Role Reversal: Adults and Children
Maturity, Power, and Knowledge in Ender’s Game

[In this essay, S.B. explores the reversed roles of children and adults in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and argues that Card was making a statement about both war and the government through this change in authority and maturity. The premise is that the mature and empowered children and the less-important and often unknowing adults represent both the foolishness of war, the injury inflicted on the next generation, and the idiocy of politicians and military officers.]

Ender Wiggin was only six when this entire story begins, and twelve when it all ends. Yet, even then, he is far more knowledgeable and mature than most young children. By the end of the novel, he has personally killed two people and injured several others, become one of the world’s most powerful and important people, and destroyed an entire race of aliens known only as “buggers.”

It is unlikely that Orson Scott Card made Ender this young on a whim. Rather than have the hero be a wizened old general or even a young adult prodigy, the hero is only a child. Not only is he ridiculously young, but he also has far more authority than the majority of the adults. He has more intelligence than the adults. The only thing that adults seem to do in the novel is ask him for cooperation and make his life more miserable. It isn’t just Ender, but also Valentine and Peter, his siblings. Card is trying to tell us something important by making the most powerful characters in the novel the last ones we would expect to have the power.

Before analyzing the maturity of the Wiggin children, it’s worth taking a look at the adults in charge of the operation. A notable incident was the end of the Third Invasion. After Ender unknowingly destroys the buggers once and for all, Ender remarks on how he had removed his headphones, “filled with the cheers of his squadron leaders, and only then realized that there was just as much noise in the room with him” (Card 207). The military, which had been controlling him for so long, is now reduced to the same amount of whooping and hollering as their teenage counterparts, who still do not know that the computer game they just “played” was real. This does two things. First, Card’s description seems to hint that the military isn’t much more mature than the children when it comes to war. Though they know what’s really happening, they seem not to be concerned with the deaths involved. Where Ender knows what he did was terribly wrong, the military is throwing a party. One would be expecting the opposite, for Ender to be cheering with his comrades, only to be approached by the stern and somber officials who had to tell him exactly what he’d done. Instead, Mazer Rackham comes up to him laughing, telling him proudly he’s been fighting a war all along, as if it really was a game. The military seems interested only in their own benefits rather than the reality of the situation. They lack the depth of emotion for others. The childishness seems to push the guilt off the adults as well, who appear to be innocent and carefree. They hardly are.

Also, it gives a sense that the military does not care what needs to be done in order to win. So long as the battle is won, it doesn’t matter how many die or are injured, physically or mentally. Ender, throughout the novel, stresses to himself that he isn’t a killer, yet suddenly he realizes that he is, in fact, just that. Yet no one consoles him. No one cares. Just clean up the remnants and leave, job’s done. While the military shows just how thrilled they are, though, a war begins to brew on Earth. Within 24 hours, the new League War begins. The military was so obsessed with the battle at hand, they gave no thought to the after-effects at all. They appear ruthless and shallow, in contrast to Ender, who can only be devastated by this realization. As Graff and Rackham state later, though,

“We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. […]”
“And it had to be a child, Ender […] Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into a battle with a whole heart. But you didn’t know. We made sure you didn’t know. […] You had to be a weapon, Ender. Like a gun […] functioning perfectly but not knowing what you were aimed at. We aimed you. We’re responsible. If there was something wrong, we did it” (209).

This stresses the terrors of war and human nature. Card is putting in the reason why all of this happened. The only person that would do anything like this would be an unknowing child, too innocent to understand. However, Ender understood everything. He was used by his superiors solely for the purpose of winning a war against another race. The buggers were not evil, though. Ender later comes to realize that everything was a misunderstanding. Yet the military pushed on under the assumption that the buggers were still dangerous. Rackham acknowledged later in that page that he had pushed Ender too hard and too far, but his defense was that there was no telling what may have happened had he not. The ever-useful But-if-we-didn’t defense. Card further attacks this defense by including a full-blown World War not even a day after the end of the Third Invasion. The military abused Ender’s innocent nature as a child, but the only thing it accomplished was to start up a new war, one that sought Ender as either the prospective head of their forces or as a threat that needed to die. Ender himself was destroyed inside. The military’s reasons for using Ender stress how terrible war is, but also call to mind the fact that, if anything, this child was the only hope the world had. Not the military, but this child. The power resided solely in the young boy’s hands. Despite the military not being the ones with the true power, they still took command, and used their power hastily through Ender. Compared to the wise and tactful Ender, the military seems almost childish itself, it its haste to destroy the buggers and in the arguments between officers that peppered the beginning of the chapters. Card might be suggesting that children at least understand the foolish and destructive nature of war where adults acknowledge but still seek to fight. Children have the ability to coexist with each other where adults cannot to agree and do what needs to be done to further humanity as a whole.

One particularly interesting chapter was Dragon, which detailed the beginning of the Dragon “Army” that Ender was eventually the commander of in Battle School. If the ages of the characters were not disclosed to a reader, they might be inclined to think Ender was not only an adult by the way he sounds and talks, but an experienced one, middle-aged even.

“Why are you upside down, soldier? […] I said why are you upside down? […] I said why does every one of you have his feet in the air and his head toward the ground! […] Well what difference is that supposed to make! What difference does it make what the gravity was back in the corridor! Are we going to fight in the corridor? Is there any gravity here? […] That’s what I expected. The only process you’ve mastered is the process of elimination, and the only reason you’ve mastered that is because you can do it in the toilet. What was the circus I saw out here! Did you call that forming up? Did you call that flying? Now everybody, launch and form up on the ceiling! Right now! Move!” (113-114).

Ender was nine and a half years old at the time of these above remarks. Yet he sounds like a 49-year-old general. Later in the novel he speaks with the real military as if he was equal with them, even though he’s only commander of a group of forty minors. He speaks with an incredible authority for one so young. He is able to chew out his superiors, the real military, the people who have been training him for the upcoming Third Invasion. Who exactly sounds like the real army here? Ender and his assigned classmates, or Colonel Graff, who is recorded as having said, “I’m not a commander. I’m a teacher of little children” (110). Card is making a point again how the “children” are in control.

These children, though, cannot be thought of only as children. Rather, they were not young in any way except in age and size, but fully matured adults. As much as he thought he was playing his games near the end of the novel, he was still acting like a seasoned military commander. He gave orders professionally, and all of his friends responded in the same way, professionally and maturely. This is accentuated by Mazer Rackham’s outburst after one game, when he scolded Ender for taking losses after one battle. Though Rackham knew that the game was actually real, he still lost his composure despite being a war veteran, and Ender was able to calmly respond that it was necessary to take risks in order to win. The fact that the “children” appeared this mature, even more mature than the adults, seems to stress again the idiocy of war and the military’s follow orders and question later attitude. The success of the Invasion was attributed to the emotional unity among the soldiers and their admiration and respect for Ender. The adults were simply far too cautious or guilty or something like that, but for some reason the children were able to do what needed to be done. Afterwards they were able to move on and accept reality.
Again, the point seems to be made that children have the intelligence to coexist where adults can only seek for themselves. Children can learn and survive where adults are already far too stubborn. Also, it comes to mind how easily and willingly children respect their superiors. Perhaps it stresses their friendliness to the point where one realizes how easily they, like Ender, can be controlled by adults. It stresses how the adults, though not the ones with power, are still manipulating the future generation ruthlessly for their own gain. The children cannot possibly oppose them as heartlessly.

Ender was not the only intelligent soul, though. His brother Peter was his polar opposite, cruel and merciless where Ender was kind and compassionate. Peter had long been envious of his brother for a long while due to the military’s interest in Ender. While Ender was away, he set to work with their sister, Valentine, on a plot to take over the world. When Peter was twelve and Valentine ten, they set up two net accounts and argued politics as part of Peter’s great scheme to conquer the world. No one knew the true identities of Locke or Demosthenes, but they commanded a great deal of authority quickly. Before long, they had the attention of just about every organization and government in the world, not to mention anyone who read the papers. Even their father couldn’t help but discuss the two great orators’ passages over dinner. These two weren’t even teenagers yet, but their knowledge and skill was enough to get them more power and respect than most politicians. This is obviously a nod toward the masses that are easily opinionated and controlled, and also the politicians that no one trusts anymore, that no one wants to listen to. There is only one thing that a citizen wants to hear, and that’s someone with authority saying his thoughts are right. And for those who are told that his opinions are wrong, they immediately rally up behind someone else, and it becomes easier for the other side to use them. It also remarks on mob mentality and the paranoia that easily sprouts up between different nations. The two children took advantage of the people’s suspicions and opinions, and the government made no attempt to stop them. Either they don’t have any power, are afraid to go after a popular public figure, or are willing to let the people be rallied up for their secret purposes. Perhaps the government was agreeing with Demosthenes, and was ready to go to war as Peter was planning. Regardless, Card is commenting on not only our habit of being quick to action, but also the government’s lack of power or aggressive and manipulative, opportunistic nature. If the people are willing to be incited to action by a child, or if the government is too scared to oppose or is willing to agree with said child, what is the state of the world today?

By the time the Third Invasion ended, Peter was ready to take over all of Earth. However, he was planning originally to set every nation against each other in order to slowly take control piece by piece. It wasn’t until he got the idea to take control via Ender’s popularity of the entire world at once did he end the quarreling and set up a peace treaty. Peter wasn’t that much older than Ender. Nor was Valentine, who assisted Peter in an attempt to keep him under control and could have taken down Peter had she wished. All three of these children had the power to control the entire world. Peter had the world’s governments in the palm of his hand, and Ender was more than capable of running the military. Valentine also proved to be a fantastic orator, and exceedingly popular. Where Ender was designed to stop one great threat, another was already growing behind the front lines. On Earth, a far greater danger had sprouted. The military’s haste to develop Ender and fight the war left them open to Peter’s scheming, which nearly led to a tyranny at home. They created this problem at the same time they created their hero. Also, their hero, which they were so quick to use, became popular enough to destroy them if it was turned against them. This is remarkably similar to Frankenstein in some respects. This serves an additional purpose, to remind us that we have a tendency to support our favorite idols with a little too much enthusiasm. Sometimes we might support a cause without fully knowing what it is, solely because someone we admire supports it as well. Peer pressure is another factor. Once more, mob mentality can endanger us, and turn even a hero into a tool of destruction.

Card is making the military childish and the children mature for several reasons. Firstly, he is reminding today’s society that most of those that fight in war are the next generation. Statistics show that the majority of soldiers in Vietnam, for example, were in their early twenties. This is the generation that is fighting our war. The war of the aged, of the people who allegedly have the power, fought by the young. By the people who have nothing to do with it, the innocent that will wear the blood for the guilty. He is accentuating the infantile bickering that leads to war, the heated tempers and paranoia between governments and citizens of nations. He is stressing that it is because of childish politicians and overeager generals that war is fought. The fact that innocent Ender now becomes a murderer by the end of the novel, a hardened general at the age of twelve, shows just how terrible and corrupting war is. His brother, the truly evil one, is the one that is widely regarded as the arbiter of peace, where Ender is investigated for his cruel and ruthless actions in the war. Card warns us against ourselves, our haste, our occasional lack of judgment. He warns us against simply following the crowd, and speaks out against the government and military, who treat war like a game meant to be won. He speaks out against the sacrifice of the innocent and of innocence itself, which cannot be regained. This novel reminds us of the world we live in, the parts of our world we’d like to ignore. Yet we cannot forget the reality around us. Ender once admonished his companions for facing upward in zero gravity. There is no floor or ceiling. Thus, we too must learn to see things as they are, and adapt. We must not merely follow blindly into the unknown. Card is telling us not to bicker and argue, not to take advantage of others. He is telling us, through this novel, to take responsibility, to make our own path, and to work together for a better future. Humanity needs to understand reality. And there is only one truth we must understand: our single objective in life is to live.

“Remember, the enemy’s gate is down.”

(Ender was outnumbered millions to one in the final Invasion battle.
One of his comrades said this remark, which referred to the sole victory condition of the Battle School simulations.
Ender remembered the games he played before, and charged ahead fearlessly. 205.)

S.B. 2008

Fact and Fiction
Today’s Government Symbolized in Empire

[In this essay, S. B. analyzes the political aspects in Orson Scott Card’s Empire. The argument is that Card’s description of the America in his novel reflects politics today and the various opinions and paranoia of today’s government.]

The United States of America is thrust into its second civil war in the novel, Empire. The President is assassinated by an unknown group and then another unknown group conquers New York and attempts to take control of the entire US. Through this story, Orson Scott Card makes a statement on the current condition of the real United States. He discusses the hidden rift dividing America that could easily, according to this novel, widen into a catastrophe given the right catalyst.

The story is continually veiled in mystery. The identity of the assassins and of the group controlling New York remains an enigma until the end, and even then it is questionable whether or not there is any connection between the two groups or if there are more than two parties involved. The reality is that, though it is easy to suspect a possible group and even a leader of an overseas force, it would be exceedingly difficult to identify one here in the US. A fully internal coup would present a similar mystery that would not be solved easily. If the group responsible is not found and caught at the scene of the crime, it may prove impossible to track them solely because of the amount of trust invested between high-level officials. And any attempt for one group to single another out would lead to even larger conflict.

LaMonte Nielson put it clearest when he explained why he would not take any action against the rebel group:

“The New York City Council has legalized this invasion after the fact and now declares the armed forces of the Progressive Restoration to be the police and defense forces of the entire city, not just Manhattan. Under those circumstances, if we attack or occupy any part of New York, are we liberating or invading? When we fire on their armed forces, are we killing traitors or shooting down New York cops? […] I think tomorrow morning we’ll find that Washington or Oregon, maybe even California, officially ceases to recognize me as President of the United States. If I had declared martial law last night, I think it would be a dead certainty that they [other states] all would” (201, 203).

People understand that politicians have been at each others’ throats for centuries now. It is no different today. The massive swings in current policy accentuate a peaceful but still fierce power struggle between two rival camps. Nixon and the Watergate scandal proved that some politicians are willing to do whatever it takes to remain in power. If Nielson had gone after the rebels, then said rebels would be able to cry “oppression.” The media would be able to depict them as a power-hungry extremist government. If anything like this happened today, there is no doubt that the media would be quick to jump onto the story and print whatever would get them the most money and popularity. The media bias can prove vicious in tearing people and organizations apart, and chasing after government officials and uncovering scandals is already a popular reporter pastime. And there would be several people that would be in full support of the resulting stories, accuracy aside. Imagine political mudslinging from campaign months involved in a civil war for years and years. There would be no way for the conflict to be easily resolved purely due to the media and certain loudmouthed orators and critics, looking for a chance to further their own objectives.

Of course, that doesn’t stop Malich and Cole from telling their story to the news. Regardless of bias, the news commands a good deal of power itself. They can tell us something and the result will be that it sticks with us and we take interest in it, or at least that news corporation’s view of it. Malich revealed his information to the Washington Post, whose lead reporter was considerate enough to give their story a fair run in the already skewing media.

“You two are the only people who even tried to stop this assassination when there was still time to have a chance to stop it. […] So you’ve earned a fair hearing on your completely wacko account. […] I don’t want us to screw around with the headlines or the captions to paint this guy as guilty[…] Unless we get evidence confirming that you really did collaborate with terrorists […] Evidence that satisfies me” (93).

Cole decides to reveal the military’s coup on Bill O’Reilly’s news show, particularly because it will reach the most people. And, sure enough, later in the story he is spared capture solely because one particular guardsman heard what he had to say and believed in it. The media is overwhelmingly important. Too important, perhaps. The threat of bias, the incredible power, and the ease at which information can be distributed (or altered favorably) points to a weakened society. People are too willing to believe what they are told on TV. People are affected too much by it, to the point at which the broadcasting system can easily be turned against us. The novel had it preventing the heroes from saving the nation. Perhaps the media might be capable of tying up people in real life. Perhaps some sinister groups might turn our television-obsessed and news-hungry habits against us, much to our detriment.

Getting off the criticism of the media, we turn to the other group of people, the orators and intellectuals with strong, but not necessarily beneficial opinions. Torrent, who eventually rises to the Presidency, has his own opinions on America. In the beginning of the novel, he obsesses over the comparison of America to the Roman Empire. He lectures his students on how much greater we would be, perhaps, if only we could get past the democratic stage into the empirical stage.

“America is at the end of its republic. Just as the Roman Senate and consuls became incapable of ruling their widespread holdings and fighting off their enemies, so America’s antiquated Constitution is a joke. […] We lurch forward by inertia alone, but if America is to be an enduring polity, it can’t continue this way. […] I’m just saying that if America is going to ever matter to history the way Rome does, instead of being a brief episode like the Sassanid or Chaldean empires, then it will be because we spawn our own Augustus, to rule where right now we only buy and sell” (19-20).

Even at the end of the novel, where we find that he had once taught the final villain, Aldo Verus, the same rhetoric, the protagonists are unsure whether he had some part to play in this revolution. There again could be no way to identify who the enemy is. Torrent plays out perfectly on camera, and manages to, intentionally or not, persuade both parties to unanimously elect him the next president. He uses the media, again, to assure Americans that he will indeed make the nation a better place. Torrent is obsessed with his beliefs, and is not willing to drop them for any reason. He has the intelligence to be able to manipulate people as he wishes, and knows just how to succeed at whatever he is trying to do. And he is determined to do what he believes is best.

Plenty of intellectuals in today’s day and age are in some sort of political camp. Primarily, they are there because they lend credence to the beliefs and theories of the active politicians. However, it is not beyond the capabilities of the intellectuals to take power. They know how things are to be done. They know what needs to happen to achieve optimum results. Scientists working for the government today have proven the effects of global warming. However, there is no denying that some are using their facts for the benefit of politicians, employing results from the worst-case scenarios or stating the facts randomly without explaining what is meant, leaving the public’s imagination to figure everything out. As far as global warming is concerned, there is no doubt that the problem needs to be solved. However, is it even possible to completely fix the process today for tomorrow? Can the future in fifty years be changed in five, considering it has taken us just as much to set the process in motion? How much money and supplies will be needed? And will things really be that catastrophic, without question, when that day does come? The panic button can be pressed easily enough, and so long as smoke is present people will be ready to run. Likewise, if there is no smoke, there will be no panic. Card might be trying to stress how Torrent has kept any smoke emitted carefully concealed in his efforts to take the Presidency. He might be stressing with Torrent’s earlier sermons how he is trying to produce smoke so he has an excuse for making America an empire. Though there is no panic, there is the glory associated with empire. That in itself is enough to make Torrent willing to take power. Card is stressing that we cannot underestimate anyone, and that we again must not believe everything we hear just because it comes from an intelligent being.

General Alton had an interesting conversation with Cole early on in the story.

“The only thing you need to know how to say, […] is ‘Put up your hands or I’ll blow your a-- to h---.’ […] President… If I got taken short without a toilet I wouldn’t even p--- down that man’s throat. […] The latte-sipping ---holes who took over this country by taking over the law schools so that everyone on the bench has been brainwashed into thinking that the written Constitution is nothing but modeling clay, you can shape it into anything you want and what they want is for it to be a nation where marriage between faggots and lesbians is sacred and you can kill babies right up to the moment they’re born and who gives a s--- whether the people vote for it or a constitutional amendment could ever pass!” (104-105).

His conversation, Cole noted later, came off as “so over the top. It’s like he studied the right-wing fanatic playbook” (144). This is a clear example of the political war being fought behind the curtains. Alton’s speech represents the idea that certain camps feel the other is overly extremist, in some shape or form. Alton came across as superconservative perhaps because he thought that his listener might be more likely to take sides against him. He believed that Cole and Malich were not going to be in on their plot, so he figured they’d be in the other camp. Therefore, to act like a superconservative would lead him to bring the idea of a coup to light to further cause the Army to fall under suspicion. Still, the idea is that, not being a conservative ally and therefore obviously a liberal, Cole would seek to take action against those villainous conservatives as part of his duty as a liberal. Or perhaps threaten Cole with the thought that he’s a radical, making him fear that he would be crazy enough to do just that. Perhaps it was because there is a fear of extremists by most rational people that tend to stay in the center. Either way, it reminds us of the superliberals and superconservatives that exist in the world.

When one believes in something strongly, it might drive them to express themselves in an overly enthusiastic way. This can be either by being a loudmouth, as Alton acted, or by taking extreme actions. Regardless of the preference, extremists exist in today’s world. Everyone has or will at some point come across someone that believes so strongly in something, even something radical, that they are almost feral in preserving and advancing it. These people may seem crazy, and we can discredit them, but they are very much sane and capable of rational thought. If these people were exposed to power, they would not hesitate to use it for their own means. And they would not feel any regret about the consequences, whatever they might be. These people are especially dangerous when exposed to the opposite belief, and when the two beliefs are given power simultaneously, a fierce struggle will doubtless ensue. These people do not care what happens so long as what they believe in is brought to fruition. Therefore, we cannot possibly ignore them, because for them to take power would be extremely dangerous and possibly detrimental to the well-being of the nation. We must take them seriously, and not just think, well he’s nuts, at least no one will vote for him. People will, given the right incentive.

Also, we must consider what different parties think of each other. A common electoral question today is, are they liberal/conservative enough? There has to be a certain level of commitment to party platforms in order to get any authority in government processes, and you have to fit neatly into one camp or the other. Thus, it is easy to group people into two separate political parties, but this isn’t always accurate. A common misconception is that a person in that party will undoubtedly believe in everything that party believes in, will flow with that party’s desires and decisions. People might not believe in everything that party believes in, and obviously some people will support certain ideas with different levels of enthusiasm. People cannot be branded simply with a logo or a categorical red or blue stamp. People are unique. Card is likely reminding us that we cannot believe everyone in a set group is a radical supporter of all beliefs. All people in a set group cannot be divided into two separate camps. This division cannot be helpful to us, but rather divide us and make it easier to quarrel and fight. There is no way to identify who is with or against an idea without asking them personally. One can never assume on the basis of red state/blue state.

Thus, this novel is a way of Card telling us that we are not entirely united. There are ways for us to be divided. Believers of extremist, even insane, causes will not hesitate to do what they think needs to be done for the betterment of the world. Our government is not at peace, though there is not the open war that some other nations have. There will always be at least one person crazy enough to wreak havoc like this for their great cause. Card is warning us to look beyond the politicking, to recognize the threats that these people pose. We must take things seriously, and not be quick to blame the government. We are not an empire that can shift between leaders on the whims of some for the prosperity of all. We must come to understand each other, and to know the true enemy when it appears. As Cole stated on The O’Reilly Factor:

“The country might be screwed up, but if you get an order to point your weapon at Americans who are just doing their job, don’t obey that order. Point your weapon at the guy who gave it” (140).

S. B. 2008

Behind the Scenes Work

A Look at the Forces That Created Ender Wiggin in Ender's Game

[In this essay, D.P. discusses Orson Scott Card's opinion about the overseers of Ender's training sacrificing Ender's well being for the good of humanity. Card believes such sacrifice is necessary, but does not approve of it.]

At the beginning of each chapter in “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, the voices of authority and control contemplate Ender’s choices and decisions, and comment on his progress. They are grooming him to be the military genius that will save the world by defeating the alien race known as the buggers. In the process they destroy his innocence, his companionship with his few friends, and his happiness. However they succeed in making him a machine that calculates and adapts to every situation by having him face real life difficulties without aid. He’s put in danger and put under intense stress while he is only eleven years old. It’s mentioned that the actions of his overseers, particularly colonel Graff’s, are illegal and unethical. One example is when they placed Ender in a position where he could be killed unless he behaved mercilessly. When faced with death, Ender killed two people in confrontations that were as controlled as a science experiment. The overseers had purposefully allowed him to by put in danger. Although their intentions were good, these men sacrificed Ender’s well being (and the lives of several other boys) for the well being of humanity. However, if the buggers returned to exterminate the humans, wouldn’t it be worth it to sacrifice the well being of one person for the well being of all of humanity? The courts agreed with this and they were let off the legal charges because their actions were for the good of humanity.

I said I did what I believed was necessary for the preservation of the human race, and it worked; we got the judges to agree that the prosecution had to prove beyond doubt that Ender would have won the war without the training we gave him. After that, it was simple. The exigencies of war.” (Card 304)

Ender is exceptional. No one can even come close to him in terms of skill and intuition. Because of his potential, he is always pushed harder than any normal, or even gifted person, could withstand. The big-wigs and teachers of the students-in-training decide that he must never be allowed to become comfortable during his journey to becoming the supreme commander of Earth’s forces, otherwise he would not be forced to think differently, and would not reach his full potential.

I told you. His isolation can’t be broken. He can never come to believe that anybody will ever help him out, ever. If he once thinks there’s an easy way out, he’s wrecked.” (38)

If Ender was allowed to maintain friends he would have people to support him through difficulties. He is moved from place to place specifically to prevent him from continuing ties with people and to separate him from any social acceptance. Ender must learn that in his battle against the buggers, no one is going to come to save him. He must deal with his problems on his own.

The interesting aspect of these unseen voices that control Ender’s life is the guilt that these instigators of torture feel. They know that what they are doing is wrong.One says,
I think we’re going to screw him up.” (10)
The other then promptly replies,
Of course we are. It’s our job. We’re the wicked witch. We promise ginger bread, but we eat the little ***s alive.” (10)

They wish they could allow Ender to behave as a normal boy. But they also know that the ends justify the means, no pun intended. And so, a moral question is raised. Should these adults be allowed to do this to Ender? Is it acceptable for them to do this morally? It’s even said in the book that Graff wishes he could be Ender’s friend, and help him through these difficulties, but to do so would be to destroy all the work that is being put into him and upon him.

Graff plays a dangerous game. He must balance Ender’s isolation with his leadership, and he must balance his safety with his self-dependence. It’s interesting to note that Graff is under intense strain as well. It’s mentioned that he becomes rather fat by the end of the book. When he’s stressed, he eats. It’s not as if Graff is simply relaxing while Ender is suffering.

Ender Wiggin is ten times smarter and stronger than I am. What I’m doing to him will bring out his genius. If I had to go through it myself, it would crush me” (99).

Graff understands Ender’s pain. Graff especially feels connected to Ender because Graff knows he is the one causing this pain. The moral question of whether it is acceptable to allow Ender to be put through unnatural trials for the good of humanity is of great concern to Graff, the one putting Ender through theses trials.

So as soon as he can cope with a situation, you move him to one he can’t cope with. Doesn’t he get any rest?” (66).

What is Card trying to say by balancing destruction of innocence in one hand and humanity’s only hope for survival in the other? The answer is obvious when one considers the conclusion of the book. Humanity is saved, and Graff and the other adults in charge are let off. Card is saying that sometimes humanity can require that one person take humanity’s entire burden upon himself. It is sometimes necessary to trust someone with the duty to carry mankind forward, as long as that someone is respected and those indebted to that someone ask for forgiveness for their own inability. Graff knows he can endure much less physically and mentally than Ender. He respects Ender for what Ender is going through and, if it wouldn’t conflict with the goals of making Ender independent, would ask for Ender’s forgiveness for the stress he is putting upon Ender.

Thankfully for Graff, Ender ultimately succeeds and overcomes all the obstacles in his way. He was not taken away in a stretcher from the huge mental and physical strain put on him by his overseers. Anything that didn’t kill him made him stronger. In retrospect, Graff and the other overseers made the choice that was in the best interest for the world, and their gambit was a success, so it was a good decision to push Ender in the way they did. One of Ender’s teachers said,

I did it the way I did, and it worked. Memorize that defense, Graff. You may have to use it, too” (299).

But what if Ender was not able to take the heat? What if Ender was killed by one of the students who had it out for him, and no teacher stepped in to help, because they wanted him to deal with his problems on his own? The entire scenario would change. Graff and the others would be sentenced to hard time, and be seen in an entirely different light. Although Card believes that sacrificing the well-being of one for the many is the correct choice, he certainly does not condone such actions, as evidenced by Graff. Graff’s reluctance and dislike of what he is doing to Ender, even though he knows it is for a good cause, the preservation of all of humanity, shows that Card believes that the sacrificing of innocence in some situations is necessary but despicable.

D.P. 2011

A Speaking For Macao

A look at the positive effects of a speaking in Speaker For the Dead

[In this essay D.P. discusses how revealing secrets through a speaking can heal a community and bring people together.]

Orson Scott Card is a unique author of the science fiction genre because his stories’ fortes are the relationships between characters, not the scientific wonders and large scale assaults that are frequent in many books of the same type. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is the protagonist; he is intelligent, understanding, loving, rude, cold, wise, and infallible. Perhaps his character is unrealistic. He is so perfect in everything he does, and has the ability to make what he wants to happen occur. He has access to seemingly unlimited amounts of money, he has the power to attain any information and break through any security, his keen ability to understand the motives and thoughts of people allow him to influence others, and he has the title of speaker, a title that grants him great respect and legal access to the lives of those who it is necessary for him to find out information. There is no one in the universe like Ender Wiggin.

Yet Orson Scott Card’s “Speaker for the Dead” is not a captivating book because of its ever-true protagonist. It is a captivating book because of this character’s relationships with those he meets on the planet ofLusitania, human and non-human characters alike. The forefront of these characters is Novinha, a xenobiologist with a secret. She hated herself for many years because she believed that she had caused her instructor Pipo’s death. She insulated herself not to protect herself, but to protect others from being hurt by the knowledge that she hid. She loved Pipo’s son Libo, but refused to marry him in order to protect him from death. A complicated matter, Libo would gain access to the files regarding the death of his father, which would ultimately lead to his own death, if Libo married Novinha.

He would never promise not to read the files, and even if he made such a promise, he couldn’t keep it. He would surely see what his father saw. He would die.” (Card 266)

The two lovers could not be married, then. She could not stop herself from seeing him however, and committed adultery and had six sons by him. She never told her children about their true father, but endured beatings from her husband, who resented that she loved Libo, and did not care for him at all. Into this chaos came Ender, the Speaker for the Dead. Novinha and her children were forever changed by the way Ender influenced them. They lived in sorrow and depression for so long without hope of reprieve, until he rudely pushed his way into their lives and started to tear, one by one, the secrets from each of them, laying them out for all to see. The speaker cleansed them, and allowed them to love and laugh with each other again. Ender, the speaker for the dead, speaks Novinha’s husband’s death.

A speaker for the dead is someone who tells the unaltered truth about an individual’s life, not adding anything, not overlooking flaws, not ignoring good deeds, nor summarizing events. A speaker attempts to bring everything to light. A speaker for the dead tells the good with the bad, the aspirations, dreams, fears, remorse, and beliefs of the deceased individual, without attempting to hide anything or sway opinion in a direction. The speaker tells their life as it was, unaltered, raw, and pure. A speaker must be able to understand relationships on a deep level. In order to do this, the speaker must love the object of his or her speaking. It is only through the combined requirements of understanding how people function and loving someone that a speaker can piece together who they really were, and speak the truth about them after they have died.

What sets apart a speaking from a normal funeral service or mass? A service or mass recreates the deceased, changing your memory of them, and focusing your attention on a small part of them, or even a part that they never had at all. A funeral focuses on virtue, on the positive traits of the person, disregarding the negative. By doing so the memories and honor of that person are killed, and incomplete (or even inaccurate) perceptions of the person take their place. Instead of being remembered as who they were, they are remembered for what they should have been. While this may be comforting in many instances when someone is going to be forever pained by the secrets kept even in death, it may be better to speak these secrets then to hope they will fade in time. For this reason Ender knows he must free Novinha and her children from their bondage. Ender reveals Novinha’s adultery to the community, and reveals who Novihna’s children’s true father is, shocking everyone in the town, including the children. Instead of causing pain though, this unveiling of truth actually allowed for lasting healing. It was similar to taking out a bullet from a wound, instead of allowing the bullet to stay in the flesh forever and eventually fester. The speaker extracted the guilt and deceit that separated the family, allowing them to finally be open with one another, something they had not happened for the longest time. They loved each other, and for this they loved the speaker.

Bishop Peregrino is shocked by the bluntness of the speaking, but even he acknowledges the fact that it brings the community together.

“Peregrino had felt the power of it, the way the whole community was forced to discover these people that they thought they knew, and then discover them again, and then again; and each revision of the story forced them all to reconceived themselves as well, for they had been part of this story too, had been touched by all the people a hundred, a thousand times, never understanding until now who it was they touched. It was a painful, fearful thing to go through, but in the end it had a curiously calming effect” (Card 269).

The witnesses to the speaking, the ordinary town folk, are brought closer and made to comprehend the life of the deceased and how they played a part in it, albeit a negative one. Novinha’s family, which was long considered estranged, is brought back to the community, which has nothing to berate them for, as they are all wiped clean, and the truth is known about everyone. As a community they mistreated Marcao, and by understanding this they honor him more than by putting forth fake sorrow.

A speaking is an opportunity for learning, an opportunity for compassion, for communion. It brings people closer because it eliminates what keeps people apart: secrets. A secret can be a monstrous thing, and can prevent a relationship from taking root. Novinha was forced to keep the documents on Pipo’s death secret from Libo, but by doing so she alienated herself from him, and destroyed their chance to live and love in peace. This secret grew and grew until it encompassed not just her relationship with Libo. It choked her relationships with all six of her children, and caused her to behave cruelly toward Marcao.

What kind of person could have been so precise, so adept at understanding, and so heartless as to expose every secret hidden in the darkness? Ender Wiggin, the original Speaker for the Dead, the killer of billions of the alien race known as the buggers, and author of “The Hive Queen”, which Ender wrote in an effort to somehow begin to make amends for what he unintentionally did, being tricked by humanity to destroy an intelligent race. It’s interesting that the role of Speaker for the Dead was created by Ender the Xenocide. Yet who else could understand enough about the buggers to write about them? Ender was able to defeat the buggers because he loved them. He understood them. Ender could have been content to stay away from society after murdering billions of “ramen” (intelligent beings), and lament his actions. But he used his abilities to help others. He used his understanding of others and his capabilities of cruelty, in order to heal.

Ender changed Novinha’s family with a combination of kindness and cruelty. He changed them into happier people, people who trust and love and who are confident in the future. He describes Novinha shortly after her secrets are revealed.

Ender could see in her face, in the relaxation of her movement, in the steadiness of her gaze, that the end of her long deception was indeed the gift he had hoped, had believed it would be. I did not come to hurt you, Novihna, and I’m glad to see that my speaking has brought you better things than shame.” (295)

But what did he really do? He talked to them, got to know them, and set them free from past grievances. He gave them a clean slate, and encouraged them to write on it. He did what everyone should do: He told the truth.

D.P. 2011

The Path More Often Traveled
Underlying Lack of Freedom and Choice in Pathfinder

[In this essay A.H. discusses the indistinct but ever-present lack of choice and restriction of freedom in Pathfinder; and how Orson Scott Card uses irony to pierce the illusion of freedom that some people seem to have.]

On the surface, Pathfinder appears to be a book about breaking free from the control of others, discovering one’s identity, and forging your own path. Superficially, everything seems to contribute to this; the protagonist sets out on a journey into the unknown, developing his identity and individuality along the way. His unusual ability to see the paths that others take and his decision to journey beyond the overwhelming and oppressive presence of the wall and those within the wallfold also contribute to this. Superficially. The whole story, when taken in context of the ending and Orson Scott Card’s subtle use of irony reveal illusions of freedom and a startling lack of control over one’s destiny prevalent throughout the novel.

Pathfinder features many interesting and unique characters, the most notable of which is Rigg, the protagonist. Rigg possesses the unusual ability to see the paths of others, “…thin shimmering trails in the air that [mark] the passage of living creatures through the world.” (Card 1) He also shows an unbelievable aptitude for putting on the manner of other social classes, and a startling knowledge of the world. Out of all the characters in Pathfinder, Rigg is the one who appears to have the most control over his destiny, shown aptly when he deftly manipulates a shrewd banker by reading the social situation and preying upon the banker’s insecurities.

“Holding that gem, he tightened the bag’s mouth, tucked it back down his trousers, and strode around the table. ‘Here, sir,’ he said, ‘let’s look at this by the light of the window.’ It was generous, for a man of the status that Rigg was pretending to have, to walk around the table himself to show the jewel to Cooper. Thus, a moment after diminishing the other man, Rigg made him feel that he was respected in turn, and perhaps even liked by this rich young stranger. […] Before Mr. Cooper could sit in his chair, Rigg deftly slid it back out of reach of the table. ‘Let’s not have the back of the chair blocking any of the light,’ he said.” (161)

Upon seeing how much control Rigg has over other people, one might assume that he has equal, if not greater control over his own life; in fact this opinion would be strengthened upon encountering other similar situations throughout the book where Rigg skillfully manipulates situations that would be far beyond the capabilities of any normal person. But ironically, despite his apparent freedom of choice, Rigg spends the majority of the book using his “pathfinding” ability to follow the paths that others have left before him, as opposed to creating his own. Furthermore, Rigg systematically refers to the teachings of his mentor, a mysterious man who was only known as “Father.” Whenever a new or unusual situation presents itself to Rigg he predictably falls back on advice that Father had given him. In the banker incident alone, Rigg mentions Father no less than thirteen times, and relies on his advice at least seventeen times. For an individual who is supposed to be developing his identity and striking out on a path of his own, Rigg relies heavily on the wisdom of another person and the paths of other people.

Another element of Pathfinder worth taking note of is the passage at the beginning of each chapter, documenting the travel of Ram Odin and the expendables to Garden. The expendables are nearly immortal human creations designed only to serve. “Once engineered to do work that might kill an irreplaceable human being, the expendables had now been so vastly improved that they could outlive and outwork any human.”(17) Having been designed only to serve, the lack of freedom in the expendables is evident and obvious. This is completely contrary to Ram Odin, the only character that actually retains any real freedom. Throughout his journey through space, Ram makes his own decisions and goes where no man has gone before; Ram is the only character not restrained by external influences… until his memories are lost in cryogenic stasis. When he wakes up from stasis, the only true freedom experienced in the entire novel is snuffed out immediately, and his actions thereafter are presumably directed by the expendables, beings with no will or choice of their own.

Rigg and co. are obviously under a certain degree of control while in Aressa Sessamo, being required to watch exactly what they say, and around whom. A single false move could provoke the Revolutionary Council to do away with them. The Revolutionary Council itself is a fairly unusual specimen; it was set up to serve as a democratic republic, to give the people a choice after overthrowing the monarch. Corrupt as it is, many people still support it, this spells trouble for Rigg especially, as he only recently learned that he is of royal heritage. Aressa Sessamo may be where the permeating oppression and control are most obvious, and ordinarily escape from such a place would indicate progression towards developing a sense of self and individuality, a step toward greater freedom. The opposite is true, the restrictions on the protagonists’ freedoms return to the self-imposed sinister nature present in the first half of the book. As the protagonists approach the wall, a mysterious structure that keeps people from crossing by being an insurmountable mental barrier as opposed to a physical one, descriptions of their surroundings grow more and more desperate, and living creatures become increasingly sparse. The wall of course represents another restriction on freedom, limiting the growth of nations as various sources have limited Rigg’s personal growth. The moment that Rigg and his associates cross the wall should be one of triumph, and it is, for a moment before new shackles are placed on the protagonists by the expendables in the guise of serving the greater cause of humanity. Taking down the walls, which would ordinarily be a noble quest, takes on the nature of a slave’s labors imposed cruelly by his master. The protagonists emerged from oppression only to be oppressed in a different manner. Father, an expendable himself planned to have Rigg leave the wallfold from the beginning, and every decision since then has only been in an illusion of freedom.

In a book that superficially appears to be about the journey and development of its characters, Orson Scott Card uses subtle irony to express the illusion of freedom that many people seem to have. Though this book could easily be interpreted as a work about “forging your own path” the underlying theme remains one of carefully veiled oppression and following a path that was already set out for you.

“Rigg gathered the jewels. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We know exactly why we’re here. We just don’t know why you think we’re here, or why Father- the Golden Man- why he gave me the jewels and set us on this path.’
‘We choose our own purposes now,’ said Param.
‘We’ll see how that works out for you,’ said the expendable.” (652)

A.H. 2014

Ender’s Game: Communication and How it is a Key to Peace

In this essay W.S. discusses how Orson Scott Card, through the use of dialogue, comments that in order for peace there must be communication.

Communication is the most quintessential key to cooperation and Orson Scott Card develops this in Ender’s Game by revealing it is the one reason the enemy had the advantage, and the one reason they are fighting.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card delves into the world of Ender Wiggin a government owned genius who must save humanity when he is only 11. Ender is born into a unified world where he is government property and was born to command the Earth’s fleet to defeat the Formics. The Formics are a species of xenomorph that resemble giant sentient ants that have attacked the humans twice threatening their existence. These “buggers”, as they are called by humanity, are far more advanced than the humans were when they first attacked and can communicate instantaneously, even across the galaxy, giving these creatures the unique ability to act as one giant organism with a single brain, the queen. This unique way of communicating gave the buggers no need for any language or machinery for communicating since it is part of their body. This is the reason the humans are fighting them because even with their greatest efforts they have found no way possible to communicate with them trying to find their intentions or ways to make peace, even after making the ansible which mimics the bugger’s ability to communicate. “‘So the whole war is because we can’t talk to each other?’ ‘If the other fellow can’t tell you his story, you can never be sure if he isn’t trying to kill you’” (253). This reveal to Ender is very important in the novel because it shows that the only reason the humans are fighting is because there is no communication to know what is happening. This can be related to modern day conflicts because although people may be able to talk to each other it does not mean that their message is understood or agreed upon and thus conflict ensues.

One thing in the novel that has been since near the beginning is a simulation for students that allow them to solve problems and as they continue the computer will continuously generate problems to help reveal certain things to the teachers and students whether they realize it or not. Ender played this game often throughout the novel in his free time and his experience in this game was far different from everyone else’s because he managed to find unknown territory to the teachers causing them to wonder what the computer was trying to reveal. This dilemma was never resolved for the teachers, but for Ender it was in the end when he was on a bugger planet after he won the war and wiped out there species. Because of the ansible the buggers were able to find a way to communicate with Ender, and they accomplished this by taking what he saw in this game and creating it for him to follow. Although these aliens had no form of outside communication they were able to leave a message in Ender’s head that they learned their mistake in the second invasion and only wanted peace, but could not find a way to communicate until they found Ender, their key to another beginning, which is quite ironic. “We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals that cannot dream each other’s dreams” (321). When the buggers first found the humans they murdered and examined them, but they did not know what they were doing was wrong and once they found out the truth they did not wish for violence anymore. The humans could have never found this out though and because of that the humans took their chances and wiped out the entire race, except for a cocooned queen the buggers left for Ender to give them a new peaceful beginning where communication is possible so peace can be achieved.

Another situation that arose from lack of communication in the novel was the conflict between Ender and his former Spanish commander Bonzo Madrid. Bonzo is Spanish which in this novel creates a character who prides himself for being an honorable person. The issue arises when after a loss to Ender there is no communication, only anger, but that anger is directed somewhere else. “Only as Ender himself was leaving the battleroom did he realize that Bonzo would not realize that Ender was angry at the teachers” (194). Ender left without congratulating him on the fight because the teachers gave Ender unfair odds to work against so naturally he was upset with the teachers, and this caused him to leave abruptly after Bonzos embarrassing defeat. This miscommunication or lack thereof caused Bonzo to attack Ender while he was in the shower. Bonzo wished to kill Ender because of the lack of honor he had shown him, but instead it was Ender who killed Bonzo. This conflict was caused by no communication and could have easily been avoided if only those involved had bothered to at all.

Communication is key, and ultimately without it as Ender’s Game shows wars can occur, people can die, and people can be broken. This whole war in the novel was started because there was no communication, but with it it could have been ended. In today’s world, or any world without communication there is lack of basic structure and peace. Communication is how the human race managed to thrive and evolve, and without it people fight. If people can communicate and people can listen to what is meant, not said then there can be peace. “If we had kissed, it would have been the miracle to make us human in each other’s eyes. Instead we killed each other” (322).

(W.S. 2016)