The dichotomy that is most strictly adhered to in the novel is that of children and adults. The interaction between the two groups is minimal, and even in the structure of the novel this is emphasized, by having the adults speak at the beginning of the chapter, and then the children’s perspective takes over. Instead of portraying the children as innocent though as is standard practice, they are capable, with the burden of saving the world on them, even while they are trapped in the adults’ world. The adults are untrustworthy and manipulative, seen most clearly when they trick Ender into destroying the bugger home world.
This theme is epitomized in Ender and Peter, and the meaning changes as the novel progresses. In the beginning, Peter is seen as evil and Ender is good; in their fight at home, Peter easily overpowers Ender, while Ender remains virtually helpless. Then the situation becomes more complicated, as Ender begins to inflict pain/ death on others while fearing he is turning into Peter, and Peter says he wants to save the world and is afraid of becoming as bad as Valentine thinks he is. In the end, Peter does get power, but he seems to rule well, and Ender destroys the buggers, but makes a promise to find them a new world.
For the children at the Battle School, the game is reality. Dink seems to be the only one who does not care, and then, after the fight with Bonzo, Ender does as well. At Command School, what initially starts as a game, again turns out to be reality, when Ender thinks he is going through a simulation but is in fact fighting the actual war with the buggers. The fantasy game that Ender plays draws on real feelings of the player, finding a picture of Peter, and thus begins to demonstrate Ender’s mental anxieties. The buggers create the scenes from the game on their world; in this way as well, the game has entered reality.
Ender says that in the moment he destroys an enemy, he loves him because of the deep level of understanding he shares of the enemy. His love for Valentine drives him to go to Battle School and then to continue his training at Command School, resulting in harm for some of the children and all the buggers. Ender regrets this murder though, so that when he is given the opportunity to redeem himself by finding a place for the hive queen to begin their race again, he agrees.
This theme mostly follows along the lines of children versus adults. Manipulation and deceit is the main way the adults interact with the children, by controlling their lives at Battle School and then using the supposed simulation in order to have them fight, the only method that they say would have worked. Graff even uses Valentine in order to get to Ender. The revenge of humans for the previous two bugger wars is the reason behind their actions throughout the whole novel. Under the manipulation of the adults which has driven the children to put so much emphasis on the game, Bonzo turns to revenge against Ender, a move that ultimately ends in Bonzo’s death.
From the first chapter, Ender realizes that it is necessary to win so that the enemy will never fight him again. This has important consequences, as it drives him to murder Stilson and Bonzo, and to destroy the bugger world even though he has been warned that the device has never been used in such a way, all of which have an impact on his future actions and psychological makeup.
Ender is different from the start because he is a Third. The Wiggin children in general are different because of their high mental abilities. The children at the Battle School are different from those back on Earth, as Dink points out, since they have the pressure of being in command instead of just living. Petra even jokes about how very different they have become when she says that, when the war is over, they will probably all have to go to school.
Valentine is the main character who struggles with this theme, when she and Peter decide to take on the pseudonyms of Demosthenes and Locke, respectively, on the nets. She finds herself adopting some of Demosthenes attitudes and opinions, even though previously she found them to be wrong and horrible. Ender is also concerned about this to a degree, in that he has been placed in the position of a commander and it has been left to him to take care of things. At various times, he worries that he will turn into Peter, Graff (after the way he treats Bean), and a murderer.
Ender fights when he has no other options, as when the group of boys get him cornered in the shower until he fights Bonzo. He knows it comes down to only one of them will survive. On a larger scale, the buggers are struggling to understand the humans. Once they do, they stop fighting, but, as it is too late, they build a landscape from the fantasy game to attempt to communicate. They need Ender to help them survive, by taking care of the hive queen.
Ender treasures the memories of Valentine and Alai strongest, memories which are also used to affect his mental state. Also, the memory of Peter keeps him from wanting to use his power to inflict pain, serving as a constant reminder that he should only go so far, as when the fantasy game puts in the picture of Peter. The buggers, for their part, use the memories of their race to communicate to Ender what happened to them.
The mood in the novel is one of seriousness. Even though the main characters are children, their lives are not like those typically portrayed. Peter is capable of evil acts, like torturing the squirrel, and gaining power, despite his youth. Up at the Battle School, there are few light-hearted moments, and the friendships that Ender does develop are all of a grave nature; at one point, Alai and Shen are jokingly reminiscing about the fight in the Battle Room, but Ender realizes that even then he is always to be treated as a commander. When there are fights, children get hurt and killed. Ender is even tricked into destroying the buggers’ world, and the action weighs heavily on him. He goes through periods of intense emotional turmoil, as seen when he bit his own fist to the point of drawing blood in his sleep.
Even when things seem to be going well for Ender, he realizes what he feels is “despair”. The word choice here is emphasized, adding even more intensity behind it. Furthermore, a good portion of the novel is set in the Battle School, which, as a space environment, is relatively sterile, not much of a home environment where characters can be comfortable and relaxed. The overall effect of the mood, developed by the characters, plot, word choice, and setting, helps to further the seriousness of the themes of good versus evil, destruction, and manipulation.
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McCauley, Kelly. "TheBestNotes on Ender's Game".
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