. This style caught the fans so much they compelled
Herbert to write sequels and the phenomenon grew. Today, the Dune series contains fourteen books;
some of them are written by Frank Herbert himself and the others by his son Brian Herbert in
cooperation with Kevin J. Anderson. The thread of the story is supplemented by other books, comic
books and encyclopedia by various authors and there are also games of all kinds inspired by Dune:
computer games, card games, RPG games and board games, too.
The Hollywood could not ignore the success of the novel and so the two film adaptations of
Dune were made. The first one was directed by David Lynch, it went to the cinemas in 1984 and it
was no success. Even the core fans of the book were disappointed by the film and the people who
had not read the book before seeing the film were totally lost in the plot. The book is simply too
long and extensive to be adapted for two-hours movie. The second adaptation was a lot more
successful. It was done as miniseries for the TV Sci-FI Channel by John Harrison in 2000. The total
length of miniseries on home DVD is about 272 minutes and so it offers much preciser and fuller
image of the original novel. There are lots of fans who claim that they got to Herbert's work via the
miniseries. After its great success, Harrison made miniseries also from the two sequels of Dune.
I found the Dune in the Czech translation in our home book case when I was about fourteen
years old. The story caught me and I have read it three or four times in the following years. I was
always fascinated by powerful and strong women characters in the book, especially by Lady
Jessica, and later, during my university years, I become interested in women as characters or
authors of literary work. I think that their position and works are different from the men's ones. In
this thesis, I will try to amalgamate those two interests and I will focus on the roles of women in
The world that Herbert created in Dune is basically feudal and as such, it is clearly
male-dominated. On the surface, the roles of women are marginal and the females are governed by
males. At first sight, they fit smoothly into the roles that are subscribed to them by literary theories.
But a bit closer reading reveals that the powers and influence of women on the course of the story is
surprisingly great. They do not behave in ways they are supposed to. In my work, I will try to show
this influence and show how the female characters in Dune counteract the stereotypical roles they
are assigned to. I will also use both film adaptations to show the different approach to the women in
the film and also to supplement the book. The Lynch's adaptation is quite hostile towards females
and their roles are very limited there. On the contrary, Harrison's film enriches influence and
actions of women and thus provides amount of interesting material.
In the first part of my work, I will focus on history and also on literary theory. I will begin with
Frank Herbert's biography and with description of development of the ideas for the book, and I will
proceed with the story of both film adaptations and a short summary of the plot. Then I will focus
on the female stereotypical roles that are described in literary theory and on their transformation
when the book is adapted for a film.
The next chapters will describe the world Herbert created. I will analyze the system of rule in the
universe of Dune. I will show that all the important positions are kept by men and women's
opportunities to participate on the rule are very limited. In fact, their only chance to get the
influence is through the sisterhood of Bene Gesserit. The members of the Bene Gesserit have many
extraordinary abilities and they are trained in manifold ways. These abilities and training are very
important for the story itself as well as the influence and power that women have, so I will describe
them in detail.
The last part of my work will consist of chapters devoted to the individual female characters. I
will analyze the roles they seem to acquire and compare them with their actions. This way, I will
prove that they do not fulfill the roles as smoothly as it seems at the glance. Their influence on the
story development is much greater and their authority is also much broader. In these chapters, I'd
like to use the scenes from films both to compare and contrast the book and also to highlight how
much the two adaptations differ. I will also use the Harrison's adaptation as a core source for the
chapter about the princess Irulan because her role is developed there to a great extent in comparison
with the book or Lynch's film. Individual chapters of this part of my thesis will be devoted to Lady
Jessica, the princess Irulan and Chani. In the chapter about Chani, I'd like to touch upon the
position of women in the Fremen society compared to the imperial society.
I hope that my work will bring a new point of view on Frank Herbert's Dune and that it will be
interesting both for the Dune fans and for the people that never heard about it.
Creation of the World of Dune
At the beginning of my work I would like to mention some facts about Frank Herbert and also to
sketch out the history and the plot of the Dune. The way from the first thoughts to the manuscript
and then to the published book was long and complicated. and the process from the book to its first
film adaptation was not simple, either. There had been two unsuccessful attempts to put the book on
screen and the second one was well advanced, when it was terminated. There was number of
famous and interesting people willing to participate, so, I will present very brief history of this
attempt and then I will continue with David Lynch's film. Lynch had many problems adapting the
book and the film was not such a success as everybody hoped. Sixteen years later, Dune was
adapted for the screen once more. It was directed by John Harrison in a form of a TV miniseries and
the commercial success was enormous. After the tracing of the development of the book and its
adaptations, I will summarize the plot of the novel and introduce the main characters. I think this
summary may become useful basis for analysis of concrete scenes and characters.
The author of Dune was born as Frank Patrick Herbert on October 8, 1920 in Tacoma,
Washington. He was determined to become a writer from early childhood, and therefore, it is no
surprise that his first job after the high school was in newspapers. Then the World War II came and
he left his writing desk for service in U.S. Navy. After the war he attended creative writing classes
at University of Washington, where he met Beverly Ann Stuart. She became his life partner and
inspiration, and they got married in the 1946. Their relationship was strong and Herbert, just after
her death, wrote: "We had moments of boredom, fears and pains. But there was always time for
laughter" (Herbert, Afterword). Beverly's personality and their caring relationship were inspiration
for the character of Lady Jessica and also for her relationship with the Duke Leto. Herbert's friends
called Beverly "a guardian angel, [...] who protected [Herbert] and his writing time at all costs for
almost four decades" (Ransom, 4). In principle, she enabled Frank to devote all his time to writing
and research in various fields by supporting the family.
After their wedding, Herbert returned to journalism and worked in several journals and
magazines. His concern with science fiction developed in early forties and among his favorite
authors he mentioned Heinlein, H. G. Wells and Jack Vance. In the early fifties, he started writing
his own science fiction stories but he was still interested in the other authors' works, in an interview
for Vertex he said: "I read the field when I started writing it. I wanted to see what was being done"
(Herbert, Interview). He became known and his works were critical success. In mid fifties he began
to think about a long novel about dangers superheroes or messiahs could bring to ordinary people.
He thought that "people tend to give every decision-making capacity to any leader who can wrap
himself in the myth fabric of the society" (Herbert, "Dune Genesis") and this tendency is frequently
supported by harsh conditions or dangerous environment. In 1957, he was sent to Florence in
Oregon to write a magazine article about a US Department of Agriculture project that was looking
for ways to control sand dunes. It was done by planting grasses because their roots held the sand
together so it could not move further. Herbert became fascinated by sand dunes, and even though,
the article was never published, he got the harsh and appealing layout for his book. After the visit in
Oregon, he dived fully into the research in various fields that he supposed to be helpful in his future
work. He was allowed to get absorbed by his work because "his wife returned to work full time as
an advertising writer for department stores, becoming the main breadwinner during the 1960s"
(Wikipedia, "Frank Herbert"). Herbert spent the following five years researching "in religions,
psychoanalytic theories, linguistics, economics, philosophy, plant research, soil chemistry, and the
metalanguages of pheromones" (Herbert, "Dune Genesis"). He organized all his materials in the
files and drawers and, when they were full, he got to writing the planned trilogy.
In the spring of 1963 he sent an early draft of the first book to his agent, who was excited about
the book, but also had some comments. He wrote in letter to Herbert: "Length is the only problem
that worries me. [...] I find the work very interesting, but how in the world are we going to sell the
serial rights when it runs so long?" (Herbert, RTD 206) Problems with the length occurred several
times on the novel's way to readers and later to viewers. According to The Road to Dune, the
average science-fiction novel at the time had from 50,000 to 75,000 words and Dune approached
200,000. The agent sent a copy of the manuscript to John Campbell, an editor of the famous science
fiction magazine Analogue, who immediately got interested. Herbert agreed to prepare his work for
a serial publication and was greatly impressed by the cover of the first issue by John Schoenherr
(see Figure 1 in Appendix A). Book I of the novel, nowadays called Dune, was published as "Dune
World" in three issues from December 1963 to February 1964. The response from readers was
great, so the remaining two books of the novel were published as the second serial called "Prophet
of Dune" in five subsequent issues of Analogue from January to May 1965 (Figs. 2&3,
Appendix A). After the publication of the first serial, major publishers still continued to reject
publication of the work as a book. Luckily, at the beginning of 1965, Chilton Books offered to
publish all the three books - "Dune World" (in following editions called simply "Dune"),
"Muad'Dib" and "The Prophet" - in one hard cover. Chilton Books were "best known for
publishing auto repair manuals" (Herbert, RTD 213) and only thanks to editor Sterling Lanier, who
was a sci-fi writer himself, they published the book that started the cult. The book came to the shops
on September 30, 1965 with cover art done once more by John Schoenherr (Fig. 4, Appendix A). It
won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and shared the Hugo Award a year later.
In 1967, sales of the book started to grow significantly and all the publishers (in the USA and
also in UK, in both countries in paperback and in hardback, too) went back to press for a surplus
print. Herbert continued with the series and wrote five sequels of the original book (for detailed info
see Appendix B) and he also published several other books that he wrote either on his own or in
partnership with his son Brian Herbert or Bill Ransom. Frank Herbert died on February 11, 1986,
two years after his wife's death.
Brian Herbert got so fascinated by the universe his father created that he decided to continue in
his work. So, together with another established science fiction author, Kevin J. Anderson, he wrote
"Prelude to Dune" and "Legends of Dune", which both precede the Classic Dune novels written by
Frank Herbert. All the books are based on Frank Herbert's notes, unused chapters and outlines. In
the Preface to The Road to Dune they described finding these materials: "It was like finding
a buried treasure chest. Actually, they were cardboard boxes stuffed full of folders, manuscripts,
correspondence, drawings, and loose notes. Some of the box corners were sagging, crumpled by the
weight of their contents or partially crushed from languishing under a stack of heavy objects"
(Herbert, RTD 7). The last sequel to Dune, that they have also written, is based on this "treasure,"
too. In my work, I will use only the first book, Dune and I openly admit that I have not read the
sequels or prequels to avoid any ideas from the other books to spoil my perception of Dune. They
are mentioned in this paragraph and listed in Appendix B to give complete overview and to show
how extensive phenomenon the world of Dune is.
Dune's adventurous story and attractive setting destined it for cinema screens, but at the same
time, the multiple layers of the story and complex phenomenons, which are discussed there, made
shooting a film very complicated. According to the website Dune Behind the Scenes, the first
option to film Dune was purchased by APJ, Arthur P. Jacobs' production company, in summer 1971.
The film was planned to be done after the Planet of the Apes series, but the company got so
involved in the sequels of this series that they got to Dune as late as 1973. Filming was to start in
1974, the budget was set to 15 million dollars, and all the preparatory works started straight away,
but on June 27, 1973 Arthur P. Jacobs died. Consequently, the project was stopped and, in
December 1974, the rights were sold to the French consortium lead by Jean-Paul Gibon.
Alejandro Jodorowsky was chosen to direct the film and he immediately started to gather his
"seven samurai that it was necessary for [him] to have for the immense project" (Jodorowsky, 20).
The first of them was Michel Seydoux, wealthy Parisian who should produce the film with the cost
from 9.5 million to 20 million dollars. Jean 'Moebius' Giraud created over 3,000 pieces of artwork,
when he prepared the storyboard of the entire script. There was another man hired for the design of
all the crafts and painter HR Giger was creating the home world of Harkonens. Later he used his
ideas when doing Alien. The special effects were the next samurai's concern and Pink Floyd agreed
to do almost all the music for the film. Jodorowsky did not want to respect the novel, he wanted to
recreate it (Jodorowsky, 3). So, his Emperor should be completely insane, living in an artificial
golden palace in "symbiosis with a robot identical to him. The resemblance is so perfect that the
citizens never know if they are opposite the man or the machine" (Jodorowsky, 7). The director
wanted Salvador Dalí for the role of the Emperor and Dalí agreed to participate in the film, but he
requested 100,000 dollars for an hour in front of the camera. So it was negotiated that they would
use him only for an hour of the filming and that the rest would be done with his double robot. In
October 1976, they had already spent about 2 million dollars and the script would result in a 14
hour film. The problem with the length appeared again and the project had been canceled.
At the end of 1967, Dino De Laurentiis bought rights from the French consortium and Frank
Herbert himself was appointed technical advisor and consultant. The first director that De Laurentiis
wanted to do Dune was Ridley Scott, the director of Alien. Complications with writing a suitable
script and the size of the project made Scott leave it. Nevertheless, in 1981, De Laurentis renewed
the contract and bought rights for Dune and all its sequels. The same year, after he had seen
Elephant Man, De Laurentiis decided to hire David Lynch as a director. At the time, Lynch got also
another prestigious offer. George Lucas wanted him as a director for the third (sixth) episode of
Star Wars, Return of the Jedi. But Lynch decided to participate on Dune because Lucas has already
established the style of Star Wars series and Lynch wanted to express himself more freely. He spent
one and half year writing and rewriting the script, until its sixth version was finally accepted and on
March 30, 1983 the shooting started. First clapper board was used by Frank Herbert, who was
excited about the script, and he was supporting Lynch in his diverging from the original book. The
seventh version of the draft was finished during the shooting at the end of 1983 and it made a basis
for the editing of the film. But even after the deletions in the script, the film was too long. The curse
of the length reappeared. The film was cut to approximately half its length and this version was,
after the premiere on December 3, 1984, sent to the cinemas. Lynch's style is brutal and artistic, and
together with cuts that had robbed the film of continuity, they made it hard to digest. Therefore no
success followed, and even the most devoted fans were disappointed and claimed the film to deviate
from the original too much.
In the 1990s, Richard Rubinstein bought the television rights to Dune, which were free because
Dino De Laurentiis never thought they would be of any profit. Rubinstein made an agreement with
the Sci-Fi Channel to film a six-hour miniseries and he hired John Harrison as a script writer and a
director. Thanks to the length of the adaptation, there was much more space to picture all the layers
and ideas from Herbert's book. Both Rubinstein and Harrison do never speak about their work as
about remake of Lynch's film. In Fritz's article "Harrison calls [the miniseries] a faithful
interpretation, not a word-for-word, literal adaptation. The screenwriter-director made some
changes he felt would accurately convey the spirit of the story in spots where the details were
lacking or implied" (Fritz 12). All the shots were taken in studios in Prague and the cast and the
crew were from all over the world. Director has described that as a `Babel tower' and has claimed
that this multicultural environment helped him to create similarly diverse world on the screen. The
miniseries was first broadcast in the USA on December 3, 2000 and then it was released on home
DVD. The problem with length was finally solved and the miniseries became very popular. In 2003,
sequel called Children of Dune was broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel.
In the following paragraphs, I will summarize the plot of the book. I will not take into
consideration the deviations that are made in the films' plots because some of these I will mention
later, in the chapters devoted to the particular characters. The list of characters with short
characteristics is also included in Appendix C.
The world of Dune is not limited only to one planet; it contains the whole universe governed by
the Padishah Emperor. The story begins when the Emperor gives planet Arrakis as a fief to the
powerful House Atreides. Arrakis, called sometimes Dune, is a dangerous and unexplored desert
planet, but on the other hand, it is also the source of the great profit because only there spice
melange - that prolongs life is mined. The members of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood need it to
access their ancestors' pasts and it also enables traveling between the planets. The Padishah
Emperor's aim is not to reward the Duke Leto Atreides for his services, but to terminate the House
Atreides. The Duke became too popular among the other Great Houses and the rumors spread that
his army's level is well beyond the others. In this scenario, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the former
ruler of Arrakis and the mortal enemy of the Duke Leto, should destroy the House Atreides with the
secret help of the Emperor's elite troops. With the help of a traitor, Dr. Yueh, the Duke's physician,
Harkonens' army gains control of Arrakis and the Duke is killed. But at the last moment, Dr. Yueh
provides Paul, the Duke's son and the last of Atreides, and Lady Jessica, the Duke's bound
concubine, opportunity to flee away to the desert.
The Fremen, nation living in the Dune's deserts, have adapted to the harsh environment. Their
culture is on relatively high level, their numbers are much larger than the most daring estimates and
their religion is based on the prophecy that some day, a man will come from an outer world and will
change Arrakis to a green and flowering planet. They are preparing for this day by gathering water
in great subterranean reservoirs. Thanks to this prophecy Jessica and Paul found a hiding place
among the Fremen and Paul becomes their leader against the House Harkonnen. Under the
influence of the melange all around him, Paul's supernatural abilities, supported by superb training,
wake up and he becomes to be able to see both the past and the future. He becomes Paul Muad'Dib
or Usul and falls in love with the Fremen girl, Chani. Lady Jessica undergoes a dangerous religious
ritual and becomes the Reverend Mother of the Fremen. But this procedure influences also a fetus
in her womb and therefore her and the Duke Leto's daughter Alia is born with an awaken
consciousness. She has memories of all the Reverend Mothers before her and so she is seen as
weird by the Fremen. The Fremen prepare for the final battle with the Harkonnens and they are
sabotaging the spice mining.
The Padishah Emperor is disturbed by the decrease in the spice production and he is under the
pressure of all the other groups depending on spice, hence, he decides to step in and arrives to
Arrakis. During the great storm, the Fremen led by the Duke Paul Muad'Dib attack the Harkonnens'
positions and also the Emperor's ship. They win the battle and take the Padishah Emperor as a
hostage. The House Harkonnen is terminated because Alia kills Baron Vladimir Harkonnen by a
poisoned needle and Paul kills his heir Feyd-Rautha Harkonen in a single combat. The Emperor is
forced to relinquish to Paul and to make this process legal, Paul gets formally married with the
princess Irulan, the Padishah Emperor's daughter.
Female Roles in Literature and Film
The world of Frank Herbert's novel Dune is male dominated and the women are presented very
scarcely there. At first sight, these few females fit in the roles, that they are supposed to play, very
well. But in my opinion, it requires only a bit deeper study to find out that the thing is not so easy
and that all of them through the book, and in films too, step out of the roles they are assigned to.
What are these typical women's roles in the literature? How are women presented and defined? And
how do these stereotypes change when the written word is transformed into the moving image? I try
to have all these questions answered before I get to the book itself because the answers will define
the basis for the discussion.
To be female is one of the two possibilities and thus it is not at all surprising that women's roles
are defined by comparison to men's roles. There is system of binary oppositions that contains such
pairs as active/passive,take/give or male/female. In this system men are stereotypically viewed as
active fighters who take their weapon and go towards their goal. However this view is not as
strongly rooted as the opposite stereotypes about women are. As Jill Savitt remarks in her essay,
there is and always was: "[a] wide range of male roles [...but] female literary characters adhere to
the classic models" (1). The adherence itself describes the most important quality of all the
stereotypical roles women are assigned passivity. Men are defined as active doers and thus women
are passive victims or in better case supporters. In the most works, they are fully dependent upon
men and this is realized in two ways. The first possibility is that the female has some goal to
achieve and then, as Gataulina comments, "male characters always participate[...] in helping
female-character to reach the success." Woman is pictured as unable to go on for something on her
own and she is somehow carried towards her success by her helper. The second possibility is that
the man has an aim and his female partner is there to help him. In this case, the helping is absolutely
different, more precisely, it should be described as support rather than help. The difference could be
summed up as follows: "if men help with a wise advice and with their knowledge, then female helps
by cooking and taking care of children"(Gataulina). So the man uses his potential to active help, but
the woman is supposed to have a potential only to stand aside and take care of food and children.
Looking after the house, food and children is quality that defines the Mother/Wife role, which is
one of the stereotypical roles, that were named and categorized and are summed up in Savitt's work.
Mother/Wife can be characterized as: "flesh and bones mother [...] provider of life, a nurturer"
(Savitt 4). When she is a "good" mother, it means that she is passive, submissive and lives only to
sacrifice herself to her children and/or husband. Lady Jessica or Chani from Dune may fall into this
category because of their devotion to Paul (as son or partner), but they are not passive at all and thus
they counteract this stereotypical role at the same time. Likewise, none of them can be classified as
"bad" mother. Such a character dominates her husband and makes him passive and loosing all the
respect in the neighborhood. She becomes: "a domineering character, nasty and unkind" (Savitt 5).
So Mother/Wife pays hard for even the slightest attempt to become independent and active. Her
status in society is defined by her marriage, that means by her belonging to her husband. Being
married gives her moral credit, and it is interesting that both Jessica and Chani are deprived of this
official honor. Their position in the society should be questioned, but it is not.
Other stereotypical role, according to Savitt, is the Old Maid. She carries almost all of the
negative connotations and is rejected by the society. She is not married in the most cases and thus
she has even lower status than the "bad" mother. She is very often: "physically unattractive [...],
seen by others as either crazy or pitiable" (Savitt 6). Her visage is important because a woman
should be beautiful and "is valued for her beauty" (Savitt 6). Because of her lack of sex appeal, she
is frequently frustrated, unhappy and she fills her life by religion or by peeping in the lives of the
people around her. She is frequently very nosy. Sometimes she may become a foster parent for her
niece or nephew. But all the things just happen to her, "she is usually characterized by extreme
passivity" (Savitt 6). She does not choose her life or her role. She usually appears as an opposite to
"good" mother role as she is ugly, unkind and solitary opposed to a beautiful and kind mother living
in the center of the family. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam fits in the role of the Old Maid
very well, in accordance with it, she is called "old witch" several times in book. She filled her life
with Bene Gesserit purposes and she is a cold solitary figure, clear opposite to Jessica. But she tries
not only to look into others people's lives, but to take them in control, too. She is not so passive as
she is supposed to be.
Next pair of roles, which are actually opposites, is the Virgin and the Fallen Woman. According
to Savitt, the Virgin is sometimes called "the good angel" and "is always chaste, innocent and
ignorant of worldly things" (12). She is pure, sometimes dressed in white or similar light colors to
emphasize her innocence and to let her stand above other women. She is absolutely unaware of her
own sexuality and men worship her. She is like a child that "never grows up [and] whose fairness
and sweetness are revered by all" (Savitt 12). Her deeds are strictly limited by her innocence which
implies narrowed life experience and also lower intelligence. She may have close relation to nature
and thus she can use herbs and her inner powers to heal. In Dune, the princess Irulan can be
regarded as the Virgin. She is standing on the pedestal of her father's throne and all the men look up
to her. But later in the book, and in Harrison's film even more significantly, she reveals that her
intelligence is much higher than it is appropriate for this role. The Virgin can develop into the
Mother within the course of the work and then "she brings life and she nurtures it" (Savitt 12). This
life giving and comforting is a fulfillment of her life. But she can also become her opposite, the
The Fallen Woman is also called Seductress/Goddess or the Whore in Savitt's classification of
the female roles. Connotations of high sexual attraction and beauty are shared by all these labels
and they are the most important attributes of this stereotypical role. Like the Virgin she is adored by
men, but it is done "in an earthy way" (Savitt 18). There are two types of the Fallen Woman. First
possibility is that she was the Virgin, but she "[has] fallen prey to the power of some man" (Savitt
13). In the case she may keep something from her virginal character, e.g. her close relation to nature
and especially her life-giving power. Second, she might "call" for her fall and really seduce the
man. In this case she is seen as evil, strongly despised. She is always considered to be "pleasure
producing" (Savitt 18) and secretly envied by other women. She is defined by her sexuality in all
her relationships and she never gain a status of Mother or Wife.
All of the described women roles have common characteristics. Among the most important ones
is passivity as "direct opposition to men's activity and agression" (Savitt
. When the woman tries
to do something actively, she is regarded as a shrew the "bad" Mother or a Whore the Fallen
Woman. Female subordination and admiration of males are resulting from the passivity and vice
versa they are strengthening the notion of women passively standing out of the course of events and
only observing. Women are there to help and admire greatness of the men and their epochal deeds,
who are changing the world and writing history. They are also seen as formless. Savitt describes it
as an association between a soft body and a soft mind, so, the formlessness implies inferiority of
Female thinking is supposed to be less rational and much more influenced by feelings and
moods. This supposed irrationality supports the belief that women are much more spiritual and
religious. Description of the female society of Bene Gesserit in Dune call up an image of the secret
religious order whose members have extraordinary powers and are bound by strong discipline. Bene
Gesserits stay in the shade and they use their instincts. They are contrasted to Mentats, as Timothy
O'Reilly highlights in his book about Frank Herbert, who are called "human computers" because
they "have been trained to store vast amounts of data and to calculate probabilities on the basis of
past performance" (O'Reilly, ch 4). Their maleness is thus connected with rationality and precise
computation and opposed to females' intuition. From all these characteristics, it is obvious that
range of the women's roles is very narrow and their opportunities in works of literature are strictly
Female roles in the movies are influenced by similar stereotypes as in literature.Partly because
they are created in the same social environment and partly because the vast majority of screenplays
is based on certain literary works. But after the conversion of the text into the film, a viewer is
confronted with a concrete appearance of the characters, there is no place left for his imagination
and so he is not only following the story, but also watching the people on the screen. Therefore,
most of the feminist film critics see woman as "a passive recipient of the aggressive male look"
(Penley 7). In this characteristics, the male activity and female passivity are highlighted and they
are seen as the defining factors. So the "pleasure in looking", which Laura Mulvey describes in her
"Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" is:
split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its
phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist
role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for
strong visual and erotic impact. (62)
According to this theory, the passivity of women is much strengthened in the film. They only are
there as objects and men, both in audience and in the film, are active. Characters in the film are
acting within the story itself and the audience is watching them. Mulvey discussed the problem of
women in audience in her later works and she stated that women are allowed to acquire active role
or point of view via participation in audience, and so, the audience as a complex is seen as active
and thus male. The audience is consuming the film and this way gets power over all the characters
and especially women. Therefore the female characters are passive in relationships with the male
characters and they are even more passive in relationship with the audience. The division of roles in
the story itself is summed in a simple rule: "men act - women appear" (Cowie 108.) Molly Haskell
in her book From Reverence To Rape remarks that the female stars are "simultaneously, the object
of women's admiration and men's desire" (20). Women in their film roles appear as sexual objects
and their visage is very important. Thus, Lynn Crosbie's remark that "clothes do, in fact, make or
break woman" expresses, how emphasized is the outer presentation of women in a film. The beauty
is the most important quality from all. The quote also sums up all Crosbie's article and refers to
proper style of female figures mentioned by Mulvey. It can be summed up that women's passivity is
accentuated by the audience's power, and so, it limits women in their roles even more.
As in the books, several female stereotypical roles are defined in an opposition to the male roles
on the screen. Similarly to literary works, 'real' men in film are usually "gun wielding, muscle clad
bodies fighting off bad guys" (Lupo). They are strong, active and aggressive and that is the reason
why one of the frequent roles women play is a role of victim. A weak and passive girl or woman is
always helpless against this kind of man and she needs someone else some other man - to save
her. So the situation is the same as it was in the books, she is absolutely dependent on man's help.
The difference between male and female roles is summed up perfectly by Haskell, she writes:
A man is supposedly most himself when he is driving to achieve, to create, to conquer; he is
least himself when reflecting or making love. A woman is supposedly most herself in the
throes of emotion (the love of man or of children), and least herself, that is, least 'womanly,'
in the pursuit of knowledge or success (4).
These words highlight that, also in the films, men are connected with reason and women with
feelings. Their femininity is quite often stressed by tears. Cry is connoting both the weakness and
sentimentality and it is strongly related with women because men are not supposed to cry or, at
least, to be seen crying. Woman's only interest and desire in films is to find a men, love him and
take care of him and their family. That is the only wish female characters are allowed to have. All
the other aims, thoughts and desires are suppressed as they try to please men around them. This
stereotype is very close to the Mother/Wife role as it was classified in literary works. Chani, in
David Lynch's film, is a perfect example of this suppression of her own desires. She is pictured
without any wishes of her own and boundlessly loving and supporting Paul. In the book, her role is
much richer and more important, she is also Paul's messenger and teacher. But in this film, her
personality is narrowed down to the Wife and later Mother role even without formal marriage.
In addition to roles of victims or wifes, women may be presented as innocent girls. Their
innocence is usually connected with lower age and thus, similarly to the Virgin in literature, with
lack of experience. It is very often portrayed in children, mostly little girls, or very young ladies. In
both Dune films, Alia is a small girl beautiful and cute at first sight and she is automatically
expected to be innocent, while she is not. She is opposing the prerequisite of narrowed knowledge
because of her awakening in Jessica's womb. Therefore, she is not fulfilling people's expectations,
she differs a great deal and so she is feared and hated. She arouses same expectations in viewers of
the films, but then, she does not conform to the traditional stereotypical role. At the end, this lovely
small girl kills in cold blood her grandfather Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. This deed entirely
destroys any notion of innocence about her.
Last female stereotype in films, I would like to mention, is the temptress. She is a variation on
the Fallen Woman from the literary works. Her sex appeal and beauty help her to force men to do
everything she wants. They are attracted by her and unable to refuse her. Her life and relationships
are defined by her sexuality. In Lynch's film, the princess Irulan's chamber maid plays a role of
temptress, whenever her lady needs to get some information. When Irulan is about to lose her
purity, she is replaced by her chamber maid. This way, Irulan may stay in her role of the innocent
noble princess and at the same time, she can take advantage of her beauty and attractiveness. The
maid is only presented as a sexual object because Feyd Rautha does not seem to even notice the
replacement. He is interested only in pleasure she will provide him with.
I think that the difference between roles in books and films is not substantial. In both active,
aggressive and rational men are opposed to passive, weak and sentimental women. Women are
mostly in the roles of helpers or supporters. They take care about men and family and this is the
only aim they are allowed to have. In the works of literature, the Mother/Wife is defined as caring,
submissive, life producing and sacrificing herself. She is driven by her man or her children and I
think Chani and Lady Jessica can be categorized as the Mothers/Wifes. Next role that was identified
is the Old Maid. She is old, sexually unattractive an often frustrated. She tries to fill her lonesome
life with religion or other people's lives. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is perfect example
of this stereotype. The last two roles may be contrasted. The Virgin is pure, beautiful and worshiped
in a spiritual way as an opposition to the Fallen Woman that is defined by her sexuality and so she is
adored by men in an earthy way. The innocence as core characteristics of the Virgin is highlighted
in the films. It is represented mainly by innocent girls or children. In the both Dune films Alia is
such an example. The princess Irulan may be seen as the traditional Virgin both in book and in the
films. From this summary, it is obvious that the roles of women are strictly circumscribed and very
limited. Frank Herbert's Dune is no exception from this scheme at first sight. This world is clearly
male-dominated and women only have restricted opportunities there. But as I just foreshadowed,
the deeper look will reveal that female characters do not fit in their roles so perfectly and that they
have much greater powers and influence than their roles imply.
Male-dominated World of Dune
Frank Herbert in his Dune created an easily believable universe full of planets, societies and
people. The structure of the empire that unifies the known universe is similar to that of the Middle
Ages. The most obvious connotation of this historical period are strong knights on high-steppers
fighting in tournaments and the ladies watching and admiring them. Some of them may even faint
when their favorite is in danger. This description is a bit exaggerated, but the world of Dune still
seems to be absolutely male-dominated and women seem to have only marginal roles, being mostly
accessories of their mightier counterparts, there. In this chapter, I would like to explore, how Frank
Herbert describes the society of his universe and how it is pictured in both films. I will also mention
the official role that is ascribed to women in this society.
The basic social structure of Herbert's complicated world is similar to the feudal Middle Ages.
The connotations of the Middle Ages are strengthened also by the lexis that Herbert uses in Dune.
In heroic poetry of the Middle Ages, the authors used kennings, the figures of speech that
substituted name of thing or a person, to avoid repetition and mostly to adhere to the rules of
alliterative verse. And Herbert similarly talks about blood as about "the body's water" or about
melange (spice) as about "the prolonger of life" or "the giver of health." This figurative speech
further supports the reader's impression of the old times. Jack Hand in his article identifies this as a
"past-as-future effect" (24). All the known universe in Dune is united under the rule of the Padishah
Emperor. In the first quote from 'Manual of Muad'Dib', which opens the book, the reader learns
that Paul Muad'Dib, the main hero of the story, was "born in the 57th
year of the Padishah Emperor,
Shaddam IV" (Herbert, Dune 13, hereafter quoted only by the page number). This time
determination is based on comparison with a life or a reign of the Emperor and illustrates his
influence. The power of the Emperor is great, he can take and give the whole planets as fiefdoms
and he also commands the most powerful army in the universe the Sardaukar. So, his masculinity
is defined by the traditional means of an active behavior and aggression. But his powers are not
limitless, they are balanced against the Landsraad, kind of "a pre-Magna Carta parliament" (Hand
24), and the Spacing Guild that holds "monopoly on space travel and upon international banking"
The Landsraad unites the Great Houses and represents politics of their male leaders. There is no
exception, women, even the noble ones from the Great Houses, are omitted from the rule. Armies of
the Great Houses together keep an important balance, where: "the military forces of the Landsraad
Great Houses [are] on one side, the Sardaukar and their supporting levies on the other" (59).
Therefore, nobody is able to do anything without causing a reaction. There are plans within plans
within plans because everybody tries to foresee the future steps of their enemies as well as allies.
Among the Great Houses of Landsraad, there are the House Atreides and the House Harkonnen,
they are mortal enemies and their mutual hatred roots deep into history and it is one of the moving
forces of the story.
The hierarchical structure of the society creates social classes as we know them from the Middle
Ages. The Great (or Major) Houses are the highest nobility that administrate planetary fiefdom, and
there is also a lower nobility, the Minor Houses. The noblemen have the power over people on their
land and their dominance is absolute. Lorenzo DiTommaso in his article remarks that: " The tenets
of the twin pillars of inequality and feudal hierarchism are driven into every one of the members of
the nobility or other power groups, not excepting Duke Leto and Paul. Clearly father and son are in
command, for, like the Emperor and any leader of a Great House, they use their resources, human or
otherwise" (78). The relationships between them and common people are not only rather
unbalanced, but also limited by lots of rules. There are differences between bigger and progressive
planets like Caladan, the home planet of the House Atreides, and smaller and peripheral planets like
Arrakis. The difference is expressed by Paul, who is awaking before the moving to Arrakis: "...This
world of castle Caladan, without play or companions his own age, perhaps did not deserve sadness
in farewell. Dr. Yueh, his teacher, had hinted that the faufreluches class system was not rigidly
guarded on Arrakis" (15). It is impossible for Paul, an heir of one of the most powerful Houses, to
meet with common people. Servants or soldiers he meets on Caladan have to be loyal to the House
Atreides. On the contrary to the book, in John Harrison's miniseries, Arrakis is not pictured as a
world with looser rules. The distance between the whole Atreides family and the local people
(mostly the Fremen) is emphasized during their first way to the palace in Arakeen. The Atreides
travel in comfortable and obviously air-conditioned couch and they watch common people standing
along the road in the dust under the hot sun. The windows clearly divide the two worlds and keep
both the Fremen and the duke's family within their places.
According to his status, Paul is taught by the best of his father's warriors and commanders.
Because he is a man and an heir, he has to be able to win all his fights, the physical and the political
ones too. In the book and both films, this emphasis is shown by the scene of practice in a single
combat before the Atreides leave for Arrakis. Paul's fight with Gurney Halleck, the master of Arms,
is frightening because Gurney seems to endanger Paul's life, but it is a part of practice and Paul is
shown there as a man, in accordance with the stereotypes, fighting and almost winning. In David
Lynch's film, the importance of this scene is even greater because it is the first scene where Paul
appears. And therefore, he is defined as a fighter and a male and not as much as a thinker or his
mother's son. His relationship with mother is not so strong and that is the reason, why Lady Jessica
does not play so important role in Lynch's Dune. Similarly to her, all the other female characters are
suppressed as I will show later in my work.
The third power group, which was only mentioned in my work yet, is the Spacing Guild. Hand
calls it "The glue which holds the Padishah Empire together on an interplanetary level" (24).
Without the Guild the Padishah Emperor would not be able to control his Empire and send his army
of Sardaukar where he needs to restore order. DiTommaso says that "In fact, it was a Guild-B.G.
compact that placed Shaddam IV on the throne ... ." So the Emperor is bound to the Guild a lot. The
noble Houses both Major and Minor depend on the Guild for their profits because they trade with
all the Houses on different planets. The trade holds the Universe together, as the Duke clarifies to
Paul in one of the deleted scenes from Dune: "Each world, each group of worlds, has something
unique. Even Caladan's pundi rice is unique to Caladan. And there are people who want it, who
cannot get it anywhere else" (Herbert, RTD 246). And thus the nobles and also their subjects cannot
live without the Guild's cruisers. Finally, the Guild depends on both the noble Houses and the
Padishah Emperor because they together guarantee constant mining and distribution of spice. Guild
navigators are not able to drive their cruisers without the spice. The members of Spacing Guild are
only men. Even though the sex of the navigators is unknown and in the both film adaptations it is
unrecognizable, I am still convinced that there are no women among the Guildsmen and my opinion
is supported by Hand, who speaks about the Guild as about "a male preserve" (24). So the Guild,
too, is reserved only for men.