Ender's Game: Theme Analysis
The End Justifies the Means
The arguments between Graff and the other officers of the I. F. usually revolve around the idea that “the end justifies the means.” Yes, it is terrible they are destroying children and making them into killers, but on the other hand, the safety of the world is at stake. Battle School deliberately breaks down the children in mind, body, and morality so they will be effective soldiers. Ender comes to understand, and even to accept, that he is just a tool. Graff tells him: “You had to be a weapon, Ender” (Chpt. 14, p. 298). He is compared to Mazer Rackham who thoroughly destroyed the buggers in the Second Invasion. Ender also justifies violence in his own mind when he fights Stilson and Bonzo. He does not just beat them; he goes farther, over the edge, in order to stop them from trying anything in the future. The adults accept that the means used to reach an end may be ugly, but they have committed themselves to success at any price. Ender is innocent at heart and grieves, even if he gives in to this principle that seems to rule the adult world.
Graff and the others are ruthless but sympathetic characters. They are able to love Ender and the other children, but they feel duty-bound to make them into soldiers for a greater good. Peter is not a sympathetic character but also uses this idea of the end justifying the means. He uses it for his own benefit, and this is the slippery slope of the principle. One can speak of glorious purposes, all while doing wicked deeds. Peter wants power. He wants to be Hegemon. He uses his siblings, parents, and any form of manipulation to get there. Valentine comes to think in the end perhaps Peter was not all wrong because though selfish and brutal, he saved lives by gaining control of the world and disallowing a bloody civil war.
At Graff’s court martial, the prosecution cannot prove that the bugger wars would have been won without Ender’s abusive training. Does this exonerate the military and the government for using children and destroying the buggers? Does it excuse Peter? The world forgives Peter and Graff and the military, but the author plants a moral question in the mind of the reader when Ender tries to undo the results of what he considers his crime of destroying the bugger planet. His saving of the bugger queen could be seen as treason, but he comes to a higher moral understanding that goes beyond “the end justifies the means,” involving cooperation: “live and let live.”
Learn From Your Enemies
Ender is a great strategist because he is creative, and he learns from the enemy how best to defeat it. He watches and analyzes each army he joins, as well as the opponents. He takes knowledge from everyone and everywhere in a generous give and take with both friend and foe. Whatever he learns, he turns around and teaches to others, unconcerned that the ones he trains could be in an opposing army sometime.
Ender learns the most from those who most oppose him. That is why Graff adopts the policy of creating isolation around him and trying to make enemies of the other children. Opposition fuels his creativity. From Bonzo, for instance, who will not let Ender participate in the fighting, Ender learns “well-rehearsed formations were a mistake . . . they were predictable” (Chpt. 7, p. 84). This point is used against Bonzo and becomes part of Ender’s technique in the future.
Ender’s empathy, and his ability to make friends, are the secret weapons that Graff counts on. They needed “a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them” (Chpt. 14, p. 298). Ender needs to make friends of the opposing soldiers in the war games so they will follow him as a unified army.
Petra and Dink are among those who warn Ender that the enemy is not who he thinks it is. “the most important message was this: the adults are the enemy, not the other armies” (Chpt. 7, p. 82), The adults are manipulators and do not tell the truth. They change the rules; they do not reveal their plans. They are tricking Ender into doing what they want. Ender learns politics from the officers and gets a cynical edge, exposing their tricks, finally refusing to play with the computer games or in the battle games. He graduates to bigger and bigger enemies and learns greater and greater truths.
Ultimately this secret weapon of empathy leads him in a circle; Ender falls in love with the enemy and plans to restore them. Learning from the enemy begins to take on a higher meaning. From the bugger queens, he learns they did not mean to hurt humans and that they are evolving. They are able to learn and co-exist. They extend trust and friendship to Ender, and he reciprocates. From his enemy he learns to appreciate and accept life in all its forms.
Loneliness and Connection
The theme of loneliness and connection is played out mostly through Ender. Lonely from birth as a “Third” he never feels normal and therefore sees no point in refusing the offer to go to Battle School where he might make friends. Graff makes sure he is constantly isolated to keep his creativity strong, but this is hard on Ender who misses human sympathy. All the new recruits are children and can be heard at night crying in their beds. As soon as Ender breaks through his isolation and makes a friend, with Alai, for instance, he is moved to a more hostile environment.
The need for love and connection is peculiar to humans, for the buggers move with group mind and do not have individual feelings. Humans need affection, validation, and friendship. Ender initially alienates others because he is better than anyone else, but he also inspires others and draws them to him. Each time he is able to overcome his loneliness and isolation, he is suddenly promoted and whisked away by the officers. Each promotion isolates him more with the “loneliness of power” (Chpt. 10, p.155). As Commander of the Fleet, his closest friends from Battle School are the squadron leaders: “Ender was their teacher and commander, as distant from them as Mazer was from him” (Chpt. 14, p. 282).
The loneliness at the top keeps Ender from being a child, and he has nothing to look forward to if he takes Mazer Rackham for a model. Mazer won the last war but was never allowed to go home to his family because he was too valuable to the military and had to keep training others. Mazer locks Ender up in isolation when he trains him to be commander and cannot show him any affection since he is playing the part of the enemy. Ender is encouraged when he overhears both Mazer and Graff admit they love him as he is sick in bed from exhaustion.
Ender is loving and misses his family, especially Valentine, the most important person in his life. The military uses Valentine to persuade Ender whenever he wants to quit. The connection to her, in reality and in his dreams, keeps him going. Graff knows Ender well enough to see that he has to balance the isolation and friendship in the right proportions to create a leader. Ender feels his success is partly because of his bonding with others. When Alai is taken away from him, he knows “Alai had left something behind” in him (Chpt. 10, p. 171). When Petra is exhausted in the bugger wars, Ender remembers how she generously trained him: “Part of what I am is her. Is what she made me” (Chpt. 14, p. 286). Graff admits that he has used Valentine to get Ender to do what he wants, but he reminds Ender, “it only works because what’s between you, that ‘s real . . . billions of those connections between human beings. That’s what you’re fighting to keep alive” (Chpt. 13, p. 244).