Ender's Game Analysis
by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game book cover
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Ender's Game Analysis

  • Ender's Game raises questions about the ethics of war, its psychological effects on soldiers, and the danger the military poses to democratic government.
  • Ender was born Andrew Wiggin. His nickname stems from a mispronunciation of Andrew, but the word "Ender" has other fraught connotations. For instance, it could reflect one of Ender's fundamental character traits: that he ends conflicts using oftentimes brutal strategies.
  • Locke and Demosthenes are allusions to John Locke, an Enlightenment thinker, and Demosthenes, a Greek statesman and orator. In Ender's Game, Locke and Demosthenes are assumed political personas: Locke is a pacifist and rationalist, whereas Demosthenes supports war efforts.

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Ender’s Game was published as a novel in 1985, though it is based on a short story that appeared in Analog magazine eight years earlier. It is the foundation of a long saga, with five further novels telling the story of Ender himself, and the universe established in Ender’s Game—sometimes referred to as the “Enderverse”—has given rise to comic books, computer games, manga, and a feature film.

Although the world depicted in Ender’s Game appears to be a futuristic version of our own world, the author does not spend very much time on exposition or physical description, preferring to concentrate instead on the psychology of the characters, particularly Ender himself. This renders the technological and political differences between our world and Ender’s less important, directing readers to focus instead on the universal ways in which humans think and endure mental suffering. Ender’s thoughts are described with such meticulous realism that, although he is a young and sympathetic character, the reader is not particularly surprised by his capacity for sudden ferocity.

Each chapter opens with a third-party discussion of Ender’s abilities and progress. The third parties in question are initially anonymous, but it quickly becomes apparent that they are Colonel Graff and Major Anderson, Ender’s instructors at Battle School. Though Anderson, the junior officer, is the more compassionate of the two, they are both relatively indifferent to Ender’s personal welfare in their quest to create the perfect soldier. At the beginning of chapter two, Graff remarks: “I like the kid. I think we’re going to screw him up,” and Anderson coolly points out that this is their job. Their dispassionate, analytical discussions of Ender serve to highlight a recurring tension in the novel between the desirability of preserving one’s own humanity and the desirability of saving humanity as a whole. Ender is often referred to as a tool or a weapon, a comparison that dehumanizes him but also invites readers to consider the nature of an individual’s obligation to mankind: if the survival of the human race is at stake, does personal happiness or freedom matter?

The idea of playing games and the interplay between games and reality are central to the plot. Of course, the most obvious example of this is when Ender, accustomed to a gamified style of training and education, is tricked into destroying an entire planet, thinking it is just another simulated game. All the cadets at Battle School are taught to regard war as a game although, paradoxically, the more ambitious among them, like Bonzo, view the games quite literally a matter of life and death. These values appear to reflect those of the wider society, as even outside of Battle School, every country on earth now trains children to play war games. Though the games in the book are deliberately crafted to mold children into soldiers, it is also suggested that games can be subversive, as when the Buggers communicate to Ender through the Mind Game in an attempt to bring a peaceful end to the conflict.

Since the Bugger’s first devastating attack seventy years ago, all the aggression in the war has come solely from the human side; despite this, Ender is one of only a few characters who seriously...

(The entire section is 4,303 words.)