As I read Ender’s Game I was struck by two main themes. These ideas seem to be the focal point of the book, and all the events and underlying topics boost these two ideas. They are as follows, and will furthermore be referred to as Focal Point One and Two:
1) The idea that the whole is more important than the individual.
a. Underlying that assumption is the question, “Do the ends justify the means?”
2) Can intentions nullify results?
These ideas are played out over and over again in Ender’s Game. Focal Point One is first, and most obviously, seen in Graff and the Battle School’s treatment of Ender. Every move they make is to mold Ender into the best solider, but by doing so they make him desperately unhappy. The point in this is obvious, humankind comes before Ender. Ender must by unhappy and alone so humankind can survive. We see the exact situation played out again in Mazer Hackman’s sacrifice. He left his life behind to travel in space with the sole purpose of being alive to train his successor. Mazer very astutely noticed that, “Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on it’s behalf (277).”
Focal Point Two is a question commonly asked in literature. I immediately thought of Dante’s Inferno, where the dead were punished for their crimes despite their innocent intentions. In Ender’s Game this question is first seen in Ender and Peter’s relationship. Or, more importantly, in Ender’s fear of being like Peter. Peter is ruthless and cruel, he hurts people to get his way, but he also enjoys it and it does it on purpose. Ender can also be ruthless. We saw this when he fought Stilson and Bonzo. While he was fighting in self-defense, we later learned that he ended up killing both boys. Ender didn’t fight just to end that battle; he fought to end all future battles. He may not have meant, or wanted, to kill the boys, but he did use more force than was strictly needed at the time. Peter, on the other hand, wants and means to hurt people. Is Ender a more morally valuable person just because he doesn’t mean to hurt people? In there is death, so does it matter that Ender feels badly and Peter doesn’t? Throughout the whole book even their sister calls both Ender and Peter killers. Is an accidental and unwilling killer like Ender still a killer?
Mazer Hackman and Ender discuss Focal Point Two on page 270. Mazer says, “Just because they didn’t know they were killing human beings doesn’t mean they weren’t killing human beings (270).” Mazer is essentially saying that intentions don’t matter. It didn’t matter that the Bugger’s didn’t mean to kill thinking beings, only that they did. By that logic you could say that Mazer would believe Ender and Peter to be the same person, or as Valentine would say, two sides of the same coin.
Focal Point Two is again played out in Ender’s defeat of the Giant’s Drink game, the wolf children, and the Buggers. When Ender finally defeated the giant Anderson said, I’ve always thought the Giant’s Drink game was the most perverted part of the whole mind game, but going for the eye like that – this is the one we want to put in command of our fleet (66)?” Ender defeated the Giant by doing something ruthless, cruel and perverse, yet it produced the desired results. It was the only way to win. The same was true of his defeat of the wolf children. The wolves didn’t know any better, but still Ender had to kill them. Finally, when Ender destroyed the Bugger’s home world he used the same tactics. Do the unthinkable to win, to defeat the enemy. Each time Ender didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but each time he killed ruthlessly and without second thought. Can his good intentions excuse this?
Yet, finally, Ender’s results match his good intentions when he becomes Andrew Wiggin, Speaker for the Dead. Interestingly enough, Peter decides to try and make his amends as well. Once again the brother act like two sides of the same coin with Valentine in the middle. I was left wondering about Peter. He ended up doing good for the world despite his selfish desires. Essentially, he did good with bad intentions. Just as Ender could be called a bad person despite his good intentions, Peter could be called a good person despite bad intentions. Logic can be a tricky thing.
Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game. New York: Tor, 1991.
Dante, Alighieri, and Mark Musa. Dante's Inferno. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1971.