Paul Atreides carries the heaviest burden of all the characters in Dune—he is destined to change the course of the universe. From the start, we never get a sense that Paul is a typical fifteen-year-old boy. Like many other heroes, particularly in science fiction, Paul is “the One,” a messiah-type character whose arrival people have been anticipating and expecting to bring about great change. Throughout the novel, Herbert makes cryptic references to the Kwisatz Haderach. Even in the very beginning, Reverend Mother Mohiam thinks that Paul may be the Kwisatz Haderach, which immediately establishes Paul’s great significance as a character in the novel and as a figure within the universe of Dune.
Paul is different from the other “ones” in science fiction because of his steadfast resistance to his destiny and his concern about the consequences of power. Paul does not resist because he does not believe—he knows he is the Kwisatz Haderach. He resists because he can foresee the bloody war that will result throughout the universe following his rise to power. The Bene Gesserit have arranged for the advent of “the One” because they believe a war is the only way to diversify mankind’s gene pool. Paul, however, wants to believe there is another way, one that does not cause so much suffering and death.
Paul weaves the path of his destiny by the way he attempts to resist it. For example, he does not want to kill Stilgar so that he can rise to power. Instead, he creates a new position within the Fremen hierarchy so that both Stilgar and himself can be leaders. Paul successfully becomes the religious leader of the Fremen. However, we always have a sense that he is fighting a losing battle with his destiny. Paul feels torn between his allegiances—to the House of Atreides, to the Bene Gesserit, and to the Fremen—and his role in the intergalactic politics of the Imperium and the Landsraad. At the end of Dune, although he helps the Fremen cause and protects the Atreides from destruction by the Harkonnen, Paul is nonetheless forever trapped in his role as the Muad’Dib. The simple happiness he craves with Chani remains unattainable.