28

At the beginning of Dune, Gaius Helen Mohiam uses the gom jabbar to test Paul Atreides and confirm that he is human. During the preceding conversation, she states plainly that it is seldom administered to males.

“Servants will not pass your mother who stands guard outside that door. Depend on it. Your mother survived this test. Now it’s your turn. Be honored. We seldom administer this to men-children.

Curiosity reduced Paul’s fear to a manageable level. He heard truth in the old woman’s voice, no denying it. If his mother stood guard out there ... if this were truly a test.... And whatever it was, he knew himself caught in it, trapped by that hand at his neck: the gom jabbar. He recalled the response from the Litany against Fear as his mother had taught him out of the Bene Gesserit rite.

Later on, when Jessica and Paul encounter Stilgar and his troop, she pronounces that he has already been tested with the gom jabbar which is apparently what every male Fremen goes through "in the time of the mihna, at the test of aql". This is confirmed later on:

Jamis stared at her, fright visible on his face.

“I’ll teach you agony,” she said in the same tone. “Remember that as you fight. You’ll have agony such as will make the gom jabbar a happy memory by comparison. You will writhe with your entire—”

“She tries a spell on me!” Jamis gasped. He put his clenched right fist beside his ear. “I invoke the silence on her!”

So, Fremen males—presumably all of them—are tested with the gom jabbar as a coming-of-age rite. This is however not in keeping with what the Reverend Mother stated earlier.

My questions:

  • Why is the gom jabbar seldom administered to males by the Bene Gesserit?
  • Why are Fremen males allowed to take it?
  • Why do the Fremen even have access to it? Did the Bene Gesserit share this secret with them for the prophecy?
  • Do Fremen females also take this test?
  • 8
    Maybe it means "we [the Bene Gesserit] seldom administer this to men-children", as opposed to "no-one administers this"? Maybe it's related to the Bene Gesserit being an all-female order, rather than to the gom jabbar itself? – Andres F. Dec 20 '12 at 17:49
  • Wasn't it the assumption that most males couldn't pass the gom jabbar test? – Sam I am Dec 20 '12 at 19:26
  • 2
    Having just read through the books recently, I think it's probably because the Bene Gesserit don't particularly CARE if a man could pass the test. The test is largely used to weed out potential Bene Gesserit candidates who don't have the willpower to control their own physical impulses. The Fremen, however, are big on impulse control in general, and many of their rituals are modified teachings from the Bene Gesserit (thanks to the Missionaria Protectivia (?) seeding the culture generations ago). – Omegacron Feb 1 '18 at 21:10
31

Ok, to take them in sequence:

  • Why is the gom jabbar seldom administered to males by the Bene Gesserit?

Simple; Bene Gesserit are females; they use men, but men aren't trained as Bene Gesserit. Some are trained to serve, but never become 'sisters'; the upper levels, after all, are supposed to be impossible / inaccessible to them. It COULD be administered to a Male, and sometimes was, for those that had the potential to move to a unusually high level for a male, but most men weren't believed to be able to reach such heights. That's one of the things the Kwisatz Haderach was supposed to be.. A male who could become a full Bene Gesserit. (A Full Bene Gesserit being a Reverend Mother.)

  • Why are Fremen males allowed to take it?

They aren't; the Gom Jabbar is something they know of from Legend; it's part of what the Missionaria Protectiva set up. (Basically, they implanted specific legends, as well as making everything about themselves mystical and significant.) Jessica's phrasing is slightly confusing; the Gom Jabar WOULD be a happy memory by comparison - he's never taken it, but his culture talks of it as a terrible torture. (Think equivalent to 'Do this, and I'll make you WISH you were simply being eaten alive.') (In terms of phrasing, she's doing one hypothetical against another; he's never experienced either the torture she threatens him with, nor Gom Jabbar, but his knowledge of what Gom Jabbar is SUPPOSED to be colors his assumptions of what she threatens him with. The operative phrase is 'by comparison.') She used it specifically because it was in the conversation recently and would have an impact.

  • Why do the Fremen even have access to it? Did the Bene Gesserit share this secret with them for the prophecy?

Again, they don't. It's a legend to them, and a terrifying one. The 'Gom Jabar Test of Humanity.' (A comparable equivalent would be saying that he had been Crucified. None of THEM had been crucified.. but they've heard stories and legends.)

  • Do Fremen females also take this test?

Nope; no Fremen take it. The Bene Gesserit perform the test to verify that a person is 'Human'; their definition being that a Human's awareness is stronger than his/her instincts. Although Paul was tested via nerve induction, there are other ways to perform the test; it's about observation of the subject when placed under incredible stress.

Also, don't forget -- Gom Jabar is a poison, and a nasty one. But the Gom Jabar 'Test of Humanity' is something else, that makes USE of the poison. They are often used interchangeably, with context indicating what is being referred to, but don't confuse them. Also, it's sometimes used metaphorically; Alia refers to herself as the Atreides Gom Jabbar when she kills the Baron, for example.

  • 2
    To run with the crucifixion comparison, there have been people crucified in the past. Through observation of their experience one can imagine what it would be like. Did the Missionaria Protectiva ever administer the Gom Jabar to any Fremen in the past, so that the Fremen as a people might have an actual cultural memory of what it was like? – Xantec Dec 20 '12 at 18:05
  • 3
    Good question; I don't know that Herbert ever addresses it.. Conversely, they DO have a limited racial/cultural memory courtesy of the mingling of memories in the Spice Orgy -- it's possible that there is some echo of memory that comes down even to the current generation. – K-H-W Dec 20 '12 at 18:06
  • Good point shared memories. – Xantec Dec 20 '12 at 18:08
  • Thanks Keith. Do we know what the "test of aql in the time of mihna" involves? – coleopterist Dec 20 '12 at 18:17
  • 1
    Aql is the Test of Reason. Originally it was 'the seven mystic questions', the first of which is "Who is it that thinks?" Mihna was the 'Season of Testing' for Fremen boys wishing to become men. Both are in the Appendix to the original 'Dune.' – K-H-W Dec 20 '12 at 18:21
5

The Gom Jabbar (or "High-Handed Enemy") is merely the hollowed out poison needle worn on a Sister's finger. It is used because it is easily concealed and produces rapid, lethal results (using "meta-cyanide", according to The Dune Encyclopedia). The Gom Jabbar is used alongside a nerve-induction device contained in a box during a test of "crisis and observation". A "Human" can control pain enough to conquer animal instinct. Failure of this awareness test results in being pricked by the closely held weapon.

Men do get attacked with them: Baron Harkonnen was fatally stabbed with the Gom Jabbar by Alia before being consumed by a sandworm.

The Human Awareness test is used when considering recruits for the Sisterhood, and so is not normally something men are eligible for. Mohiam was using the test on Paul to determine if he was an Abomination, if not an animal or a Human. The use of the test amongst Fremen was due to the isolated development (physically and temporally) of Bene Gesserit religious indoctrination on Arrakis. Similar unique developments occurred famously with the Honoured Matres and their practice of sexual imprinting.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.