Ender's Game

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Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
For Further Study

Orson Scott Card


Orson Scott Card first wrote Ender's Game as a short story in 1975. He submitted the work to a leading science fiction magazine, Analog, hoping to make some money to help pay his school debts. Not only did Analog publish the story, the 1977 World Science Fiction Convention nominated it for a Hugo Award and gave Card the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. In 1985, the author developed Ender's Game into a novel, and it became the work which established his reputation as one of science fiction's most prominent new writers. This longer version swept both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, the most prestigious accolades given to science fiction and fantasy works. A favorite with readers, the novel has inspired three additional works featuring Ender Wiggin and his struggles to understand the universe.

Ender's Game follows the training of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, a six-year-old genius who may be Earth's only hope for victory against an invasion of insectoid aliens. While most critics consider the plot elements of human-against-alien and the child-soldier to be science-fiction cliché, Card renders them new with his stress on the underlying themes of empathy, compassion, and moral intent. It is only Ender's ability to empathize with the "buggers" that enables him to overcome them, and the reader experiences his solitude, anguish, and remorse over his various "victories." As a result, Michael Collings noted in the Fantasy Review, the novel "succeed[s] equally as straightforward SF adventure and as [an] allegorical, analogical disquisition … on humanity, morality, salvation, and redemption."

Author Biography

Born to Willard and Peggy Card on August 24, 1951, Card grew up in Utah, where he was raised in the Mormon faith. When he was sixteen, he read Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, which had a profound effect on his thinking about the future. The plot of Foundation implies that history repeats itself, regardless of the people involved or the specific situations that they encounter. Asimov softens this message through his idea that humans can learn these patterns and work to minimize the most harmful effects of change. Since Card's Mormon beliefs hold that people are basically good, he liked Asimov's notion that human beings are capable of overcoming adversity through self-improvement and cooperation. As a result of his thinking about Asimov's message, Card decided he wanted to write stories that would affect others in the positive way that Asimov's writing had affected him.

At the time, he focused on military topics. His brother served in the army, and Card had read Bruce Catton's three-volume Army of the Potomac. He learned from his reading that leadership makes the difference in an army's success. This led him to think about how future leaders would successfully train their armies, particularly for battles in space. His thinking led to his creation of the Battle Room in Ender's Game, where the children-warriors practice for three-dimensional warfare with three-dimensional games. The young Card had little experience writing, however, and the idea would remain undeveloped for almost ten years.

Card graduated from high school as a junior in 1968 and went on to study archaeology at Brigham Young University. He soon found he preferred writing plays to digging for artifacts and studied theater instead. After returning from a stint as a Mormon missionary in Brazil, Card graduated with distinction from Brigham Young University in 1975. The "Battle Room" had lived in the back of Card's mind since he first imagined it as a boy of sixteen. In debt for his college education, he decided to try to incorporate the Battle Room idea into a story. He began the short-story version of Ender's Game on an afternoon outing with a friend and her children. The short-story version won Card the 1977 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, which launched his career. That same year Card married his wife, Kristine. The couple are the parents of five children.

Card had published five novels to little notice when he began reworking the story "Ender's Game" into a novel. He intended the work to set up his second novel featuring Ender Wiggin, Speaker for the Dead. The success of the novel version surprised Card, winning both the Nebula (1985) and Hugo (1986) awards. The author achieved an unprecedented "double-double" when Speaker for the Dead duplicated the sweep the following year. Since then, Card has continued to write science fiction, while also branching out into fantasy, horror, and mainstream fiction. He has also penned an award-winning guide to writing science fiction and fantasy, and frequently contributes columns to various writing, genre, and computing magazines.

Plot Summary


Each chapter of Ender's Game opens with a conversation between the government officials who are responsible for finding a military genius to lead Earth to victory against the alien "bugger" fleet. From these conversations, the reader learns that Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is considered humanity's best hope for such a leader. It is also made clear that these officials will isolate and test Ender as much as possible to mold him into the effective military leader they so desperately need.

Ender's story opens as he is finally losing the monitor implanted in the base of his neck, a device which allows government officials to see and hear whatever he experiences. He is later than most in having the device removed—six years old—thus separating him from his peers. He is also the third child of his family, in a futuristic society that seldom allows more than two children. Although Ender is a legal 'Third," he is still an object of scorn and derision. After the monitor is removed, an older, bigger boy, Stilson, leads a group of bullies against Ender. Ender fights him viciously, attempting to discourage further attacks in the future. (The fact that Stilson dies in the process is not revealed until the book's later chapters.)

At home, Ender's older sister Valentine sympathizes with him, but his sadistic brother Peter brutalizes him and says that someday he will kill Ender and Valentine. The following day, Colonial Hyrum Graff of the International Fleet comes to the house and convinces Ender to accompany him to Battle School. There he will train to fight the Buggers, a race of insect-like aliens that has invaded Earth twice already and nearly destroyed humankind. Ender agrees to go, due to a combination of three things: love for his sister; fear of his brother; and the knowledge that his conception as a Third was only allowed because it might produce a qualified candidate for the school. In the space-ship that takes new cadets to the orbiting Battle School, Graff shows preferential treatment to Ender. An older boy bullies Ender because of this, and Ender responds too hard for the weightlessness of space, breaking the other boy's arm. Even before entering the school, Ender has once again been set apart from the other children.

Battle School

From the first, Ender is the object of bullying at Battle School, in part because the school's leaders intend for him to be isolated and feared. He wins some respect by devising clever new strategies in battle simulation games and for cracking the security codes on his tormentors' computer files. He and his fellow beginners, called "Launchies," are finally introduced to the null-gravity battleroom, where the older recruits learn strategy by conducting battles against each other's armies. Just as Ender begins making friends, he is promoted from the Launchies into a student army, the Salamanders. Not quite seven, he is at least a year early for the promotion. He becomes an outcast once again; his commander, Bonzo Madrid, forbids him to participate in battles and vows to trade him away at the earliest opportunity.

A fellow soldier in his army, Petra Arkanian, helps Ender learn some of the basics of fighting in the battleroom. Forbidden to work with the Salamander Army, Ender begins practicing with his old Launchy comrades. Ender later wins a crucial battle by disregarding Bonzo's orders. From then on, Ender's imaginative strategies draw attention to him as he is transferred from one army to another, absorbing effective and ineffective military techniques by observing his commanders. Some of the older children resent him, however, and try to break up his Launchy session. He is once again forced into violence to protect himself. The frustration he feels spills over into the fantasy computer game he plays, and Ender fears he is becoming a cold-blooded killer like his brother Peter.

When Ender is given command of his own army it is not, as usual, manned with soldiers from other armies, but is filled with new recruits; they are inexperienced but intelligent and inventive, and not held down by outdated strategies. The maneuvers Ender devises are imaginative and complex, and his Dragon Army maintains a perfect record. The Battle School rules change to keep pressure on Ender's army: instead of getting three months to prepare for their first battle, they are given a few weeks; instead of fighting every second week they face other armies daily; finally, they have to face two opposing armies at once. Ender resents the way the game changes to challenge him, but he adapts new strategies and wins. The other commanders resent his success, and a group of boys, led by Bonzo Madrid, confront Ender in the shower. Ender defends himself, and, as with Stilson on Earth, he is not told that he has left the other boy dead.


While Ender has been growing up at Battle School, his twelve-year-old brother Peter has been concocting a plot to gain political power. Peter has noticed that, despite international cooperation in the war against the aliens, the Russians seem to be maneuvering troops for a war. He and ten-year-old Valentine devise fictitious personalities, Locke and Demosthenes, to publish political essays on the internet. Valentine's character, Demosthenes, is more radical and favors war, which is the opposite of what she really believes. Locke, on the other hand, is tolerant in a way Peter is not. Their essays are so persuasive that soon major news organizations are carrying columns by them both. Their views are cited in political speeches, their thoughts are affecting policy decisions, and no one suspects that the writers are children.

Ender, his spirit broken by the increasingly meaningless battle games and by his own surprising cruelty in the fight with Bonzo Madrid, graduates from Battle School. He returns to Earth and is allowed to rest for a few months, but he refuses to co-operate with the military any more. Colonial Graff brings Valentine, now twelve, to see him at the lake cabin where he is kept. They have a discussion while Ender agonizes over all that is being asked of him. Out of concern for all manlind, especially his sister, and for the natural beauty of planet Earth, he agrees to continue with his training.


Ender is taken to the International Fleet's command post on Eros, where top secret plans are explained to him. He is told of the First and Second Invasions. In the First Invasion the enemy was defeated because they were surprised to find humans capable of intelligence. The hero of the Second Invasion, Mazer Rackham, teaches Ender that he won the war because of a lucky hunch. Guessing that the Buggers would behave like insects, he destroyed the invasion's central ship, killing the queen and thereby shutting down the mental abilities of their entire fleet. Currently, Ender is told, the Earth is invading the Buggers' home planet, with ships that left five years earlier. They will be within attacking distance very soon, which is why Ender's training has been at such an accelerated pace.

For over a year, Ender studies alone, tutored by individuals and tested by more realistic computer simulations. He trains with Mazer Rackham, and learns more about his Bugger opponents. Eventually, he is reunited with his closest and most respected colleagues from the Battle School. Together they compete against what seems to be a series of computer simulations. While Ender's forces always win, his dreams are tormented by visions of the buggers. He stumbles through his training until he is posed with a "final exam." After winning this last, particularly difficult battle, Ender is told that he has not been playing against the computer for months. Instead, he has been leading the invading fleet, and he has just destroyed the Buggers' home planet, wiping their race into extinction. He is eleven.

The Colony

After the war, Ender stays on Eros, but he receives word of wars on Earth, where he is known worldwide as the hero who saved the human race. Ender is promoted to admiral, and so the truth cannot be kept from him any more. He watches Colonel Graff on trial for war crimes and child abuse, and sees broadcast footage of himself killing Stilson and Bonzo. He learns about a worldwide peace treaty engineered by Locke, whom he knows is his brother Peter. He knows he can never return home, as Peter will attempt to make him a political pawn. He is also uncomfortable with the admiration he is receiving for having murdered an entire sentient race.

Valentine comes to him, however, and suggests that he join her as part of the first colonial expedition to occupy one of the Buggers' planets. At the new colony, Valentine becomes an historian and Ender becomes the colony's governor. Years pass, until Ender comes across a familiar structure while looking for land for a new colony: it is an abandoned city, built inside the decayed skeleton of a giant. It is an exact duplicate of a scene that haunted him from the video game he played in Battle School. He realizes that the Buggers were able to monitor his game, that they knew he would come to destroy them, and so they built this imitation as a sign to him.

At a symbolic place in the city he finds a Bugger queen egg, and it communicates with him telepathically. He takes the egg with him, promising to let it hatch when he can find some place safe for it. To atone for his crime, he writes a book telling the Hive Queen's story, signing it "Speaker for the Dead." After Ender's brother Peter dies, having ruled Earth as the Hegemon, Ender writes a similar book, again signing it anonymously. A religion forms around the writings, even though nobody knows who wrote them. Speakers for the Dead arise to interpret the lives, in all their goodness and cruelty, of people who have passed. Seeking a new home for the Queen, Ender takes Valentine, now a historian, into space. There they travel the galaxy, learning and interpreting the stories of the living and the dead.



A member of Ender's Launchy group, Alai is originally Bernard's best friend. Alai comes to appreciate Ender's many talents and becomes leader of a group that includes both Bernard's in-group and Ender's outcasts. When Ender gets assigned to Salamander Army, Alai reveals his true friendship in a hug and a whispered "Salaam": "Whatever it meant to Alai, Ender knew that it was sacred; that he had uncovered himself for Ender, as Ender's mother had done, when he was very young." Alai's voice is the first Ender hears when he is finally allowed to work with others at Command School.

Major Anderson

Major Anderson assists Colonel Graff in commanding the Battle School. Anderson runs the "games," and is upset when Graff disturbs their rules in order to develop Ender's potential. After Ender's fight with Bonzo, Major Anderson is promoted to colonel and takes over command of the Battle School. After the war, it is implied he will become commissioner of a football league.

Petra Arkanian

The only girl and the best shooter in Salamander Army, Petra possesses enough courage to stand up to Bonzo. She befriends Ender and teaches him her sharpshooting skills. She later commands Phoenix Army while Ender is a member. She is a very good soldier, but cracks under the pressure of the Command School battles anyway. Her collapse reminds Ender he must remember the limitations of his commanders: "As he eased the pressure on them, he increased the pressure on himself."


Bean, the smallest soldier in Ender's Dragon Army, gets Ender's attention immediately by demonstrating his quick adaptation to instructions in the Battle Room. Not only is Bean smart, he is cocky and rebellious. Recognizing Bean's leadership potential, Ender treats Bean the same way Graff treated Ender—to toughen Bean and force him to separate from the others. Ender recognizes this, however, and thinks of Bean, "When the time is right you'll find that I'm your friend, and you are the soldier you want to be." Bean becomes one of Ender's best soldiers and leads one of his best platoons. Ender later reveals some of his worries to Bean and entrusts him with a special squad of Dragon Army. Bean joins Ender in the final game.


Ender first meets Bernard, a fellow Battle School candidate from France, on the shuttle transport. Bernard targets Ender for punishment because Graff has spoken so highly of him. Bernard attacks Ender on the shuttle, but Ender has adjusted more quickly to the null gravity conditions. As a result, Ender accidentally breaks Bernard's arm in reaction to Bernard's blows. Bernard and his sadistic friends quickly become Ender's enemies at Battle School. Ender fights back using the computer, and later Bernard becomes one of Alai's group. His resentment continues, however, and he is present during the confrontation with Bonzo in the showers.


"Buggers" is the name humans have given to the insect-like organisms who have twice attacked the Earth. While they evolved on another planet, they could easily have developed on Earth, having a genetic makeup similar to that of Earth insects. They look like Earth insects but have internal skeletons. During the Second Invasion, Mazer Rackham discovered the key to defeating them was to destroy their queen. Their starships represent great technological know-how, but there is no evidence that they use any communication devices. They seem to be able to communicate with each other telepathically. Ender discovers this is true when he discovers the queen egg they left behind for him. He cannot reawaken her yet, however, for everyone fears their capabilities. Instead, he writes her story for all to understand.

Media Adaptations

  • Mark Rolston narrates Ender's Game in an abridged three-hour audiotaped version adapted by Audio Renaissance Tapes, Inc., in 1991.
  • Card has authored a screenplay based on Ender's Game; as of 1998 he was working with Chartoff Productions and Fresco Pictures to produce the film.

Carn Carby

Carn Carby commands Rabbit Army, the first one Ender's Dragon Army faces in battle. Ender is impressed with how honorably Carn accepts his defeat at Ender's hands. Carn helps command in the final battle.


Dap is the "mom" assigned to Ender's Launch group. He introduces the Launchies to how things work at the Battle School, and comforts some of the boys on their first night. Ender makes sure not to show any sign of weakness before him.

Colonel Hyrum Graff

Colonel Graff directs primary training at the Battle School. Ender thinks of him as the principal of the Battle School and likes him right away. He believes that because Graff is honest with him, he will be Ender's friend. Colonel Graff, however, soon shows Ender that he should trust no one. Graff praises Ender so much on the shuttle to Battle School that he turns all the other boys against Ender. He also engineers Ender's isolation at the school. Even though Colonel Graff does consider himself the students' friend and truly worries about their mental welfare, he has to keep his mission in mind. As a result, he is gruff with the students and demanding of them, trying to teach them to be tough. Colonel Graff faces a court-martial after Bonzo's death in Battle School, but is acquitted.

Hot Soup

See Han Tzu


See Peter Wiggin

Bonzo Madrid

Commander of the Salamander Army, Bonzo Madrid stands tal and slender, with black eyes and delicate lips. His beauty hides his cruel nature. He resents Ender's being assigned to him from the beginning and forbids him to participate in the group's battles. He rules Salamander by fear, not respect, and Ender observes that his desire for total control makes him a less effective leader. Bonzo particularly hates it when Ender rescues Salamander from total defeat during a battle; afterwards, he trades Ender to Rat Army. His resentment grows after Ender's Dragon Army humiliates him. He meets Ender again in a deadly battle in the showers.

Dink Meeker

Dink runs the platoon to which Rose the Nose assigns Ender in Rat Army. Dink respects Ender's abilities and has asked that Ender be assigned to him. Dink has turned down command of an army twice before because he fears what it will do to him. Dink knows there is more to life than the Game; he has recognized that the School "doesn't create anything. It just destroys." He also tells Ender of his belief that the I.F. has blown the Bugger menace out of proportion in order to retain power. Nevertheless, Dink leads his platoon well, and he and Ender become friends. Not only does Dink support Ender when Bonzo attacks him in the shower, he assists him in the final battle.

Fly Molo

Fly Molo leads Dragon Army's A platoon. He reappears in the final battle to help Ender fight.

Mazer Rackham

Mazer Rackham commanded the Strike Force, which shattered and destroyed the buggers during the Second Invasion. A half-Maori New Zealander who seemed to come from nowhere, Rackham succeeded in saving the world from destruction. Ender watches the censored films of hero Rackham's battles, continually frustrated that the events of the final battle are kept secret. After the I.F. promotes Ender to commander and Ender masters all the simulator games, the I.F. assigns him a teacher: Mazer Rackham. Rackham shares the secret behind his defeat of the buggers that Ender has already inferred.

Rose the Nose

Rose the Nose is commander of the Rat Army when Ender joins it. Rose is proud of his Jewish heritage and lets everyone know it by mocking himself—partly to forestall anti-Semitic remarks and partly to remind people that all the former military leaders of the International Fleet have been Jewish. His army has little discipline, but it stands in second place when Ender joins it. Nevertheless, he too provides Ender with valuable lessons about how not to command. As Dink says, "He's winning, but that scares him worst of all, because he doesn't know why he's winning."


One of Ender's first real friends in Battle School, Shen gets tormented because he is "small, ambitious, and easily needled." Bernard and his group make fun of the way Shen walks, saying he wriggles like a worm. Ender helps Shen retaliate by using the computer, and later he and Ender join Alai's group and take away Bernard's followers. Shen also joins Ender in the final battle.


The first school bully Ender faces, Stilson teases Ender because he is a Third. After Ender's monitor is removed, Stilson leads a group of boys against Ender. Ender fights him, and beats him severely in order to forestall future retaliation. He does not learn until much later that Stilson died from the assault.

Crazy Tom

Crazy Tom leads Dragon Army's C platoon. Ender is pleased to have his assistance once again in the final battle.

Han Tzu

Hot Soup leads Dragon Army's D platoon. Hot Soup fights along with Ender in the final battle.

Andrew Wiggin

Even from an early age, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin knows he is different from all the children around him. He is the third child in his family, something rarely permitted in his overpopulated country. At six years old, he still wears the monitor the government has implanted to assess whether he is a good candidate for the International Fleet's Battle School. Only children whom the Fleet considers geniuses are so monitored. Because Ender is not just different but also smarter than his peers, he inspires their jealousy and harassment. To survive, he must learn to deal with a series of bullies, beginning with his older brother Peter and continuing with his schoolmate Stilson, his fellow Launchy Bernard, and finally the Battle School commander Bonzo. While he can outwit them one-on-one, when faced with a group he has to resort to physical force. To not just win but to prevent future attacks, Ender ruthlessly assaults and defeats these enemies. It is a lesson the military wants him to learn. As Ender thinks after fighting Bonzo: "Peter might be scum, but Peter had been right, always right; the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can't kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you."

Ender is not like Peter, however, although this is his constant fear. Peter had been too merciless and cruel to enter Battle School, while his sister Valentine had been too sensitive. Ender is like a combination of the two: ruthless enough to earn total victory, but compassionate enough to hate the methods needed to gain it. He is also different from Peter in that he does not always feel the need to win. He only fights when forced to, and takes little pleasure in his victories. When Valentine explains to him how he can defeat his oldest nemesis, Ender replies: "You don't understand.… I don't want to beat Peter.… I want him to love me." Ender continually experiences emotional conflict between his need to protect himself by winning and his fear of becoming a killer. This conflict often manifests itself in Ender's fantasy computer game, an intelligent program that responds to the player's feelings.

Ironically, it is Ender's ability to understand and empathize with other people which makes him such a brilliant strategist. From his first days in Battle School, he observes the other children. He studies the commanders, learns their strengths and weaknesses, and uses this knowledge to defeat them. This ability does not comfort him, however. As he tells Valentine: "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.… And then, in that very moment when I love them … I destroy them." After he discovers his final "game" was actually the battle that exterminated the bugger species, Ender is not sure how to live with himself. It is his empathy which shows him a way: he will join Valentine on a colony ship to a bugger planet. "Maybe if I go there I can understand them better," he tells Valentine. "I stole their future from them; I can only begin to repay by seeing what I can learn from their past." He does so by finding the Hive Queen egg and telling her story. His dual nature allows him to relate "all the good and all the evil" he finds in her story and the stories of those he will understand as a Speaker for the Dead.

Ender Wiggin

See Andrew Wiggin

Peter Wiggin

Ender's older brother, Peter, scares him to death. He is sneaky and manipulative and delights in threatening his younger siblings. Peter is particularly hostile towards Ender, jealous that the I.F. considers Ender superior after his own intelligence was unrecognized. (The Fleet eliminated Peter from their roster of Battle School candidates because of his sadistic nature.) At school, Peter torments other children by finding "what they most feared and [making] sure they faced it often." Peter's cruelty is disguised by his dark and handsome appearance and his ability to hide his actions. After Ender leaves home, Peter learns to act like adults expect him to. Valentine knows he has not really changed, however, for she sees evidence he has been torturing small animals. As he matures, however, Peter learns to be in total control of himself; he only acts out of self-interest, not anger or passion.

Peter understands how to use people's fears to get them to do what he wants. At first he uses this power to bully others, but then he learns to use it to influence people. Although manipulative, Peter is highly intelligent and ambitious. He tells Valentine that having control is "the most important thing to me, it's my greatest gift, I can see where the weak points are, I can see how to get in and use them." At twelve years old he knows that he wants to have control of "something worth ruling," and envisions himself as the person who can save mankind from self-destruction. He forms a plan where he and his sister will influence political opinion through their writings. Ironically, the identity Peter adopts, the pseudonym "Locke," is more understanding than he really is. The subterfuge eventually mellows Peter, and later in life he does become ruler of Earth.


See Shen


Alienation and Loneliness

From the beginning of the story, Ender feels alienated from almost everyone around him. First, he is a "Third"—an extra child that under ordinary circumstances would not be allowed in school. In addition, the International Fleet has branded him as different by implanting a device that monitors his every move. Other children, including Ender's brother Peter, understand that the gifted Ender is being considered for selection to the Battle School. This creates jealousy, making him a target for bullies. They delight in tormenting Ender, especially when the monitor is removed and they think that Ender is a failure. Not only does Ender have to endure ridicule at school, he also faces it at home from Peter. Although his sister Valentine comforts him and commiserates with him, she does not receive the same treatment from their brother as Ender does.

Ender's solitude is crucial to his development as a military leader. "His isolation can't be broken," one of the school supervisors says. "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." As a result, the International Fleet deliberately isolates Ender at the Battle School. Even before Ender's arrival, Colonel Graff deliberately praises him so that the other boys on the transport will resent him. As soon as Ender begins to make friends within one group, he is transferred to another. All the other students recognize that Ender has a genius that they do not possess; even when they do not resent him for it, they still hold him in awe. When Ender is given command of an army, he is further isolated by his inability to share the burdens of command. Even Ender's success against the buggers alienates him; the celebrity and guilt it bestows on him ensures he will always be different from everyone else around him.

Good and Evil

Throughout Ender's Game, the line between good and evil acts is continually blurred. Is it acceptable to commit an evil act in order to protect oneself? To find a military commander who will save humanity from the buggers, the International Fleet separates children from their families, while their "teachers" manipulate the emotions of children. These despicable acts seem acceptable, however, because they occur to bring about an eventual good for all mankind. Ender himself embodies these contradictory impulses. In order to protect himself from harm, he kills two other children. He also ends up destroying an entire species of beings. Ender remains a sympathetic character, however, because he both recognizes and fears his own potential for evil. After his first confrontation with older boys ends in violence, he sees Peter's face in his computer game. He tells himself that he is not like Peter, that he does not enjoy the power of violence as Peter does, but he still doubts: "Then a worse fear, that he was a killer, only better at it than Peter ever was; that it was this very trait that pleased the teachers."


The blurred lines between good and evil also make judgments of guilt and innocence very difficult to make. As a result, punishment is often with-held for acts that might otherwise require some penalty. In Ender's Game, adults do not hold Ender responsible for his actions, hoping to create the perfect military leader. While they do not protect Ender from his enemies, they do protect him from the negative consequences of his battles against them. When Ender fights Stilson, and unknowingly kills him, the adults in charge do nothing—in fact, they keep the knowledge of his crime from him.

This happens to Ender on three other occasions: during the flight to the Battle School when he breaks Bernard's arm; when a group of older boys attempt to break up his Launchy training sessions; and finally when he kills Bonzo. Graff feels he is justified in suspending punishment, for a military leader cannot think about the human cost of his victories. (The public seems to agree, for Graff is acquitted when he is prosecuted for criminal negligence for his role in the deaths.) Nevertheless, Ender himself feels guilty for what he has done: "I'm your tool, and what difference does it make if I hate the part of me that you most need? What difference does it make that when the little serpents killed me in the game, I agreed with them, and was glad."

Topics For Further Study

  • In her review of Ender's Game in Fantasy Review, Elaine Radford criticizes Card, claiming that he fashioned Ender's character after Adolf Hitler's persona. Card refutes Radford's analysis in a response published in the same issue of the magazine. Read both articles. Then write an essay agreeing with either Radford or Card. Your defense should provide solid evidence from the reviews and from the novel itself.
  • Research project: Read the book, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, by Robert G. L. Waite, to which Elaine Radford refers in her review of Ender's Game in Fantasy Review. Locate information related to the psychology of mass murderers. How does Ender Wiggin compare to Hitler and other mass murderers identified in history? Include a chart or other visual presentation describing the results of your research.
  • You are a news broadcaster living in the time after Ender's victorious battle (assuming that news broadcasters would exist); choose a partner to play Ender. You will role play an interview with him. Prior to the interview, prepare your questions and let your partner know the kinds of questions you will ask without giving him the specific details. Your partner should also prepare for the interview so that he can play a credible Ender. Videotape your interview and share it with the class.
  • Ender's Game creates an image of gifted children as being social outcasts. Research the term "gifted" and write a paper that answers the following questions. Who are gifted children? What are their characteristics? Are gifted children outcasts? Why or why not? What are gifted children like as adults? Does the Ender character give a true picture of a gifted child? Why or why not? Give examples from your novel and from your research.
  • What does a "bugger" look like? Consider the description in the novel, as well as research on insect anatomy. Draw or create a model of your vision of a bugger.
  • Are you familiar with a video game that seems to compare to the "game" Ender was playing when he destroyed the buggers? Do one of the following: (1) write a comparison of Ender's game and the game with which you are familiar, or (2) demonstrate the game and draw the comparison through your demonstration.


The value of intelligence is thoroughly examined in Ender's Game. The children whom the International Fleet selects to attend Battle School have high IQs and rank the highest in their classes and schools. Yet, intellectual ability does not always ensure a child's success in Battle School. Children must also possess an ability to adapt quickly to new situations; empathy, or the ability to understand and care for others, is also a valuable character trait. Peter, for example, has the intellect the I.F. requires, and understands people well enough to control them by exploiting their fears. But he condemns those who think differently from him, and his lack of compassion for others prevents him from being selected for the prestigious Battle School. The children who succeed in Battle School, who become the commanders, possess the knowledge, flexibility, and people skills necessary to lead. Ender not only conquers all of the games he plays, he also quickly adjusts to changes in battle schedules and appreciates other students' skills and abilities. By understanding how others think and interact, he becomes a better strategist and a better motivator.


Besides the obvious questions related to murder without punishment, moral and ethical questions related to the manipulation of children and the significance of compassion arise throughout Ender's Game. Even though Ender commits murder and receives no punishment, he does feel remorse. It is Ender's ability to empathize, however, that targets him for the role of a mass murderer. The Battle School leaders know that if Ender can feel compassion for the buggers, he will better understand how they exist and operate. Thus, he will be better able to take advantage of their weaknesses and thus destroy them. As a child, Ender does not fully understand how the adults are using him for their own purposes. As Graff tells him, "We might both do despicable things, Ender, but if humankind survives, then we were good tools." Ender senses this is a half-truth, but Graff adds that "you can worry about the other half after we win this war." The adults' seemingly cold manipulation of Ender and his feelings and their apparent lack of concern for its effects on him comprise controversial themes. Card's attention to these themes separates the novel from many other science fiction offerings.

Heritage and Ancestry

While Ender and his schoolmates are members of an "International Fleet," the heritage of individual characters is still an important factor for many of them. Cooperation between people of different backgrounds is essential for Earth to fight the buggers, and racial strife seems to be a thing of the past, as Alai and Ender exchange slurs as a joke. Ironically, however, in this age of cooperation people still make a point to separate themselves by ancestry. Bernard, for instance, is from a French separatist group who "insisted that the teaching of Standard not begin until the age of four, when the French language patterns were already set. His accent made him exotic and interesting." Rose the Nose makes sure that everyone knows of his Jewish ancestry in an attempt to place himself within a long tradition of successful generals. Similarly, Bonzo Madrid insists on exaggerating his Spanish heritage by following a "macho" code that isolates his one female soldier and permits no shows of weakness. Ender turns this against him when Bonzo brings a gang to confront him in the shower, using Bonzo's pride to make him face him alone.

While others are not so public about their backgrounds, they still play an important role in their lives. Dink Meeker, for instance, is from the Netherlands, a country which has been under Russian control for several generations. As a result, he worries over a potential civil war involving the I.F., which is largely run by American allies. When Ender is promoted from the Launchies, his friend Alai shares a kiss and a whispered "Salaam." Ender senses these are part of a "suppressed religion," and thus the gesture becomes "a gift so sacred that even Ender could not be allowed to understand what it meant." Even Ender's own background plays a factor in the novel, as Graff uses it to convince him to come to Battle School. Ender's father was a Polish Catholic and his mother was a Mormon; they both had to renounce their religion in order to comply with the Population laws. They are secretly proud of having a Third, but are still ashamed of not being able to follow their beliefs more openly. All these details form an ironic commentary on race, religion, and other differences in background, suggesting that no matter how great the need to co-operate together, humanity will still find differences to separate themselves from each other.


Narration/Point of View

Card believes that a breakthrough occurred for him when he discovered that fiction allows the writer to reveal a character's thoughts, whereas play writing does not. Card tells Ender's Game primarily from a third-person ("he/she") point of view, where the narrator can describe scenes involving different characters. Nevertheless, the story most often uses a "limited" point of view, focusing solely on Ender's character. This is useful in creating a greater identification with his character. At times, the narrative very easily slips into a first-person viewpoint by dropping into Ender's thoughts. For example, when Ender first arrives at the Battle School, there is a scene where he is eating with an older boy. The scene begins in the third-person narrative, then switches to reveal Ender's thoughts. "Ender shut up and ate. He didn't like Mick. And he knew there was no chance he would end up like that. Maybe that was what the teachers were planning, but Ender didn't intend to fit in with their plans. I will not be the bugger of my group, Ender thought. I didn't leave Valentine and Mother and Father to come here just to be iced."


Setting is vitally important in the genre of science fiction—not just because it might involve the future or another galaxy, but because it usually involves great social changes. Ender's Game begins on Earth sometime in the future. There are several social changes that are important to Ender's story: the Population laws that restrict the number of children in a family; the technological developments that permit space travel; and, of course, the existence of an alien civilization which has attempted to conquer Earth. These changes form the social setting for Ender's story.

The physical settings spring from these changes as well. Although the story starts on Earth, it continues on space stations both inside and out of Earth's solar system. When the International Fleet comes for Ender, they take him via space shuttle to the Battle School, located in the Asteroid Belt. Next, Ender attends Command School on the planetoid Eros. Eros is a spindle-shaped planet with a smooth surface that absorbs sunlight and converts it to energy; the gravity is one-half that of Earth's. The planetoid was originally developed into a space station by the Buggers during one of their invasions. The final physical setting that has significance is on the bugger planet that Ender and Valentine have helped to colonize. There, Ender finds a landscape that resembles the dead giant from his computer fantasy game. This resemblance leads him to discover the queen egg that will communicate the history of her people to humanity.


The structure of Ender's Game is fairly straightforward, relating events in a fairly linear fashion. Although told in third person, most of these events are portrayed from Ender's perspective so that the reader does not know more than he does. An interesting complement to Ender's story is the conversations between Colonel Graff and his associates that preface each chapter. These conversations provide additional perspective, providing more information to the reader than can be found from Ender's limited point of view. The chapters on Valentine and Peter's efforts bring additional background to the eventual conclusion, involving the adult Ender's new career as a Speaker for the Dead. Some critics, however, have faulted the structure of the novel, in particular the rapid finale. Michael Lassell even goes so far as to say in his Los Angeles Times Book Review that Card "has not mastered structure. His tale is too expansive and detailed throughout—too fascinated by his own hardware—but foreshortened in its conclusion."


The climax of a novel is the point at which the major conflict is resolved. Ender's Game has a particularly dramatic turning point, as Ender not only wins his final "battle" in Command School, but learns that it is actually the victorious conclusion of the Third Invasion. Up until this point Ender, like the reader, believes that he has been playing yet another battle game. While some critics have faulted this climax as a "trick," others find it a logical resolution to the ethical dilemma of the novel. All throughout, Ender has questioned whether his nature is good or evil; his empathy most likely would not have permitted him to annihilate an entire species. Only by remaining ignorant can he perform the task that has been set before him. In revealing the truth at the moment of victory, Ender's Game addresses both the physical and moral conflicts of the story at the same time.


Card feels that his ability to write believable dialogue, developed during his years as a playwright, is another skill that strengthens his writing. Not only does the dialogue allow Card to take different points of view, but it creates tension in scenes and provides the reader with a strong sense of character. For example, in the scene where Ender first meets Bonzo, Bonzo's vicious nature emerges through his speech. The dialogue between Ender and Bonzo sets the stage for their impending battle. Petra's contributions to the conversation establish her character and also add to the tension between Ender and Bonzo.

Historical Context

The Cold War in the 1980s

Ender's Game takes place in Earth's future, one in which all countries are cooperating together to save the planet from alien invasion. Nevertheless, the novel does suggest that the international conflicts of the twentieth century will not be forgotten, as an American hegemony (a group of nations dominated by one) will be pitted against a Second Warsaw Pact, led by the Russians. In this world, Russia rules Eurasia from the Netherlands to Pakistan. Peter believes that Russia is preparing for a "fundamental shift in world order." Once the bugger wars are over, the North American alliances will dissolve, and Russia will take over. This conflict may have seemed inevitable in the early and mid-1980s, when the novel was written. Since the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union had engaged in a "cold war" which involved military buildups but no direct military confrontations. Almost forty years later, this conflict showed few signs of being resolved peacefully.

The two sides of the cold war were led by the democratic United States and the communist Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact, signed in 1955, established an alliance among the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. It served to defend the group against any potential military or economic threats from the West. It also strengthened the Soviet Union's hold over its Eastern European satellites and prevented them from making close ties with the West. On the other side was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which bound Western Europe and the United States together in defense against the communists. From the end of World War II, both the Americans and the Soviets increased their nuclear arsenals, each trying to prevent the other from gaining a military advantage.

The tenseness of the 1950s and 1960s had given way in the 1970s to a limited "detente," or lessening of friction between the two sides. By the 1980s, however, the Cold War began heating up once again. The Soviet Union had invaded neighboring Afghanistan in 1979, leading to increased U.S. fears of spreading communism. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 on a platform that included promises of a tougher stance against the Soviets. Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," and his administration planned for 1.2 trillion dollars in new military spending. The government also proposed a "Strategic Defense Initiative," commonly called "Star Wars," a space-based defensive system that would intercept incoming nuclear mnissiles. These actions were in contrast to public reassurances from the Americans that they wanted to procede with arms reduction treaties, so the Soviets remained nervous of American intentions. It was not until after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 that tensions eased between the two nations. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved, along with the Soviet Union itself, in 1991.

Science and Technology in the 1980s

One of the most startling technological revolutions of the 1980s was the growth of the personal computer. While large mainframe computers had been in use for many years, they were mainly limited to large research facilities. Advances in design made computers smaller and more affordable, and computers became available to a broad spectrum of businesses and individuals. Apple Computer introduced the Apple II, a system designed for home use, in 1977, while IBM countered with the PC (personal computer) in 1981. "Computer literacy"—a familiarity with how computers worked—became a coveted skill among workers, and schools began offering classes in programming. In 1980 there were only 100,000 computers in schools throughout the United States; by 1987, that number had increased to more than two million. In addition, the internet of the 1980s was just a loosely organized system that helped academics and researchers send messages to each other; it was only in the mid-1990s that it became a powerful media available to any home with a computer and a modem. The use of computer games, simulations, school programs, and "nets" in Ender's Game reflects the growing influence that computers were coming to have in the 1980s.

A technological revolution was also happening on the biological frontier during the 1980s. Technical advances in the 1970s had led researchers to better understand how an organism's DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) influences its development. In the 1980s, scientists began applying that knowledge to manipulate the genetic makeup of organisms to create new and improved strains of plants and animals. While this "genetic engineering" led to more productive, disease-resistant crops, people worried about its possible application to humans. The world's first "test-tube baby"—a baby conceived outside its mother's womb—had been born in 1978, and the first U.S. clinic opened two years later. If people could now use science to aid conception, critics wondered, might they not also use it to create babies with "designer genes"? Moral issues surrounding the birth of children also figure in Ender's Game, as Ender's character seems to be a deliberate combination of his two older siblings, ordered by the government to produce the military genius they need.

Religion in the 1980s

The 1980s saw people searching for ways to re-establish traditions in their homes and lives. The 1960s and 1970s had been a time of experimentation and free-style living, and church attendance declined as people began exploring spirituality outside the bounds of organized religion. In the 1980s, however, many individuals wanted a return to a simpler existence, one in which there were fewer surprises. They wanted to be able to believe in something that was never-changing, something dependable around which to structure their lives. Religious conservatives, who became prominent in the 1980s, offered one route toward accomplishing that goal. Increase in fundamentalist faiths increased in the 1980s: a Gallup poll in 1986 showed thirty-one percent of respondents classified themselves as evangelical or "born-again" Christians. This increase was reflected in a growing conservative Christian political movement, which sought to bring moral issues more into the political mainstream. For many people, however, religion became more of a personal expression, and this was reflected in the growth of the "New Age" movement. Interestingly enough, the world of Ender's Game is a world where one's religion has become a matter for embarrassment or even persecution. Both of Ender's parents have had to renounce their faith in order to conform; Alai's whispered "Salaam" similarly seems something outlawed. Ironically, however, this persecution seems to have made their faith even more precious to the characters.

The background of Card's own faith, Mormonism, includes its own bouts of persecution. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was founded in New York in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who published the divine revelations he claimed to have received in The Book of Mormon. The most controversial of Smith's precepts was the practice of polygamy, and Smith and his followers were driven out of communities in New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. A large Mormon settlement was established in Utah in 1847 by Smith's successor, Brigham Young, but they continued to be feared and mistrusted by outsiders, including the federal government. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 dissolved the Mormon Church as a corporate entity, and their leaders had to renounce polygamy before Utah could gain its statehood in 1896. Since then, the Mormon Church has increased ties with more mainstream faiths and has grown considerably; by the end of the 1980s, membership within the church had risen to over seven million members. Nevertheless, Mormons still sometimes suffer prejudice from outsiders who stereotype them or misunderstand their beliefs. Understanding this background can provide an interesting insight into the way religion is portrayed in Ender's Game.

Critical Overview

Ender's Game presents the age-old science-fiction conflict of human against alien. While the plot is time-worn, many critics have observed that Card's storytelling ability, as well as the story's details and characterization, are vivid enough to maintain the reader's interest. Reviewer Roland Green, for example, stated in Booklist that Ender's Game is "a seamless story of compelling power." Card's peers and fans concurred, as the novel won both the Nebula (given by science fiction writers) and Hugo (given by science fiction readers) Awards.

Card originally wrote Ender's Game as a short story that he submitted to the leading science fiction magazine, Analog, after having had one story rejected by the publication. Not only did the editor like Ender's Game enough to publish it, others took notice. The short-story version won for Card the World Science Fiction Convention's John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1977. Encouraged by his success, Card continued to write and to further develop his skills. He began working on the novel Speaker for the Dead and realized that the main character should be Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game. This inspiration led to Card's writing the full version of the short story Ender's Game. When Tor Books published Ender's Game as a full-length novel in 1985, reviewers especially applauded Card's compelling portrayal of Ender as an innocent child being manipulated by controlling adults. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that "long passages focusing on Ender are nearly always enthralling—the details are handled with flair and assurance."

Card depicts Ender as an "abused" child in the sense that adults use him for their own purpose—to save the world for the good of mankind. This manipulation, and the resulting sympathy readers feel for Ender, underlie the "compelling power" about which reviewer Green spoke. Readers can identify with Ender throughout the story, even though he eventually annihilates an entire species of beings. Ender is very much the typical kid—loving and hating his siblings, playing video games, and missing his family when he is separated from them. Yet he possesses a genius and mature assuredness that makes him a target for abuse by peergroup bullies and adults who are in control. Readers feel compelled to side with Ender because he is a child, and because they understand and relate to the problems Ender encounters as a child who is different. In the New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas noted the complexity of Ender's character, stating that "alternately likable and insufferable, he is a convincing little Napoleon in short pants." Tom Easton, in a review in Analog Science Fiction, agreed that Ender is believable if readers withhold their skepticism and remember that "the kid's a genius."

Other critics, however, offer more negative viewpoints. While admirers praised Card's characterization skills and his storytelling ability, his most severe critics denounced his use of violence and standard science-fiction elements. In a segment of Los Angeles Times Book Review, Michael Lassell stated bluntly, "Orson Scott Card is not a great writer, nor does Ender's Game break any new ground." In particular, the critic faulted the climax of Ender's Game as "a trick (on the reader as well as on Ender) for which there is no adequate preparation." Other reviewers have criticized Card's use of violence. Elaine Radford, for instance, views Ender as another brute of history; in her Fantasy Review article, she likened his character to that of Adolf Hitler. She asserted that Ender "goes Hitler one better" because he not only kills an entire race, he also robs them of their heritage. Other reviewers, however, have recognized that Ender's Game does not advocate or apologize for violence, but rather explores the moral issues surrounding its use. Analog's Easton observed that by stressing Ender's empathy, Card saves the novel from becoming a story about a truly ruthless villain. The violence is seen as "evil for the sake of good.… [Card] goes to great pains to shield Ender's childish innocence from truth, to keep us from calling him one more brute of history."

Other reviewers have taken issue with the believability of Ender's character. Some critics felt that although he is gifted, young Ender is still not credible as a child. Lassell noted that while "likeable," the novel's protagonist "is utterly unbelievable as a child his age, genius or no." In contrast, many young readers who have written to Card have applauded him for his realism. Card says in the Introduction to Ender's Game: "They didn't love Ender, or pity Ender (a frequent adult response); they were Ender, all of them. Ender's experience was not foreign or strange to them; in their minds, Ender's life echoed their own lives. The truth of the story was not truth in general, but their truth." Calling the work "the best novel I've read in a long time," Dan K. Moran echoed this assessment in the West Coast Review of Books: "Ender Wiggin is a unique creation. Orson Scott Card has created a character who deserves to be remembered with the likes of Huckleberry Finn. Ender's Game is that good."


David J. Kelly

David J. Kelly is a an English instructor at several colleges in Illinois, as well as a novelist and playwright. In the following essay, he examines why referring to characters as "children " does not necessarily make them well-rendered child characters.

There can be no question that Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game is a graceful and useful piece of fiction, with a convincing sense of time and place that only comes from a writer in complete control of his or her material. To certain fans, Ender's Game is one novel brave enough to really look at children without making them childish. They are relieved that somebody finally got it right, and they praise Card for his unflinching honesty about the cunning and cruelty, the wisdom and humanity, of children. But is it really about children? They are called kids, but they don't act or talk like kids. Card seems to take pride in this, considering it an innovation, as if the only alternative would be having the cadets in the Battle School play marbles and talk baby talk. I suspect that the children in Ender's Game are written as adults and then called kids—like stunt doubles in the movies, fresh-faced, diminutive adults playing the parts of kids, snubbing out their cigars to go out and lick lollipops before the cameras.

Let there be no mistake: I don't object to his characters because I foolishly think they are not any more vicious than kids are in real life, or could be. I can tell the difference between childhood innocence and sweetness, and the first does not necessary lead to the second. In the book, the nastiness that Peter, Stilson, and Bonzo show toward Ender is unprovoked, but it still makes sense as their characters are drawn. It makes sense that children become defensive and cliquish when their place in the world is uncertain. Insecurity is unavoidable in new situations, and in childhood everything is a new situation—maturity is just a matter of recognizing repeating patterns, and without comforting recognition, all these kids have to protect themselves with is violence. Stilson and Bonzo, in particular, lash out for reasons that they themselves would probably not recognize, in response to their insecurity. I accept this as a depiction of children and their behavior, as much as I don't like it.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Card's Speaker for the Dead, published by Tor Books in 1986, follows Ender's Game as its sequel. Ender, still dealing with evil and empathy, tries to find a suitable home for the surviving eggs from the queen of the species he destroyed while trying to prevent the extermination of another intelligent race. This novel also won the Nebula and Hugo Awards.
  • Tor Books published Xenocide, the third novel in Card's Ender series, in 1991. Ender works to save his adopted world from a deadly virus.
  • The final novel in Card's Ender series, Children of the Mind, finds Ender taking a minor role. Published by Tor Books in 1996, the story revolves around a mission to stop a deadly virus from destroying Earth. Two beings built from Ender's consciousness and memory, named after his brother and sister, play the lead characters.
  • Card demonstrates his use of symbolism and allegory in his "Tales of Alvin Maker" series, a fantasy series set in a magical America. The first novel in the series, Seventh Son (1987), tells the story of the seventh son of a seventh son, who possesses the potential to be the defender of evil through his magical powers. This first novel of the series deals with the issue of religion in America.
  • Further volumes in Card's "Tales of Alvin Maker" series include: Red Prophet (1988), which novel focuses on the treatment of Indians; Prentice Alvin (1989), which deals with issues of black slavery; Alvin Journeyman (1995), in which Alvin returns to his birthplace to face a girl's accusations of improprieties; and Heartfire (1998), which again delves into the issues of ignorance and racism.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation (1951) is the first novel in the first Foundation trilogy—which includes Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. This story takes place in a Galactic Empire where Earth is all but forgotten. The administrative planet is on the verge of a complete breakdown. Only one person sees the problem and is willing to confront it.
  • One of Card's inspirations, Bruce Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army (1962; "Army of the Potomac Trilogy," Vol. 1) chronicles the early years of the Civil War and the struggle between the Armies of Virginia and the Potomac. The Army of the Potomac undergoes a hard-earned transformation from a group of novices to an army of pros.
  • Frank Herbert's complex science-fiction classic Dune (1965) deals with a young man who becomes the leader of a desert people because they believe he fulfills their prophecy of a messiah.
  • The Child Buyer (1960), by Pulitzer Prizewinner John Hersey, concerns a stranger from a corporation who comes to a small American town and proposes to buy a child genius from his family, so that he can be cultivated for intellectual work.

Ender's response to the other boys' bullying is more intelligent and calculating, as everything Ender does is, and Card uses it to show another aspect of childhood, the struggle between intellect and fear. Ender kills Stilson and Bonzo without realizing that he has done it—in all other things, his behavior is precise and he gets the results he intends, but in physical struggles he lashes out with a fear-driven response that is beyond his control, a cyclone so violent that he does not even see the results and only suspects them. Fear pushing intellect into the back seat is a reasonable characterization of childhood.

Peter's continual sadism is more serious than the other hostilities in the novel because it is intentional, not spontaneous. He may feel threatened by the success of his younger brother, as is implied in the early chapters, but then why is he torturing animals years after Ender has left the Earth? And what does that have to do with the statesman he becomes? The message is either that Peter somehow outgrew the sadist he was, only to later fake it so that Valentine would aid him, or that he was faking all along. Or else we are to believe that Peter is psychotic from start to finish. As much as sadistic children remind us of power-mad adults, it is almost impossible that a child, even one with the intellect Peter is supposed to have, would have the emotional control to fake, correct, or mask his psychosis this thoroughly. The character seems patterned on such evil geniuses as Hitler and Ted Bundy, but never does he show a hint of a child's mental formation. He is fully grown from the start—an adult.

All of the children in Ender's family are more intelligent than children commonly are. That is the premise of the novel, and it is as much Card's right to explore it, as it is the right of any sci-fi writer to stretch the bounds of the known world, free of the bystanders who would complain, "But that's not the way things are."

Ender comes from a long-standing tradition of inquiry about what would happen if intellect could somehow exist separately from the psychological baggage that comes from growing up in society. From the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose novel Emile first gave serious consideration to child psychology, to Barry Rudd, the child genius who a corporation bids on in John Hersey's 1960 novel The Child Buyer (which makes a splendid companion piece to Ender's Game), writers have watched the struggle between genius and personality. The military system Ender is placed in encourages only his intellect, and he has to fight the system for room to develop his personality.

In the embarrassing Demosthenes/Locke plot line, on the other hand, everything comes easily to the genius children: Peter sets his mind on world domination, Valentine agrees to aid him, and, by golly, a few years later the world is in his control. Again, no distinction is made between a child's insatiable ego and the evil genius's power-hunger, crossed this time with a dated speculation that the anonymity of the internet would allow propaganda from any illegitimate source to dominate. The only thing separating Peter and Valentine from adulthood here is the fact that the world can see that they are children and therefore discriminates against them for it. Card plasters over the holes in his character development by designating these particular children as super-geniuses.

In the book's Definitive Introduction, added for the 1991 edition, Card defends his treatment of child characters. He describes a letter from a guidance counselor who worked with gifted children, a label definitely appropriate for Ender and his kin. According to Card, she "loathed" the book (probably his word, not hers: later in the Introduction his critics are said to have "really hated" his book and to consider it "despicable"). He writes, "It was important to her, and to others, to believe that children don't actually think or speak the way the children in Ender's Game think and speak." To him, the guidance counselor's training and experience count as nothing: he seems to believe that her judgment is based on some hidden motive, a defense of tradition or a fear that her career will be unmasked as hollow. His response to her, he says, would be this: "The only reason you don't think gifted children talk this way is because they know better than to talk this way in front of you." It is not clear why children "know better," what punishment he fears a guidance counselor might bring down on the head of a particularly sophisticated child. It is unlikely that Card thinks all gifted children have plans for world domination, although that would give them good reason to hide their talents. Using this defense of his characters, Card brings the paranoia from his science fiction novel into the real world.

At its root, Card's problem with handling children as characters is not an inability to see how they think and behave differently than adults, but, worse, a refusal to admit that they do. He holds to a self-sufficient posture, trusting only his own observations and the conclusions that he reached from them. "[N]ever in my entire childhood did I feel like a child," he says in an extended defense against the skeptical guidance counselor. "I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires." He seems to have taken his defense against writing in baby talk a few yards too far. Card's refusal to compromise his principles is admirable, but what kind of compromise is he actually resisting? Does he really believe that there is an outcry to see children's experiences as "less real" than adults'? If this actually were the case—if guidance counselors and psychologists and writers were all part of a vast conspiracy to belittle the young people they spend their lives studying—then Card would be as heroic as the posture he takes. More likely, it just looks like a conspiracy to him because he doesn't see his memories of childhood reflected in print. Could it be that his memory is lacking? I myself do not remember thinking childish thoughts while developing an adult personality, but if the people who study such things can give me a good explanation for it, I'm willing to listen. I have never seen my colon or liver, either, but that doesn't mean I would scoff at anyone who tries to tell me how they work.

"If everybody came to agree that stories should be told this clearly," Card says of his own work in the Introduction, "the professors of literature would be out of a job, and the writers of obscure, encoded fiction would be, not honored, but pitied for their impenetrability." Is he saying that obscurity itself is bad? Who is the judge? Am I allowed to dismiss his writing as pitiable and obscure if I don't know the word "impenetrability"? His problem with other writers mirrors his problem with the entire field of child psychology. In both cases, Card seems to feel that people who see things that he doesn't are fools, conspirators, or con artists. A good healthy dose of skepticism about established beliefs is necessary—it's what pushes human thought ahead—but Card shouldn't let the popularity of his book blind him to the fact that its characterizations may be flawed. It's true, there are a lot of bad writers who have the idea that the way to create children in fiction is to just write stupid adults, but one does not correct this simply by portraying children as smart adults. James Joyce, J. D. Salinger, and Roald Dahl are among the hundreds who have written about children, giving them the specific concerns of children without making them talk or behave like idiots. But maybe Card would judge these artists "too obscure." Maybe there is something to be said for complexity when trying to understand a complex world.

Source: David J. Kelly, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.

Tim Blackmore

In the following excerpt, Blackmore discusses the military paradigm in which Ender must operate to survive.

Ender lives in a military paradigm which assumes humans are malleable, controllable objects. Control resides in large institutions, not individuals or parochial units. The military paradigm abides by a strict utilitarian philosophy in which ends overcome any and all means; human costs are unimportant. Within the paradigm is an accepted paradox that the individual must be sacrificed in order to maintain the rights of other individuals. Because it accepts its own built-in flaws, the military paradigm is extremely robust. Graff lectures Ender: "The Earth is deep, and right to the heart it's alive, Ender. We people only live on the top, like the bugs that live on the scum of the still water near the shore." Graff's aerial view distances him from the unpleasant decisions he must make if the war is to be won. There is no room for doubt that all wars, or contests, must be won—especially when these "bugs" cling so tenaciously to life (the word "bugs" is loaded with meaning; Card uses it to refer both to humans and "buggers"). Graff is proud of, rather than ashamed of, the power that allows the military to "requisition" Ender. At the core of the military paradigm is a mechanistic view of humans, who are to be shaped to the purposes of the machine. Anderson expresses the utilitarian military code tersely: "All right. We're saving the world, after all. Take him"; he picks up Ender as one might choose a tool from a tool kit.

Much of the paradigm's invulnerability comes from the fact that the characters are aware of their roles in the machine. The reader feels sympathy for them because they have thought through their beliefs; they don't blindly follow a creed. Yet their humane qualities—emotion and heart—never interfere with their decision to sacrifice anything necessary to keep the mechanism functioning. Graff directs us to practicalities—"We're trying to save the world, not heal the wounded heart"—and provokes a further exchange:

"General Levy has no pity for anyone. All the videos say so. But don't hurt this boy."

"Are you joking?'

"I mean, don't hurt him more than you have to."

In a utilitarian world a plea to leave Ender untouched is not only irrelevant, it is potentially treasonous. Physical and psychological pain are necessary if Ender is to be deformed for the machine's uses. The amount of pain indicates the degree of injustice the individual meets at the hands of the system; and in Ender's case, both the pain and injustice are severe. The military is purposefully structured to be unjust, breaking those who cannot rise above injustice fast enough. Those who survive the injustices will become commanders—they will be given the power to inflict pain. The children in the Battle Room raise "a tumult of complaint that it wasn't fair how Bernard and Alai had shot them all when they weren't ready." The military world has no patience for those who demand fairness; Graff notes bluntly, "Fairness is a wonderful attribute, Major Anderson. It has nothing to do with war."

Card prevents the reader from making quick judgements about Graff and Anderson. At first the two men seem dangerously smug about their roles ("We promise gingerbread, but we eat the little bastards alive.") The utilitarian seems to forget he is dealing with humans, cold-bloodedly informing Ender that "maybe you're not going to work out for us, and maybe you are. Maybe you'll break down under pressure, maybe it'll ruin your life, maybe you'll hate me for coming here to your house today." Graff's ability to speak such truths impresses Ender, who otherwise would not be lured away. Graff's honesty is not a sham; in private he notes ominously that "this time if we lose there won't be any criticism of us at all." Accustomed to serving the machine, Graff and Anderson slide unhesitatingly into the worst Machiavellian tactics to achieve their goals. Petra warns Ender to "remember this.… They never tell you any more truth than they have to," a fact all the children promptly forget. Graff and Anderson, the two Machiavels, prepare to trap Ender:

"So what are you going to do?"

"Persuade him that he wants to come with us more than he wants to stay with her."

"How will you do that?"

"I'll lie to him."

"And if that doesn't work?"

"Then I'll tell him the truth. We're allowed to do that in emergencies. We can't plan for everything, you know."

There is gleeful madness in this speech; the two most "practical" characters are quick to accept the interchangeability of lies and truth. It is impossible, apparently, to detect Graff's and Anderson's true feelings. The latter notes grimly, "Sometimes I think you enjoy breaking these little geniuses," recognizing that Graff, like Anderson, has a favorite game. Anderson's concern—"what kind of man would heal a broken child … just so he could throw him back into battle again"—maintains our faith in the two commanders. Card forces the reader to move between two viewpoints: that of the suspicious, manipulated child and that of the paranoid, utilitarian machine worker.

The phrase "the good of the whole" sanctions military atrocities. Ender's relationship with Valentine is like one of "billions of … connections between human beings. That's what [he's] fighting to keep alive." The reader is one such unit, for the audience may be forced to approve of—even as it dislikes—Graff. Each individual must surrender the self completely. The post of officer, or supreme commander, does not make Ender an individual; it simply gives him a higher function in the machine. Graff has made peace with the possibility that "we might both do despicable things, Ender," because "if humankind survives, then we were good tools." Ender begins to realize the magnitude of his sacrifice, asking, "Is that all? Just tools?" And he elicits the utilitarian answer from Graff, "Individual human beings are all tools, that the others use to help us all survive." Here is the paradox of one stripped of his individuality in order to protect the ideal of individuality.

Games, game theory, and simulation are an integral part of the mechanistic Machiavellian world; surprises or spontaneity are dangerous because they are organic. Graff notes brusquely, "as for toys—there's only one game." The supremacy of the game and the Battle Room is total; those who believe in endless rehearsal refuse to draw the line between simulation and reality for the child-warriors. The principal danger of game theory is that reality becomes blurred, making human costs appear inconsequential. Anderson is angry that Graff has played one of his games "betting [Anderson's] life on it." It comes as an unwelcome—and ironic—shock for a gamer to discover that he too is on the playing board.

The military paradigm consisting of a utilitarian stance, belief in the good of the whole, subordination of the individual, and simulation of reality takes great pleasure in its rituals and makes a religion out of war. It is extremely dangerous that "status, identity, purpose, name; all that makes these children who they are comes out of this game." The children have become ciphers. It follows that if the ritual of the game is not upheld, the identities of whole groups may be erased. Particularly striking is Card's revision of Golding's Lord of the Flies. Bonzo accepts Ender into his army and begins a ritual war chant:

"We are still—"

"Salamander!" cried the soldiers in one voice …

"We are the fire that will consume them, belly and bowel, head and heart, many flames of us, but one fire."

"Salamander!" they cried again.

"Even this one will not weaken us."

The ritual call-and-response nature of this chorus is an example of the unity Anderson strives to instill in all his recruits: alone they are flames, but together they are a fire that overwhelms others. The philosophy may be rooted in the past, but the military is firmly webbed to the future—specifically technology. The military sees technology as a mystical force allowing basic laws of nature to be revoked, such as gravity and time. It also relies on machines to explore human minds. Ender charges the two commanders, "You're the ones with the computer games that play with people's minds. You tell me." Dink is simultaneously correct and incorrect when he claims that "the Battle Room doesn't create anything. It just destroys." The Battle Room destroys individuality while it creates a unitary killing machine.

Of the tools the military paradigm uses to manipulate individuals, isolation is the most powerful. Ender must be prevented from being "at home" or able to "adopt the system we have here," because as soon as Ender finds a surrogate family the military will lose their leverage on him. Isolation makes dependence on others impossible; Ender is forced to fall back on and develop his own resources. Graff argues defensively that "isolation is—the optimum environment for creativity. It was his ideas we wanted, not the—never mind." Graff cuts off the admission that isolation may well bring madness and alienation, not creativity. Ender sees the machine at work and knows instinctively that "this wasn't the way the show was supposed to go. Graff was supposed to pick on him, not set him up.… They were supposed to be against each other at first, so they could become friends later." Neither Ender nor Graff realizes that isolation will, simultaneously, ostracize Ender from the human race and create an unbreakable bond with an alien one. Graff panics when Ender's isolation excludes the commanders and the military. Upset with Major Imbu, Graff notes that there is nothing in the manuals "about the End of the World. We don't have any experience with it." Card's irony underlines just how much the military is fixated on simulation. Here is one scenario they cannot countenance, nor can they go to Ender and display their ignorance. Panic turns to anger as Graff barks, "I don't want Ender being comfortable with the end of the world." Graff's comment indicates how much he has underestimated Ender.

Truth and trust are also useful tools. Graff uses Machiavellian means to further utilitarian ends. Ender consistently swallows Graff's lies regarding Stilson and Bonzo. Doubt nags at Ender because he has equated trust and friendship with the fact that the Colonel "didn't lie." Graff answers, "I won't lie to you now, either.… My job isn't to be friends. My job is to produce the best soldiers in the world." What Graff never fully explains are the enormous personal costs Ender faces. Graff understands the risk of being able "to decide the fate of Ender Wiggin," but the utilitarian in him triumphs as he lashes out at Major Anderson: "Of course I mind [the interference], you meddlesome ass. This is something to be decided by people who know what they're doing, not these frightened politicians." Military belief in specialization and expertise overrides Anderson's concerns. The military organizes the pieces of events it needs to provide useful truths. Ender has internalized the commander's law: no soldier can rise above the others because "it spoils the symmetry. You must get him in line, break him down, isolate him, beat him until he gets in line with everyone else."

In the service of manipulation of the individual, the military abolishes parents. Friends can only provide part of the reassurance a parent offers the child. Dink sees pieces of truth: "The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing." The military has declared what is and is not to be important in these children's lives. Dink notes caustically, "They decided I was right for the program, but nobody ever asked if the program was right for me." Parental authority is replaced by dependence on the self; Ender "must believe that no matter what happens, no adult will ever, ever step in to help him in any way. He must believe, to the core of his soul, that he can only do what he and the other children work out for themselves."

Manipulation of truth continues when the military takes charge of the media. Free speech is an acceptable concept, as long as the true bastions of power are not attacked. Ender cannot figure out why, if "students in the Battle School had much to learn from Mazer Rackham … [everything] was concealed from view." Due to military caginess (or vanity), the truth—that nobody understands Rackham's victory, except perhaps Rackham himself—does not come out until it is almost too late. Ender feels the full impact of media handling when he receives Valentine's letter but must force himself to discount it: "Even if she wrote it in her own blood, it isn't the real thing because they made her write it. She'd written before, and they didn't let any of those letters through. Those might have been real, but this was asked for, this was part of their manipulation." The manipulation of Valentine by the military teaches Ender more than Dink can ever tell him about their "skills" with communication. Ender notes succinctly, "So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other." This exchange between Ender and Graff recalls one of the most striking scenes in Joe Haldeman's The Forever War: "The 1143-year-long war had begun on false pretenses and only continued because the two races were unable to communicate. Once they could talk, the first question was 'Why did you start this thing?' and the answer was 'Me?'" Both Card and Haldeman stress that energy would be better spent on communication than on war games. The military appears to be using force out of desperation, just as Ender does when fighting Stilson and Bonzo, but it may simply prefer the role of aggressor. Even if the latter is the correct motive, it is cloaked by the former.

The military regularly pawns off horrible responsibilities to generals in the front line. For example, when Ender asks whether the Molecular Detachment Device (M.D. Device, a.k.a. the Little Doctor) works on a planet and "Mazer's face [goes] rigid. 'Ender, the buggers never attacked a civilian population in either invasion. You decide whether it would be wise to adopt a strategy that would invite reprisals."' Like those who flew the Enola Gay, Ender becomes much more than an accomplice to the military's most unconscionable acts. There is no hypocrisy from the military; Graff and Rackham believe Ender had saved them all. Typically, Mazer Rackham pushes both victory and genocide on Ender: "You made the hard choice, boy. All or nothing." In Haldeman's The Forever War, Potter and Mandella sum up the feeling of being abandoned by the military:

"It's so dirty."

I shrugged. "It's so army."

The military paradigm withstands severe attacks without fracturing. The pressure forces Graff to comment sourly that his "eagerness to sacrifice little children in order to save mankind is wearing thin." The incredible speed with which Ender becomes a commander leads Bean to guess that "the system is breaking up. No doubt about it. Either somebody at the top is going crazy, or something's gone wrong with the war, the real war, the bugger war." None of these pressures divert Graff, Anderson, or Rackham from their course. With victory, the paradigm snaps back into shape. Graff recounts that after Ender's "rights" had been explained "it was simple. The exigencies of war" explain everything. If anything, there is increased faith in game theory—the system has worked. Anderson notes wistfully, "Now that the wars are over, it's time to play games again." The military would rather not handle shades of grey. The Major notes, "It's too deep for me, Graff. Give me the game. Nice neat rules. Referees. Beginnings and ending. Winners and losers and then everybody goes home to their wives." During the lifetime of Ender's tyrant brother Peter, the military paradigm continues to exist. Only later, when Ender has grown in power, does he provide an answer in the form of a religious paradigm which is constructed around the concept of the Speaker for the Dead. The Speaker is a figure who gives an account of an individual's ethical role in life and society. Before he can achieve that stage, Ender's own paradigm must be tested and purified. It is ironic that the military's most successful creation will also bring the eventual downfall of the paradigm.

Source: Tim Blackmore, "Ender's Beginning: Battling the Military in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game," in Extrapolation, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 125–140.

Tim Blackmore

This excerpt explores Ender's role as a reluctant warrior who 'fights in order to prevent further battles."

Card endows each of the three Wiggin children with a particular strength: Peter is a conqueror, another Alexander; Valentine is an empath; and Ender is a warrior who hates fighting but must win.

Given this trinity it is not hard to separate the three and then join them into one. Ender functions as a cross between the head and the heart, with Peter as the head and Valentine as the heart.… As Ender absorbs each of these he eventually becomes the wise old man. Even further afield is the possibility that the three form a religious Trinity. Rather than push any of these readings on the characters, attempting to make them into one, the author accepts the fact that Card saw fit to write three separate characters, where each listens to, and learns from, the others. It seems wiser and more useful, in terms of opening the text, to consider them as three discrete individuals, each representing a separate paradigm.

Ender's pacifism separates him from the other soldiers, the military, and his society. His apparently fatalistic attitude toward beating others is remarkably similar to what Eastern philosophy would call Bushido, or the Way of the Warrior (Samurai). Ender represents an elite, powerful warrior class which is at heart pacific but often fights in order to prevent further battles. Ender is a triple outcast. On Earth he is an "outcaste," wanting "to scream at [his father], I know I'm a Third. I know it." Ender is a persona non grata who "has no rights"; and at the Battle School his excellence and isolation ensure his outcast status. For a long time even Ender rejects himself: "[Ender] didn't like Peter's kind, the strong against the weak, and he didn't like his own kind either, the smart against the stupid." Balancing his alien status is Ender's possession of something unique for a soldier, a name. After a victory he thinks, "[I] may be short, but they know [my] name." Mick, a fellow student, notices the implications right away: "Not a bad name. Ender. Finisher. Hey." Finishing things is Ender's way of attempting to gain peace: "Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too, right then, so they'd leave me alone." He wins not for the sake of winning, but so he needn't "fight every day [until] it… gets worse and worse." Anderson comes to the realization that "Ender Wiggin isn't a killer. He just wins—thoroughly." Ender admits ashamedly, "I didn't fight with honor…I fought to win." For Ender finishing is winning. Learning to rely only on "his own head and hands," Ender embodies the archetype of the individual who maintains his identity in the face of a hostile society and environment.

Card uses the Battle Room as a metaphor for life. Winning does not mean peace; it simply means one is allowed to play again. Ender catches on late that what he plays are no longer games; "It stopped being a game when they threw away the rules." The events in and outside the Battle Room are "sometimes games, sometimes—not games." Ender has been aged by the constant threat of annihilation: he must be able to end each game, otherwise his life is worthless. He notes desperately that losing is "'the worst that could happen. I can't lose any.… Because if I lose any'—He didn't explain himself." Ender is more strategist than aggressor. While the children are "all wondering if [Stilson] was dead.… [Ender] was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance." Discussing similar strategy, Yamamoto comments, "In the 'Notes on Martial Laws' it is written that: The phrase, 'Win first, fight later,' can be summed up in the two words 'Win beforehand.'"

Ender's perpetual attempts to co-opt the system, to "use the system, and even excel," are symptomatic of his lifelong obsession with preparedness. In order to work free of the commanders' power, Ender must prepare more than he ever has. Obedience is not a Manichean issue, as Dink suggests it is. Ender is vulnerable, as the military knows, to pressure exerted on Valentine. In his Earth school he's left alone because "he always knew the answer, even when [the teacher] thought he wasn't paying attention." Preparation and risk-taking give Ender an ability to adapt to and master any given situation. The result is that he never makes the same mistake twice. Faced by the challenging Battle Room, he plunges in: "Better get started." But even here he is prepared. During the shuttle flight to Battle School, Ender has observed that "Gravity could go any which way. However [he] want[s] it to go." All things are a prelude to battle: "If one makes a distinction between public places and one's sleeping quarters, or between being on the battlefield and on the tatami, when the moment comes there will not be time for making amends. There is only the matter of constant awareness. If it were not for men who demonstrate valor on the tatami, one could not find them on the battlefield either" [observes Tsunetomo Yamamoto in Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai]. Ender scrutinizes his environment, noticing on the shuttle "how Graff and the other officers were watching them. Analyzing. Everything we do means something, Ender realized. Them laughing. Me not laughing." Ender's mind automatically produces strategic analyses. Traded from Salamander, "Ender listed things in his mind as he undressed.… The enemy's gate is down. Use my legs as a shield.… And soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they've been given." Such dispassionate analysis gives Ender the necessary information he needs to win his coming battles. The more he understands how he works, the more he sees that emotions, particularly anger, interfere with decision making. Ender instructs his class, "If you ever want to make your enemy crazy, shout that kind of stuff at them. It makes them do dumb things.… But we don't get mad." Ender's ability to calculate probabilities makes him appear as canny as the adults around him. They treat him so well he wonders, "How important am I.… And like a whisper of Peter's voice inside his mind, he heard the question, How can I use this?"

Part of the warrior's way is to use, not be used. Valentine's letter makes him lose hope because "he had no control over his own life. They ran everything. They made all the choices." Despite his wish to deny his human fragility, Ender eventually incorporates his flaws, reassuring himself that "although he had never sought power, he had always had it. But he decided that it was power born of excellence, not manipulation." He accepts that he has power over others, just as others have power over him; however, he can control a great deal of power. Ender "could see Bonzo's anger growing hot. Ender's anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo's anger was hot, and so it used him." Ender cannot afford to lose control once. He uses a meditation trick to distract himself, and when he returns to his thoughts "the pain was gone. The tears were gone. He would not cry." Things that affect him after this make "him sorrowful, but Ender did not weep. He was done with that," and using his anger "he decided he was strong enough to defeat them [all]." Ender relinquishes his trust in adults, learning to show them "the lying face he presented to Mother and Father." Ender's isolation goes beyond anything Graff could have dreamed of. Confronted by Petra's plea for forgiveness ("Sometimes we make mistakes"), it is the warrior in Ender who answers coldly, "And sometimes we don't." Meditation, cold anger, hidden emotion, lack of forgiveness, and utter solitude are superb defenses against a deadly world as well as trademarks of a blind form of Puritanism. The Puritan vein in Ender explains why and how he manages to live without love, loyalty, and companionship. Through the bars of his cell, Ender sees that "they knew about everything and to them Val was just one more tool to use to control him, just one more trick to play." The biggest mistake he can make is to show emotion and reveal a desire. As a commander, Ender does not fool himself that his soldiers are loyal to him; they are in awe of him, revere him, but he won't (perhaps with the exception of Bean) allow them to be loyal to him. Love and loyalty are vulnerabilities that neither the Samurai nor the Puritan warrior can afford.

Nor can the warrior conceive of spontaneous acts of affection. When Graff touches Ender's hand, Ender decides "Graff was creating a commander out of a little boy. No doubt Unit 17 in the course of studies included an affectionate gesture from the teacher." Similarly, he cannot trust Valentine's childish affection any longer. Loyalty is replaced by obedience; Ender notes calmly in the face of his peers' disbelief, "I obey orders." When his army "attempt[s] to start a chant of Dragon, Dragon," Ender puts a stop to it. Tribal rituals suggest tribal loyalty, and Ender knows that he may face any member of his army in the Battle Room one day. Loyalty, like all emotion, clouds strategy and preparedness; but obedience does not.

It is also necessary that the warrior cultivate empathy, particularly the ability to empathize with the enemy. Peter notes proleptically, "They meant you to be human, little Third, but you're really a bugger." [Michael R.] Collings notes [in his article "The Rational and Revelatory in the Science Fiction of Orson Scott Card," Sunstone, May, 1987] that "Ender cannot become fully human" because "he is constantly manipulated by others." Ender points out to Valentine, the empath, that "every time, I've won because I could understand the way my enemy thought. From what they did.… I'm very good at that. Understanding how other people think." Empathy allows Ender to exchange his worldview for the enemy's, see the internal vulnerabilities, and attack in precisely the right spot.

The final and most important part of the warrior's paradigm is the complete acceptance of death. Learning to fight each battle as if it were the last, the warrior must face "lots of deaths.… That was OK, games were like that, you died a lot until you got the hang of it." And in getting "the hang of it," the individual becomes accustomed to dying (not an unfamiliar theme for Card). Death means a release from the battles of life and is, therefore, much desired by Ender. The combination of readiness and relaxation prepares Ender's troops to "win beforehand." They are relaxed because they are ready to die. As Yamamoto states: "There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything." Stoicism and resolution of this nature are crucial to the Puritan warrior who is self-sufficient; he is not a fighter, but he wins battles when and where he must; he is not a joiner, but he is ready to lead; he is not anxious, but he is always prepared; most of all, he hates power, but he is supremely capable of handling it. Such self-reliance gives the warrior the strength to deny love and loyalty, understand the enemy, and accept death unhesitatingly. The rugged individualist who lives his own life and relies on his neighbors to do the same is caught in a terrible vice when his community demands his help.

Source: Tim Blackmore, "Ender's Beginning: Battling the Military in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game," in Extrapolation, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 125–140.


Orson Scott Card, Introduction to Ender's Game, Tor Books, 1991.

Michael Collings, review of Speaker for the Dead, Fantasy Review, April, 1986, p. 20.

Tom Easton, review of Ender's Game, in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. CV, No. 7, July, 1985, pp. 180-81.

Review of Ender's Game, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LII, No. 21, November 1, 1984, p. 1021.

Roland Green, review of Ender's Game, in Booklist, Vol. 81, No. 7, December 1, 1984, p. 458.

Gerald Jonas, review of Ender's Game, in New York Times Book Review, June 16, 1985, p. 18.

Dan K. Moran, review of Ender's Game, in West Coast Review of Books, Vol. 12, No. 2, July/August, 1986, p. 20.

Michael Lassell, "A Youngster Saves the Planet," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 3, 1985, p. 11.

Elaine Radford, "Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman," in Fantasy Review, Vol. 10, No. 5, June, 1987, pp. 11-12,48-9.

For Further Study

Orson Scott Card, "Rebuttal," Fantasy Review, Volume 10, No. 5, June, 1987, pp. 13-14, 49-52.

In this response to Radford's negative assessment of Ender's Game, Card takes issue with the critic's comparison of Ender with Hitler. He suggests the critic has misinterpreted the novel by overlooking the complex way in which it addresses issues of empathy and violence.

Orson Scott Card, Characters and Viewpoint, Writers Digest Books, 1988.

Taking a general approach to writing instruction, Card details the creation, introduction, and development of characters in long and short fiction, and explains the various points of view available to the fiction writer.

Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writers Digest Books, 1990.

Card provides the aspiring science-fiction writer with tips on creatively devising other worlds, peoples, and magical occurrences.

Orson Scott Card, "Hatrack River: The Official Website of Orson Scott Card," http://www.hatrack.com.

This website contains a wealth of material on Card and his work. It includes an area for student research as well as a question-and-answer section on writing with the author himself.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 44, Gale, 1987.

This entry collects criticism focusing on Ender's Game.

Graceanne A. and Keith R. A. Decandido, "PW Interviews: Orson Scott Card," Publishers Weekly, November 30,1990, pp. 54-55.

An interview with the author in which he discusses the belief system behind his work, his explorations of moral issues, and his use of violence.

Janrae Frank, "War of the Worlds," Washington Post Book World, February 23, 1986, p. 10.

This author questions the religious imagery at the climax of Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker For the Dead, and she wonders whether this recurring motif might be a sign of some personal conflict.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Dutton, 1974.

Originally published in 1762, this work is credited with being one of the first to explore how a child's mind differs from that of an adult. The author is one of the world's great social philosophers, whose ideas directly influenced the Declaration of Independence.