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Right after his test in the Book "Dune", Paul asks whether the Kwisatz-Haderach was meant to be a human Gom-Jabbar. I can't make sense of this. Is it intended to mean "Can tell humans and animals apart"?

The Reverend Mother stared at him, wondering: Did I hear criticism in his voice? "We carry a heavy burden," she said.

Paul felt himself coming more and more out of the shock of the test. He leveled a measuring stare at her, said: "You say maybe I'm the . . . Kwisatz Haderach. What's that, a human gom jabbar?"

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    i believe simply that he ment is the kwisatz haderach, the poisened needle at the neck of humanity to ask them the question on whether they will band together and survive the upcoming trails, or whether he will kill them all, OR if he himself will determine the lives the universe and decide who should live and who shouldnt. which is essentially the goal of the golden path that paul later sees in visions that leto 2 finally accomplishes. they did this by threating all humans, to scatter them throughout space, so humanity will always survive. in a very 15 book short version lol. – Himarm Oct 31 '14 at 14:15
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    What the heck. And the reader is supposed to wrap his head around this in the first chapter of the first book? I always felt these books were a hard read, but that's definitely stretching it, given that Paul really doesn't know THAT much at that time (or at least thats what i suppose). – kutschkem Oct 31 '14 at 14:23
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    i mean their may a simpler answer out their but after reading all of the books including the expanded series books, thats what i felt like it ment. but yes his books didnt age well, and are real vague about stuff, (imo dune is a decent book, but the rest of the original series is borefest fail that was overhyped) – Himarm Oct 31 '14 at 14:31
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    I think @Himarm is close. Paul is essentially the "Pass or die" test for humanity. Either you follow him or you die. This is basically the stance the Fremen took during the jihad. – Omegacron Oct 31 '14 at 14:45
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    @Himarm that was always my reading of it as well, you should submit that as an answer. – Dan C Oct 31 '14 at 15:43
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At this point in the story, the only thing that Paul knows about the gom jabbar is from his conversation with the Reverend Mother.

"I hold at your neck the gom jabbar," she said. "The gom jabbar, the high-handed enemy. It's a needle with a drop of poison on its tip. Ah-ah! Don't pull away or you'll feel that poison."

...

"A duke's son must know about poisons," she said. "It's the way of our times, eh? Musky, to be poisoned in your drink. Aumas, to be poisoned in your food. The quick ones and the slow ones and the ones in between. Here's a new one for you: the gom jabbar. It kills only animals."

And he knows even less about the Kwisatz Haderach. The very essence of his question is whether the point of his own existence is to operate as a (fatal) test of whether humanity is actually deserving of continued existence. He may be beginning to sense the Golden Path before him and his own place in that.

As to whether this makes sense on an initial reading, the answer is a very firm no. This is something that needs a second reading before you can understand it fully.

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    Very insightful; it reconciles nicely with all of the original books -- not to mention fitting with Paul's own feeling of powerlessness (and Leto II's, for that matter), being the vehicle by which mankind is tested, but not really having any control. Despite having read the books many times, it hadn't occurred to me to look for deeper meaning in the early parts.. Time to re-read again :) – K-H-W Nov 8 '14 at 0:16
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    @KHW - I actually attribute this to the book's unusual writing style. Your characters shouldn't really know stuff until they've been told. – Valorum Nov 8 '14 at 0:21
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    Oh, sure, but it's nice to see this level of pre-thought in the writing, and Paul has various degrees of prescience; it's not that unusual that he might have some insight into the future, even while not being aware of what it means, so it's not really 4th wall breaking. Makes me think of 'The Cat Who Walks Thru Walls' by RAH -- in the opening chapter, the protagonist laughingly describes a ridiculous possibility for what's going on... Which is revealed at the very end to be EXACTLY what WAS going on. I like Frank Herbert's varient because it's far more subtle :) – K-H-W Nov 8 '14 at 0:29
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    @KHW - Yes. The prescience thing is one of the elements that makes the book quite convoluted. Paul repeatedly sees things happening in advance, is still shocked when they happen, then regrets having not changed them – Valorum Nov 8 '14 at 0:30
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    Yep -- that, then, factors in to his helplessness later -- he has greater and greater vision, but is helpless to deviate from what he has seen. Lots of irony. – K-H-W Nov 8 '14 at 0:31
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The Reverend Mother refers to the gom jabbar as "the high-handed enemy". I think Paul, sensing that a Kwisatz Haderach is an important Bene Gesserit thing, is simply asking if a Kwisatz Haderach is a human weapon to be wielded by Bene Gesserit masters.

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Just to add to the excellent answer above, that is is first and foremost the gom-jabbar is a test, to which almost the entire opening of the book is devoted.

"Sleep well, you sly little rascal," said the old woman. "Tomorrow you'll need all your faculties to meet my gom jabbar."
...
"Paul . . . " Jessica took a deep breath. ". . . this test you're about to receive . . . it's important to me."

Second the reason for the poison test is to filter human from animal. It's purpose is embedded in the BG mind-body lesson Paul was using before bed:

. . . one does not obtain food-safety-freedom by instinct alone . . . animal consciousness does not extend beyond the given moment nor into the idea that its victims may become extinct . . . the animal destroys and does not produce . . . animal pleasures remain close to sensation levels and avoid the perceptual . . . the human requires a background grid through which to see his universe . . .

Pride overcame Paul's fear. "You dare suggest a duke's son is an animal?" he demanded.

"Let us say I suggest you may be human," she said.

Third it consists of two parts:

"I hold at your neck the gom jabbar," she said. "The gom jabbar, the high-handed enemy. It's a needle with a drop of poison on its tip. Ah-ah! Don't pull away or you'll feel that poison."

The needle and the poison at the tip. So to be a human gom-jabbar we would need two things.

  1. The needle - This is the Bene Gesserit themselves they will hold the 'poison' at the throat of the species to filter out humans from animals.
  2. The poison - This is the Kwisatz Haderach for whom the BG toiled for 90 generations, filtering and pruning the bloodlines. Paul himself.

"Ever sift sand through a screen?" she asked.

The tangential slash of her question shocked his mind into a higher awareness: Sand through a screen , he nodded.

"We Bene Gesserit sift people to find the humans."

The BG had long recognized the problem and dangerous possibility of human extinction. They wanted a solution (their Kwisatz Haderach) but on their terms. Save the human race yes, but to their overwhelming and total advantage. They would control the destiny and direction of all of humanity, the ultimate totalitarian system. He was going to be the poison that they drove into the flesh of the human race. Their human gom-jabbar!

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