Ender's Game: Metaphor Analysis

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Christ Imagery

Ender is a savior of humanity, and later a savior of the bugger race. Card underscores the mythic and symbolic role of Ender with certain parallels to Christ’s story. He is a Third, allowed by the government to be born especially to save the Earth. He is always part outcast, part superhuman figure. As such an epic person, his actions are cosmic and touch everyone. Ender must live through a series of moral choices, each harder than the last. His decisions are always for the good of the whole instead of for himself. Valentine is a sort of Madonna figure who loves him and motivates him to go forward. Ender takes on the sins of the world and suffers from the evil he sees, tricked into participating in that evil in order to “end” it. Ender’s name, invented by himself, indicates that he has ended the threat of extinction for humanity. Ender has roughly a dozen loyal “disciples” or squadron leaders as he attacks the bugger worlds. Ender fights the battle from the planet Eros, or Love. He suffers terribly as if crucified and collapses for three days, dreaming that he is being buried. He arises for a final victory by destroying the bugger world. Graff cries and says, “Thank God for you, Ender” (Chpt. 14, p. 296). Graff explains they had to trick him, because the deed had to be done by a child who was compassionate and innocent. With his compassion, Ender could not have done what they asked him to do if he had understood the truth. As Ender lies in a death-like state after the battle, he accepts his journey into death and what he unwittingly has done through his tremendous sacrifice for others by killing. He is “resurrected” to a different world of peace and cooperation. He founds a religion as Speaker for the Dead, dedicated to resurrecting the bugger race. The rest of the story is one of guilt and redemption as he founds his new religion of love and travels to find a place to bring the buggers to life again.


The Giant’s Drink

The computer mind game at Battle School for students’ free play contains a number of important symbols and metaphors. Since the computer mind game is interactive, the figures are personally symbolic to each player. Ender’s Christ role is foreshadowed by the computer at the challenge called The Giant’s Drink. He must face a Giant who gives him a choice of two drinks. One drink will lead him to Fairyland (paradise), and the other will make him die.

Anderson worries that Ender is stuck in the game at the Giant’s Drink. One boy committed suicide over it. Graff remarks: “Everyone gets the Giant sometime” (Chpt. 6, p. 54). The Giant could represent the adult world that becomes increasingly Ender’s enemy instead of his protector as it makes demands on him. Or, the Giant could represent his struggle against Death, a major topic for Ender since he does not want to die or cause others to die. No matter which drink he chooses, Ender dies in the game, only to be immediately resurrected to try it again. Ender decides it is a rigged game and finally attacks the Giant himself, gouging out his eye and killing him, thus able to enter Fairyland, something no one has ever done before. Ender is disturbed that he always becomes a killer to win.

Once he gets past the death obstacle, he can go to Fairyland, a type of heaven where he can play games at the Queen of Hearts Castle, again, reminiscent of the Madonna as Queen of Heaven. Ender is not contented there, so he tries to play with children at a playground. The children attack him as werewolves. This symbolizes Ender’s frustration at not being able to make friends with the other students or have a normal child’s life. The children are forced to become enemies at the Battle School.

At another point in the game called the End of the World, which Graff claims is not in the original computer game, Ender finds a castle with a snake on the rug. The snake tells him “Death is your only escape” (Chpt. 7, p. 73). When he looks in the mirror on the wall he sees Peter’s face and sees his destiny waiting for him as a destroyer of life. This is the great suffering he takes on to perform his sacrifice for humanity. He remembers his mother reading Christ’s words to him, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword” and wishes he could just be an anonymous little village boy in the game. Graff persuades Valentine to write Ender a letter of encouragement, and after that, Valentine appears in the computer game, a symbolic Queen of Hearts, to take Ender’s hand and lead him away from the darkness at the End of the World, a foreshadowing of her taking him to the space colonies after the war.

Machines and Weapons

Ender lives in a military futuristic world dominated by machines. The machine is a metaphor for the soldiers the I. F. are trying to create. From age of three to six, Ender has a monitor implanted in his neck, so his perceptions and thoughts can be evaluated by the I. F. officers. He is manipulated and conditioned as though he is a machine without feelings. Ender hates that “He had no control over his own life” (Chpt. 9, p. 151). He is called a “tool” to win the war, and he agrees to this: “I’m your tool, and what difference does it make if I hate the part of me that you most need?” (Chpt. 8, p. 119). When Ender begins playing the part of the mind game called the End of the World, Graff is worried because it is not part of the computer program designed to “shape” (Chpt. 9, p. 121) students to become soldiers. Major Imbu, the psychologist, says that the computer could have inserted a picture of Peter into the game “if the mind game program determines that the picture is necessary” (Chpt. 9, p. 122). The machine is trying to program Ender’s mind to become the destructive tool the military needs. When he crushes a wasp on the raft with his finger and tells Valentine, “I’ve been learning about pre-emptive strategies” (Chpt. 13, p. 235), the reader thinks perhaps the military has permanently changed him into a killer. The wasp is a symbol of the Formic race that Ender is about to wipe out.

Graff explains after the war: “You had to be a weapon, Ender. Like a gun . . . We aimed you” (Chpt. 14, p. 298). Ender is compared by Graff to their weapon called the Little Doctor, a device that blows up planets. Whereas the buggers have natural instantaneous communication, the humans invent the ansible, a machine that can send messages faster than light to the starships. Ender outsmarts the machines, because he is unpredictable and human.


Queens vs. Conquerors

There is an opposition between male and female symbols, associated with aggression or nurturing. Queens and mother figures like Valentine are associated with the heart. Valentine is the mediator between her brothers; she is the one who keeps Ender going and is there to take him away after his ordeal. The Queen of Hearts presides over Fairyland in the computer game, promising rewards. The Formic Queen communicates with Ender telepathically and inspires him to start his Speaker for the Dead religion. From the Queens he learns love and forgiveness. Graff on the other hand ironically calls the I. F. the “wicked witch. We promise gingerbread” while destroying children (p. 10).

Peter is constantly compared to Alexander the Great in that he is ruthless but brilliant. Graff tells Ender “We need a Napoleon. An Alexander . . .  a Julius Caesar” (p. 34). These men are examples of great military leaders who did not mind destroying other countries or civilizations in order to dominate. Peter is more like such a dictator than Ender is, but Graff points out the weaknesses of such rulers. Napoleon lost; Alexander died young; Caesar became a dictator. Ender’s empathy and ability to incorporate the merciful qualities opposite to soldiering ironically make him a better strategist. His understanding is deeper, and he is not too proud to learn from others. He is taken care of by Petra and trained by her when Bonzo has excluded him from the army. As the supreme commander, Ender still credits Petra and acknowledges that she is part of him.

In a very poetic passage, Admiral Chamrajnagar welcomes Graff to Eros. He sees a different more mystical side to Ender than Graff does. He predicts that Ender will go beyond mere soldiering now that he is in outer space: “Ender Wiggin will . . . dance the graceful ghost dance through the stars, and whatever greatness there is within him will be unlocked” (p. 256). Reference to the ghost dance evokes the American Indian religion that believed in calling up the spirits of dead warriors to a resurrection. In like manner, once Ender wins against the buggers, he will be trying to resurrect them. On Eros, which was a bugger colony, associated with love and female energy, Ender learns philotic physics concerned with faster-than-light communication, the technology behind the ansible device. Philotes was the name of the Greek goddess of affection and the name Card gives to the smallest particles in the universe. It is perhaps another way of saying that love is the finest particle. Ender is the hero who incorporates the opposites of the male aggressor and female nurturer. 


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