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View Full Version : Why is Paul Atreides in [I]the Dune Series[/I] a deep gray character?



Inclusa
2014-May-09, 03:59 AM
Initially, the House of Atreides is portrayed as noble and good; I scanned through the whole series in my high school years.
(Sorry, I don't really peruse novels or most books; I read a lot during my college and high school years, but this mostly end up enriching my vocabulary rather
than anything.)
Someone mentioned that Paul Atreides is a deep gray character; can someone elaborates?

Noclevername
2014-May-09, 04:19 AM
I think black/white/gray is a massive oversimplification of human behavior, especially in a series like Dune which is all about hard moral choices based on complex knowledge of the future consequences of any action.

I don't know what they meant by "deep" grey, but I assume it mean darker/more "evil" than the rest of his family. I disagree; Paul acted on the knowledge he had available, and knew what future events would result from those actions. He made the best decisions he could to try to save humans from extinction. In Paul's case, that included turning away from the Golden Path and giving up the Imperial throne because he knew he could not handle it or would be corrupted/broken by the pressure.

Shaula
2014-May-09, 05:16 AM
It would help if you defined a grey person. Canonically in colour psychology (shudder) it is a neutral, conservative person who calms other colours. Paul demonstrates all of those qualities in abundance at various times, he adopt old traditions (but at the same time balances between modernisers and conservatives in his own camp), he acts as a stable base for others (another grey trait, exemplified by his name Usul) and he holds back the Fremen jihad. He is also a faction of one in the first two books, alone and trying to maintain balance. It is his son who realises that stagnation is death for their universe and unleashes the changes that lead to the Siona line and the 'new worms'. Paul, when caught between two opposing forces, always found a middle ground. Even if it did not look like that to outsiders.

starcanuck64
2014-May-09, 07:12 PM
Every future path he saw led to a galactic wide jihad that he initiated, he chose the least damaging of the paths.

Inclusa
2014-May-10, 04:26 AM
When we cannot save all, we must save the most or the most valuable, eh?

Noclevername
2014-May-10, 05:27 AM
When we cannot save all, we must save the most or the most valuable, eh?

Most valuable meaning, in this case, the ones who would eventually produce the right offspring/dcendants to save the human race. Including Paul's own family.

Shaula
2014-May-10, 06:57 AM
Most valuable meaning, in this case, the ones who would eventually produce the right offspring/dcendants to save the human race. Including Paul's own family.
The Golden Path was a choice Paul would not take, however, as he feared the personal consequences. It is why book two is so heart wrenching in a way, Paul puts off all the hard choices (even the ghola option for Chani he refuses to make the decision, instead requiring Hayt to remove the temptation) and pushes the burden on to his children. So instead of the eminently human Paul leading he leaves the Bene Gesesrit their hope for a malleable religious leader a little while longer, lets the Tleilaxu ghola awakening program become established and ultimately demands that his son (who is decidedly not quite human anyway) take the fate of humanity into his hands.

Noclevername
2014-May-10, 08:05 AM
The Golden Path was a choice Paul would not take, however, as he feared the personal consequences. It is why book two is so heart wrenching in a way, Paul puts off all the hard choices (even the ghola option for Chani he refuses to make the decision, instead requiring Hayt to remove the temptation) and pushes the burden on to his children. So instead of the eminently human Paul leading he leaves the Bene Gesesrit their hope for a malleable religious leader a little while longer, lets the Tleilaxu ghola awakening program become established and ultimately demands that his son (who is decidedly not quite human anyway) take the fate of humanity into his hands.

And the worst part is, he knew all that would happen. A weak character IMO, but not an evil one.

Shaula
2014-May-10, 08:41 AM
And the worst part is, he knew all that would happen. A weak character IMO, but not an evil one.
Although he got closer to evil in Children of Dune, he would not take responsibility (left it to Leto) but would not let go. The Jacurutu (know I have spelt that wrong) tribe did not help, but still - I think that if Leto had not forced the confrontation he could have ended up basically evil. Or at least working against humanity's survival in the name of 'saving' his son. Who was not really his son any more, he was far more the child of the Mohlata he forged by then.

Noclevername
2014-May-10, 10:49 AM
Although he got closer to evil in Children of Dune, he would not take responsibility (left it to Leto) but would not let go. The Jacurutu (know I have spelt that wrong) tribe did not help, but still - I think that if Leto had not forced the confrontation he could have ended up basically evil. Or at least working against humanity's survival in the name of 'saving' his son. Who was not really his son any more, he was far more the child of the Mohlata he forged by then.

Having to choose between a loved one and strangers makes him conflicted, not evil, in my book.

Paul Beardsley
2014-May-10, 11:08 AM
Whereas people unquestionably do evil for evil's sake, I would suggest this is a lot less common than simple conflict of interests, often based on imperfect knowledge. When a manager makes Peter redundant instead of Susan, it might seem to Peter that the manager is evil, but the manager had a very limited choice and he genuinely believed Susan was the better employee, even though she was actually lazy and took credit for other people's work.

I think Paul Atreides was simply put in a position where he discovered there was no choice that is right for everyone. It's a while since I last read the first two books, though, and longer still since I read Children, which I found hard to follow in my teens.

Shaula
2014-May-10, 12:41 PM
I think Paul Atreides was simply put in a position where he discovered there was no choice that is right for everyone. It's a while since I last read the first two books, though, and longer still since I read Children, which I found hard to follow in my teens.
Essentially it came down the fact that without something like the Golden Path humanity was doomed. However Paul was not willing to take on that change himself and left it to Leto. But then in Children he starts trying to oppose Leto's visions, siding with the Water-stealers. Right up until the end he is picking the choices that weaken Leto's ability to steer humanity. He uses his voice to preach a return to older values. Given time he would have become a rallying point for the Fremen who were unhappy with change, if he had succeeded in stopping the Golden Path then he probably would have been responsible for unleashing uncontrolled Jihad on the universe and for the extinction of humanity. All to stop his son from sacrificing himself.

How many people would you kill to save the soul of your son? That is the root of the dilemma he was in. I am not sure it is as simple as good and evil but putting your family's immediate welfare against billions upon billions of deaths seems distinctly un-good.

Noclevername
2014-May-10, 03:09 PM
How many people would you kill to save the soul of your son? That is the root of the dilemma he was in. I am not sure it is as simple as good and evil but putting your family's immediate welfare against billions upon billions of deaths seems distinctly un-good.


There would be a thousand more generations of humans who led long, full lives before that happened. Tough to chose between sacrificing someone you know and love, and a distant abstraction. "One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic". Or one worm mutation and the burden of changing destiny, in this case.

Shaula
2014-May-10, 03:17 PM
There would be a thousand more generations of humans who led long, full lives before that happened. Tough to chose between sacrificing someone you know and love, and a distant abstraction. "One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic". Or one worm mutation and the burden of changing destiny, in this case.
That was why I said I didn't think it was as easy as "Good/Bad". The simple facts expressed in the book were, however, that Paul knew he was something special, he took steps to make sure that the version of him the Bene Gesserit wanted would not be born. He took on their mission of survival and then tried to renege on that deal. Which is why he goes from a hero archetype in book one to a tragic figure in book two and then a broken figure in book three.

starcanuck64
2014-May-10, 07:17 PM
No I don't think it's as easy as good vs. bad either considering the environment Paul Atreides was brought into and his intended purpose. He was the end point of a many generations genetics program run by an at best amoral religious order who's mission was to control human evolution for their own purposes. He was also part of a very ruthless imperial system that placed his entire family in threat of destruction and only made the changes that brought him prescient abilities to survive and save the lives of his family. So in a sense it was the overall conditions he was part of that resulted in the actions he took, I think it mentions more than once how powerless a man who could see the future really felt.

Most people would become unhinged in such circumstances even without the godlike abilities that being able to see all possible future paths gave him. In a way I see him as a reaction to the human meddling of the natural genetic process and the biological imperative to not allow genes to stagnate which I think is in part of what the Freman jihad was about. Nothing mixes genes up like war and invasions over great distances.

Past a certain point Paul becomes less of a central factor which is also part of the biological process. For me this is one of the central themes of the series, a new generation replacing the "order" of the previous and in turn being replaced by the next. In pure biological terms the revolutionary changes brought about by Paul shattered a stagnation that was already beginning to have serious negative effects on humans.

Inclusa
2014-May-11, 03:46 AM
No I don't think it's as easy as good vs. bad either considering the environment Paul Atreides was brought into and his intended purpose. He was the end point of a many generations genetics program run by an at best amoral religious order who's mission was to control human evolution for their own purposes. He was also part of a very ruthless imperial system that placed his entire family in threat of destruction and only made the changes that brought him prescient abilities to survive and save the lives of his family. So in a sense it was the overall conditions he was part of that resulted in the actions he took, I think it mentions more than once how powerless a man who could see the future really felt.

Most people would become unhinged in such circumstances even without the godlike abilities that being able to see all possible future paths gave him. In a way I see him as a reaction to the human meddling of the natural genetic process and the biological imperative to not allow genes to stagnate which I think is in part of what the Freman jihad was about. Nothing mixes genes up like war and invasions over great distances.

Past a certain point Paul becomes less of a central factor which is also part of the biological process. For me this is one of the central themes of the series, a new generation replacing the "order" of the previous and in turn being replaced by the next. In pure biological terms the revolutionary changes brought about by Paul shattered a stagnation that was already beginning to have serious negative effects on humans.

Doesn't this render The Dune Series a little more realistic than those with clear-cut sides of good, neutral, and evil?
In real history, we cannot always judge historical figures on the basis of good, neutral, and evil either.

Noclevername
2014-May-11, 04:04 AM
Doesn't this render The Dune Series a little more realistic than those with clear-cut sides of good, neutral, and evil?


I think that was the first thing I said. ;)