Picture being only six years old and having the fate of humanity and all life on earth rest in your hands. This is one of the obstacles in Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game, which main character, Ender faces. Because of his high intelligence and strong will power and fight, Ender is chosen to command the world’s military against their alien enemies called the Buggers. As Ender makes his way through battle school, commander school and through his abnormal childhood, he confronts one of society’s worst flaws, which is revealed throughout the entire novel. Card demonstrates how through manipulation and deceit, human morality can be dictated by the society in which it lives in and the outcome of this dictatorship is often a negative one.
A prevalent theme throughout the novel is how manipulation of others can change who the person is and how they act. In the story Colonel Graff tells Ender:
“Individual human beings are all tools, that the others use to help us all survive.”
“That’s a lie.”
“No. It’s just a half truth. You can worry about the other half after we win this war.”(Card, 35)
Colonel Graff tells Ender why people are used in society. The irony behind this is that in the story Ender is the one being used as a “tool”, yet he disagrees with Colonel Graff in this statement. It is also ironic that he is using Ender for the good of humanity when it is socially considered wrong to use someone. Through Graff’s training and tests in the Battle room he eventually manipulates the way Ender thinks and acts. Eventually making Ender into what he feared most: being violent like his brother Peter. Charles Lamb said “Society is like a large piece of frozen water; and skating well is the great art of social life” (Lamb). What he is saying is that the ability of have power over society is the greatest skill to have in social life. In Ender’s Game we see how Ender is over powered by the Battle School leaders and they manipulate and alter who he is. The ability to control others like Lamb says is an important skill to possess because it gives the power to use others for their own good. Ryszard Kapuscinski, said:
A population weakened and exhausted by battling against so many obstacles — whose needs are never satisfied and desires never fulfilled — is vulnerable to manipulation and regimentation. The struggle for survival is, above all, an exercise that is hugely time-consuming, absorbing and debilitating. If you create these ”anti-conditions,” your rule is guaranteed for a hundred years (Brainy Quotes).
Kapuscinski demonstrates how if a person or group people are under some type of stress from the society in which they live, they are vulnerable to manipulation. Much like in Ender’s Game, Ender is chosen because of the person he is and how he is predicted to be once he enters battle school and being a commander of the army. The adults in the story take advantage of Ender’s inability to be violent and form him into murderer. Kapuscinski also brings up that this manipulation is done in order for survival. This is exactly what is done in Ender’s Game. The world is threatened by their intergalactic enemies, the buggers. They choose Ender not only because of his intelligence and his ability to be a good leader, but also because they know he will be an easy subject for manipulation and easy to deceive. Genetically speaking, humans are programmed to do what ever benefits their chances of survival. In this case manipulation was the best choice. Towards the end of the book Ender’s sister Valentine says to ender, “Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to be controlled by good people. By people who love you (Card, 313).” Essentially, what Valentine is saying is that human beings are controlled not by themselves but by the others around them. Being either through how people act because of the people around them or how the people around them control them through manipulation. Society and the people that make up society function off one another and act a certain way according to the others within that society. And when one within that society chooses to manipulate or try to change another it often creates negative outcome.
In Society, there often comes the need for power and command over one another. One example of this is how the teachers rule the students at the battle school. “It’s the teachers, they’re the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing” (Card, 108). The students in the battle school are not necessarily at the battle school to get an education, but mostly to learn how to fight in battle. The teachers at the battle school are supposed to be there to teach. However, like Dink says, what they mostly do is get the students to hurt one another and hate the students around them. They do this in order to gain power over the students. So they can weed out the weak ones and pick the student who would be best to command the military to destroy the buggers. A lot of times in society we use power to help out a greater cause. “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them” (Card, 35). When Ender leaves home to join the military he gives his freedom up to his commanders he will be serving. He no longer has the freedoms he did at home. However he is told by Colonel Graff that humanity needs him. Ender is essentially a representation of the ethical decisions that people face every day. And his commanders and teachers that he meets throughout the course of the story are the situations and pressures that society puts on its citizens. Ender is given the choice to serve in the military and give up his childhood or live a normal life as a six year old kid. He chooses to go to the military for the good of his family and Valentine who he loved most. He gives up all of his freedoms to Colonel Graff and the military. When Ender finally meets Valentine after 8 years of not seeing her she tells him, “We may be young, but were not powerless. We play by their rules long enough and it becomes out game” (Card, 237). Valentine tells Ender that they can gain power too because of their intelligence and ability to command. In the story Valentine and Peter receive political influence by writing in news columns about political issues. They gain popularity and eventually Peter becomes one of the rulers of the current world at the age of about 15. This demonstrates how even at a young age the desire for power is present amongst the people in our society. After Ender begins to win battles in battle school he comes to the realization that he is becoming violent and a killer:
There was no doubt in Ender’s mind. There was no help for him. Whatever he faced, now and forever, no one would save him from it. 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 you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you. (Card, 237)
Ender realizes that possessing the power to hurt or kill some one or something is the only way to survive in the battle school. He learns that he must do what ever necessary to keep himself in power over his fellow classmates. Although this way of thinking does result in Ender killing two of his fellow classmates, it also insures his survival at battle school and keeps him at the top of the ranks. This translates to the real world because in society being able to have power over others insures greater chances of survival.
Throughout the novel, Card exposes how deception and manipulation are prevalent in our society. “Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth. (Card, 2)” Ender faces deception a number of times throughout the story. The lies eventually lead him into performing genocide on an entire civilization. In society lies are usually associated with a negative connotation. However lies can cover up and keep society from knowing things that may damage or have harm to their state of being. And the truth can sometimes be hurtful and be even more damaging than lies. Card is demonstrating how lies can be morally right and wrong depending on the situation in which they are used. Randolph Bourne once said “Society is one vast conspiracy for carving one into the kind of statue likes, and then placing it in the most convenient niche it has.”(Brainy quotes). What Bourne is saying is that society can be molded and manipulated and then used for other purposes whether they be good or bad. Ender in this novel is used by the military to help them destroy their alien enemies. He is tricked into committing a massacre on an entire planet without even knowing it. In society people are manipulated and used by other people and their morals are often sacrificed in the process. In an article by David J. Kelly he says:
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 better able to take advantage of their weaknesses and thus destroy them. (Kelly)
The reason Ender was picked to be commander of the military was because he was easy to manipulate. The Battle School leaders noticed his vulnerability and used it to their advantage. They change him from a loving caring six year old into a violent hateful teenager. Throughout the story Ender consciously notices how his morals are changing because of the manipulation from the Battle School leaders. Card creates the character of Ender to represent the moral decisions that humanity faces everyday. The Battle school leaders are a symbol for society and the pressures that humanity possesses. When the leaders manipulate Ender it is a demonstration of how the morals of humanity can be altered by the society in which it lives.
The dictatorship of society’s morals can often lead to a negative outcome. In the beginning of the Ender’s Game Ender cannot bare the thought of killing or hurting another person or thing. He gets in a fight and afterwards feels horrible for his actions and cannot forgive himself for inflicting pain on another person even though the other person deserved it. Ender’s biggest fear is the fact that he will become like his older brother Peter, who is cold hearted and violent, often threatening to kill Ender and his Sister. An example of this is when Valentine tells Colonel Graff:
I know what you’re thinking, you bastard, you’re thinking that im wrong, that Ender’s like Peter. Well maybe I’m like Peter, but Ender isn’t, he isn’t at all, I used to tell him that when he cried, I told him that lots of times, you’re not like peter, you never hurt people, you’re kind and good and not like Peter at all!(Card 148)
In the story Peter is violent and hateful. It is Ender’s worst fear to become violent like his older brother. When Valentine says how she would tell him that when he cried it demonstrates how he did not used to be as cruel and how he would never hurt anybody. However after going through battle school and through the manipulation of the battle school leaders we notice a change in Ender. “I’m doing it again, thought Ender. I’m hurting people again, just to save myself. Why don’t they leave me alone, so I don’t have to hurt them? (Card, 115)” In battle school, the leaders and teachers deliberately try to make the other students hate Ender. Eventually some of the boys attempt to attack and kill Ender. Ender ends up killing one of the boys that tried attacking him. Ender has to in order to protect himself. However the fact that the battle school leaders intentionally set up the fight and did nothing to stop it is morally wrong and makes it their fault and not Ender’s. But this had effect on Ender’s train of thought. He began thinking more violently. Ender tells Valentine:
In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them-… I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don’t exist.(Card, 238)
Ender changes from being totally unviolent and hurtful to thinking that violence is a way to solve his problems and keep others from hurting him. Although he does still feel feelings of love and emotion for his enemy he still has violent thoughts about them. This is the result of the manipulation from the battle school. Ender’s change of thought is representative of how society can change from manipulation from people within the society and how it often changes negatively. Ender tells Colonel Graff, “’So if we can we’ll kill every last one of the buggers, and if they’ll kill every last one of us. As for me,’ said Ender, ‘I’m in favor of surviving’” At this point Ender has lost almost all sense of morality. He no longer has feelings of love for the people of earth or his enemy. As we can see as the story progresses, the manipulation slowly seeps into Ender’s mind and affects him, and he becomes more and more of a morally bad person. And he becomes more like Peter. His views are more self centered and selfish and less caring about the others around him. The manipulation from the adults makes him into the person he feared to be. The manipulation eventually leads to Ender killing an entire race. In the article Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman the author says, “Ender exterminated an entire intelligent species. Most people I hope, agree that mass murder, much less genocide, is quite indefensible.” (Discovering Authors). Ender had been tricked into murdering an entire species. Ender believed he was only practicing on a simulator. However he is really fighting in a real battle and eventually defeated the enemy. He ends not only killing the enemy but killing women children and everything else that lives on the bugger planet. And the whole time he has no idea he is about to do such a thing. Ender never agrees to fighting the actual buggers and thought he wouldn’t be actually fighting them until later. But he ended up murdering millions of lives by nuking their planet. From the adults manipulation Ender had gone from a loving, peaceful child to committing genocide on an entire species.
Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game is more than just a science fiction book about killing aliens and flying space ships. It exposes one of humanity’s greatest flaws. It demonstrates how in today’s society manipulation and deceit can have a negative effect on society. This novel translates into the real world society and reveals the truth about how humanity acts as a whole. As Card tells us the story of a six year old child becoming a world wide hero by saving earth he hides a deeper message that is hidden beneath the characters and story within the book.