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Ender's Game | Study Guide

Orson Scott Card

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Ender's Game | Themes


Humans' Inhumanity

Human beings are capable of immense cruelty and inhumanity when defending their own interests. Ender and the other children are abused throughout the book. The children are treated like little soldiers, separated from their families, prevented from having normal life experiences—all of it justified, supposedly, by the ever-present bugger threat. In real life, using child soldiers is considered a "grave violation" by the United Nations, though it does, tragically, happen.

The most egregious example of inhumanity, of course, is the bugger genocide. The author clearly does not hold Ender responsible for it. Ender says he would not have done it if he knew the battles were real. Yet Graff, Mazer, and the adults who cheer Ender's last battle are all aware they just destroyed a planet and erased a species. For them the destruction of the buggers and their home world is fully justified by the elimination of a potential threat to Earth and ensuring the survival of humanity.

Graff claims survival is perhaps the most human of all characteristics: "Nature can't evolve a species that hasn't a will to survive." Biologically speaking, Graff is correct. However, humans usually pride themselves on being more advanced than species who operate solely based on biological imperative. The author presents humanity as equally ruthless in pursuit of its own survival. At the end of the book the buggers are more accepting of humans than humans are of them, which says something about the limitations of human nature.

Power of Technology

The book warns about the power of technology. Technology distances people from reality: Ender sees the battle as a game and acts accordingly. He commits genocide because in a video game, who worries about what happens to the enemies? Graff and Mazer admit they used technology so the children viewed battle as a game. If Ender saw real ships being destroyed, the consequences of his actions would be evident and he would behave differently as a commander.

Increasingly powerful weapons are another danger of technology. Bugger technology and subsequent developments gives humans enough firepower to destroy the buggers' planet. Without such technology, human ships wouldn't have been able to find the buggers, much less destroy them. This is a common theme in science fiction, particularly in the mid- to late-20th century, when writers were exploring the consequences of weapons like the atomic bomb.

Technology can also give power to anonymous people "on the nets." Peter and Valentine create false identities to shape world events. As Locke, Peter becomes a world leader because of how he manipulated peoples and ideas. Peter ultimately uses his power for good, but he and Valentine could have caused a lot of problems.


When Ender and Valentine are at the lake, Valentine sees her brothers as "two faces of the same coin." This image reflects the duality of both Peter and Ender's natures. Ender is a sensitive and caring person, but he is responsible for unimaginable violence. Peter is a more violent and less caring person, but he drafts a peace agreement and rules on Earth for many years, apparently without excessive violence or bloodshed.

A similar duality is also present in Peter and Valentine's adopted identities. The opinionated and violent Peter is Locke—the moderate, rational persona—while Valentine, who is much milder in real life, is the fear-mongering Demosthenes.

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