Study Guide

Ender's Game

by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game Themes


The themes of Ender's Game are related to its social concerns: the danger of military control, the need for ethical training, and the danger of computers used without regard for humane considerations. The military in Ender's Game sees its mission as literally saving Earth from an insectoid alien race called the "buggers." Military strategists create hysteria, resulting in a mostly united Earth as previously antagonistic countries ally themselves to prepare to fight the perceived threat. Thus the military, an alliance of the super powers and their minions, gains control over the Earth while maintaining the facade of civil government. Even though the upper echelon knows that the previous bugger expedition was exploratory rather than aggressive and that the buggers are no longer a threat to Earth, they nonetheless plan the utter annihilation of the race. In doing so they ensure their continued power. Even after the buggers are wiped out, the military plans to remain in power as the heroic saviors of the planet, but the military leadership has no sense of ethics; they want to win and hold on to their power at all costs.

Ender and his siblings are perfect tools of such men. Because of their parents' decision to foreswear their religion, the Wiggins children are deprived of religious and ethical training. Because of their inexperience and naivete, Ender and Valentine believe the military leaders and do as they are told without question. From the...

(The entire section is 562 words.)

Ender's Game Themes

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 withheld 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."

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...

(The entire section is 2393 words.)