Characters as Children

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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.

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...

(This entire section contains 1728 words.)

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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 longstanding 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 (which makes a splendid companion piece to Ender's Game), writers have watched The Child Buyer 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 powerhunger, 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 supergeniuses.

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.
David J. Kelly is a an English instructor at several colleges in Illinois, as well as a novelist and playwright.

Ender's Beginning Battling the Military

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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 interchangeabihty 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 stopped 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 lighting 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.

Ender's Beginning: Battling the Military in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game

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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 coopt 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.


Critical Overview