In Dune, Paul was given the test of the gom jabbar, where tremendous pain is inflicted on his hand by the Reverend Mother. She said the purpose behind this was to know whether Paul is human, to identify him as a human instead of animal. I am especially triggered by the use of word "animal". What did she actually mean? Only to check whether Paul was good enough as a kind of material? Or did she imply some men were not human? I am confused.

6 Answers 6


The Bene Gesserit are unsurpassed at intrigue and manipulation, so it is safe to assume that there is much more to her words than their surface meaning implies.

The test of the gom jabbar is a test of will-power and discipline. Even with one's life at stake, it takes strong self-control to deliberately endure agonizing pain.

The test is normally reserved for women undergoing the Bene Gesserit training. Administering the test to a man is highly unusual.

However, Paul is a highly unusual man.

Paul is the culmination of generations of deliberately calculated breeding, as part of the Bene Gesserit's program to create a super being, the Kwisatz Haderach. Paul was not intended to be the Kwisatz Haderach, but then, Paul is the result of an "error" in their plan: Jessica was supposed to have a daughter, who would then hopefully give birth to the Kwisatz Haderach. That Jessica would disobey her orders and have a son (the Bene Gesserit have such perfect control over their bodies that they can influence the gender of their child in utero) was completely unexpected, and therefore they are unsure just what kind of person Paul will be.

It is important to note that all of the subjects of the Bene Gesserit breeding program are extremely powerful, potentially dangerous people. Members of the breeding program include such notables as:

Duke Leto Atreides, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, Jessica Atreides, and Count Hasimir Fenring,

and each are individuals of considerable influence, will, intelligence and cunning.

It is important for the Bene Gesserit to test Paul, and see whether he could be a useful tool, or whether he has the potential to become an undisciplined monster like

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

It is implied that Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam would not have actually killed Paul should he have removed his hand from the pain induction box, as she mentions that he endured more pain than any other Bene Gesserit inductee, so the test is likely more of a tool to assay potential, rather than to cull out "animals" from "humans" (although we cannot rule out the possibility that some of the subjects of the test might actually be killed if they pull their hand out too early).

Summary: The test was to determine Paul's potential, and, to some extent, evaluate how much of a danger he might be. If he was weak, or undisciplined, he could potentially become a danger to the breeding plan, and would therefore either need to be removed (killed), or subjected to additional training (almost certainly resulting in him being taken from Lady Jessica and given into the care of other Bene Gesserit). If he proved strong enough, he would be deemed potentially useful to the breeding plan, and allowed to remain under the care of Lady Jessica while they calculated the best use for him (this also somewhat alleviates Jessica's crime of disobeying her orders, and having a son out of love for Duke Leto). The whole "animal vs human" explanation is really just an over-simplified justification that allows her to avoid revealing any Bene Gesserit secrets to Paul.

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    Personally, I think the Reverend Mother wanted to kill Paul, and deliberately put the pain setting higher than she should have, hoping to cause him to fail, and was surprised when he didn't. Aug 24, 2014 at 3:10

I'm paraphrasing here, but she says that an animal would chew its own limb off to escape a trap whereas a human would endure the pain and wait for an opportunity to kill the hunter who laid the trap.

Dune: Chapter 1:

The old woman said; "You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There's an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind."

However, this is not present in the film script:

REVEREND MOTHER: I hold at your neck the gom jabbar. Don't pull away or you'll feel that poison. A Duke's son must know about many poisons --this one kills only animals.

PAUL: Are you suggesting a Duke's son is an animal?

REVEREND MOTHER: Let us say I suggest you may be human. Your awareness may be powerful enough to control your instincts. Your instincts will be to remove your hand from the box. If you do so you will die.

So basically animals are instinctual (and in this case would remove a limb from the box because it is inflicting pain) whereas humans can override their instincts, as Paul does by reciting the litany against fear.

  • the site is correct, that is the text used in the movie which is (if I remember correctly) pretty close to what was written in the book (don't you love older movies that actually stayed close to the source).
    – jwenting
    Nov 16, 2011 at 11:08
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    @jwenting: Ok about this quote, but seriously? Lynch's Dune and staying close to the source in the same sentence? :) Nov 16, 2011 at 11:58
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    @jwenting I'm trying to restrain my astonishment at you saying that the Dune movie stayed close to the book. Come on, sonic weapons? "My name is a killing word"? Magical ability to make it rain? Nov 16, 2011 at 11:58
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    It's a very cerebral book, with a large amount of the story expressed by characters thoughts, perceptions, and so on.. That doesn't readily translate to the big screen.. That being said, at least the Lynch version TRIED to keep thing somewhat close to the book, only deviating where they couldn't express things properly... Made now, you'd be seeing more Matrix type effects to explain Weirding, instead of the sonic nonsense.. but compared to a vamping princess Irulan, and a bawling Paul in the SciFi channel version.. I'll take the Lynch version any day; adaptation decay or not.
    – K-H-W
    Nov 16, 2011 at 13:49
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    "You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There's an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove the threat to his kind." Page 15 of the Ace paperback edition. Jun 23, 2012 at 22:06

The animal reference isn't a reference to actual animals.

Rather it's how the BG saw a great part of humanity: Like cattle to be bred and herded through the maze of the BG's plans. Note that the BG are trained in many ways of controlling their body. This control includes the ability to change the chemical makeup of things such as poison, rendering it harmless to their system. Therefore, saying "it only kills animals" is Mohiam's way of saying that "it only kills those without a high level of control over their bodies"

The box was a test to see if Paul had that control. If he believed that Mohiam would actually use the Gom Jabbar then he had to control his body to the point of allowing his hand to be burned off in order to save his life. Mohiam would know that there are certain pain points at which a human would "forget" the long term prospect of death and instead allow the immediate problem to overwhelm them.

So, there were several possible outcomes:

  • Paul does not pull his hand out thereby showing a huge degree of self control.
  • Paul pulls his hand out very early on, at which point the Gom Jabbar would be administered as a more deterministic way to find out what control over his body he has; or simply eliminate him from the gene pool.
  • Paul leaves his hand in for a "normal" amount of time, which would indicate that he was likely nothing special.
  • Paul strikes out at the controlling source of his pain: Mohaim. This would have shown that the BG could never have hoped to control him. Which would have left Mohaim no choice but to jam the needle as far into his neck as possible to take him out now rather than let him live. After all, there's no point in having a possible KH or even just a Duke apparent being uncontrolled by the sisterhood.

As it was, Paul showed exceptional self control, the probability of being controlled by the sisterhood and, due to the obvious pain he was in, that he was not at this time a full KH and still needed to be observed. Therefore he was at least "human" as the BG defines it.

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    The overall gist of your answer is correct, but IMO you are mistaken about the poison. Gom Jabbar can tell humans from "animals" simply because a human won't pull his/her hand. Once administered the Gom Jabbar always kills. The Bene Gesserit control of their impulses would prevent them from pulling their hand, but won't neutralize the poison.
    – Andres F.
    Apr 29, 2014 at 2:47
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    @AndresF. Correct!! A human would bear the pain to stop the threat to the whole species. An animal wouldn't. Dec 4, 2015 at 3:19

Excellent question. She gives the answer right there.

The old woman said; "You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There's an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind."

It was a presursor to the much bigger test:

"Have you ever seen truthtrance?"

He shook his head. "No."

"The drug's dangerous," she said, "but it gives insight. When a Truthsayer's gifted by the drug, she can look many places in her memory - in her body's memory. We look down so many avenues of the past . . . but only feminine avenues." Her voice took on a note of sadness. "Yet, there's a place where no Truthsayer can see. We are repelled by it, terrorized. It is said a man will come one day and find in the gift of the drug his inward eye. He will look where we cannot - into both feminine and masculine pasts."

"Your Kwisatz Haderach?"

"Yes, the one who can be many places at once: the Kwisatz Haderach. Many men have tried the drug . . . so many, but none has succeeded."

"They tried and failed, all of them?"

"Oh, no." She shook her head. "They tried and died."

They were looking for a super-human. One that could not just save himself but save the whole species. Their Kwisatz Haderach. You see they saw the deep problem of stagnation but wanted a solution that they could control. Politics!!

She nodded. "We have two chief survivors of those ancient schools: the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild. The Guild, so we think, emphasizes almost pure mathematics. Bene Gesserit performs another function." "Politics," he said.

They wanted the most insidious control there is. Political control.


Humans have the ability to not only act but consciously control their autonomic nervous system, animals do not.

The test is to check if Paul is Bene Gesserit, a human that truly has the ability to consciously control his/her ANS, or not. After the test Mohiam calls Paul little brother.

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    Do you have any evidence, such as quotes, that you could edit into your answer to support it? It would greatly improve it!
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Apr 18, 2019 at 9:01

Women were superior, A story of Mother Superior and that important line that divided men. Most men could not stand with a Mother Superior , especially under pressure. She was surprised just to find out he was a conscious person and a man of discipline. The witches discovered he was a threat and took some of their protection away, which lead him to the Fremen. The Path was already waiting for Paul.

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    Can you provide references to back this up? Mar 25, 2017 at 10:53

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