Ender’s Game is, on the surface, the story of how one six year old boy named Ender came to win the greatest war ever fought by humankind. Ender is born into a world that is shaped by the First and Second Invasions, the times when an alien race (called “buggers” by the characters) attacked the Earth, with superior weapons and far greater numbers. Earth was only saved from destruction when a commander named Mazer Rackham used a brilliant strategy to kill a pivotal leader of theirs, and ended the war. Now humanity is preparing to end the threat posed by the buggers once and for all, by finding a commander capable of the kind of strategic thinking that allowed Rackham’s victory. They turn to the Wiggins family, where first Peter is born. Peter, they quickly learn, is mostly devoid of compassion and desires control more than anything else. Valentine, the second, is incredibly empathetic and seen as too soft. Then Ender, the third child is born. He combines the better traits of his siblings and goes to Battle School, where children are taught to fight in space and lead armies. Ender is isolated and treated differently from the first day, by the officers that purposefully make his peers dislike him. Whenever Ender finally becomes accustomed to his situations, they advance him in the army so that he must start again. Although he makes friends along the way, he is never able to depend upon the trust of others. Life in the Battle School is centered on the “games” played by the armies of children, when they face each other in mock combat. Ender, by far the youngest commander of an army, has the odds increasingly stacked against him by General Graff and Admiral Anderson, the leaders of the school. Although Ender is aware that they are purposefully pushing him to his limits, he perseveres and becomes the brilliant soldier that they were hoping for. He is then sent to Commander School, where he is worked day and night in running a “simulation game” where he controls an army of ships facing programmed buggers. His mind begins to break from the stress and work he is put through, but he still makes it through to what the adults around him call his Final Exam. He faces impossible odds- he is outnumbered a thousand to one in this simulation. Ender does manage to end the game though, by destroying the planet the enemy ships were protecting- he does this out of defiance for all of the “games” he has been forced to play in his life, as he believes that destroying a planet will not be an acceptable strategy, and he will finally fail, to be sent home. However, Graff reveals to him shortly afterwards that the “games” he has been playing through the simulation were all real- Ender himself led the Third Invasion, and obliterated the buggers and their home.
1) The novel deals heavily with the morality behind “the ends justify the means.” The leaders of the military push children to their breaking points in hopes of finding one capable of Rackham’s brilliance, and then manipulate him into killing an entire race, which rests heavily on his conscience. General Graff says, "Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. Maybe humanity needs you. To do something. Maybe humanity needs me—to find out what you're good for. We might both do despicable things, Ender, but if humankind survives, then we were good tools” (131), as a way of justifying his actions. It was later shown that we were at war simply because humans and buggers could not communicate, and both thought the other was hostile. Do you think that the military had the right to use children as they did?
2) Ender, throughout the novel, commits some horrible crimes. While only six and still on Earth, he was confronted by a pack of bullies who wanted to hurt him for being smarter than them. He managed to break the leader’s nose, and saw that he could have walked away then as the others tended to his nose. However, he continued attacking the boy because he knew that unless he won decisively, his torment at their hands would never end. Much the same thing happened years later, except with much older children who intended to kill Ender. It is later revealed that although Ender did not know at the time, he killed the two boys. Ender says “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” (204). Ender sees himself as a killer, and hates himself for it- he worries that he is like his sadistic older brother. Do you think that these actions make Ender a bad person, or do you see it as justified because he was defending himself?