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In the chapter where Paul and Stilgar's troop visits the Windtrap and the pool of water into which Jamis' water is poured, there is a line that says:

And Paul, walking behind Chani, felt that a vital moment had passed him, that he had missed an essential decision and was now caught up in his own myth.

What decision could Paul have possibly made here, and might it have prevented the Jihad?

Note that just 2 pages previously, Paul had thought to himself that

If he died this instant, the thing would go on through his mother and unborn sister. Nothing less than the deaths of all the troop gathered here and now - himself and his mother included - could stop the thing.

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    Could he have? Obviously yes; the quote gives one way, there may be others. Was he willing to pay the necessary price? Obviously not, although he also couldn't bring himself to fully commit to it either. – DavidW Jul 27 '20 at 2:39
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    I assume that Paul would have been unwilling (even if able) to kill all the members of Stilgar's troop, and then kill his mother and finally himself, just in order to prevent the Jihad, and that the "essential decision" being missed here was something else. Yet I cannot imagine what that could have been. Perhaps it was nothing more than an unconscious attempt to feel that a choice was actually possible? I believe that something similar happens when people blame themselves for events that are actually outside their control: apparently they prefer to feel guilty than to feel powerless. – James Herndon Jul 27 '20 at 3:28
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    Your own questions answers your question. – Valorum Jul 27 '20 at 7:36
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Paul is a tragic character, very much aware of that he is a tragic character.

A tragic character typically makes a bad decision, and continues to do so, until a climactic point where he is so tangled up into his fate that no matter what decision he takes, it always ends badly.

But for Paul, the "bad ending" is the Jihad, and the "good ending" is the Harkonnen win, and he dies. He doesn't want the Jihad, but he is also unwilling to go the path that results in his death.

The feeling you cite is the tipping point described in the beginning. Now everything he could possibly do, including his own death, leads to the Jihad. He feels that, and it is a moment of loss, in a sense. The tragic character knows perfectly well that he just crossed the tipping point where the tragic story continues no matter his actions. So he does what basically all tragic characters do: He continues in his "bad" decisions which lead him deeper and deeper into the tragedy he so desperately wants to avoid.

Paul is what you get when you write a tragic character that is also a powerful oracle. The only way for the character to be tragic is when the "good" alternative isn't really good for himself.

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