Ender’s Game

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Ender’s Game Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Anderson and Graff argue about the battle schedule Graff has planned for Ender. Anderson objects that the schedule is too challenging: Ender faces a new battle almost every day. Graff insists that the new schedule will toughen Ender and make him a stronger commander. He adds that “computer simulations” have predicted that Ender will reach his full potential soon. Anderson wonders aloud if humans—who are clearly capable of torturing young children—are worthy of winning the war with the Buggers. Then he laughs and calls this “black humor.”
Anderson continues to be the voice of (relative) moderation and restraint, while Graff is the voice of toughness, manipulation, and constant pressure. Anderson “jokes” about something that becomes a very real issue—what makes humans inherently more worthy than the Buggers? So far we know almost nothing about the Buggers, except that they have been endlessly demonized—so much so that a preemptive attack on them is considered justified.
Themes
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Ender has been a commander for a few weeks now. He barely sleeps, and spends long hours making plans of attack for the battleroom. His troops have grown into capable, intelligent soldiers, and Ender trusts them to improvise strategies and tactics on the spot. This gives them a huge advantage over other armies, who are trained by their commanders to obey orders at all costs. As Ender sits in his room and thinks about all this, he sees a piece of paper slipped under his door. Without reading the paper he knows what it says: his army will have a battle today.
Ender is so used to being surprised by sudden changes in scheduling that he doesn’t even need to read the letter that’s slipped under his door to know there’s a battle. He’s now accustomed to the IF reading his emotions and manipulating them, so he knows that the IF will present him with whatever he wants least. And yet Ender’s competitive, ambitious nature makes him keep striving to keep up with each new challenge.
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Ender goes to meet his army at 6 am, and informs them that they have a battle with Rabbit Army. To Ender’s surprise, the troops accept this order grudgingly but maturely—clearly Ender has trained his troops to be loyal and disciplined. After an hour of light practice, the troops go to the battleroom. As the battle is about to begin, Ender reminds his soldiers of their signature attack position: “the enemy’s gate is down.”
Over the past weeks, Ender has built loyalty and respect in his troops, to the point where they obey him even when he gives out an unpopular order. As always, he urges his troops to think for themselves and to think outside the box. “The enemy’s gate is down” becomes a symbolic phrase for this kind of thinking—circumventing the usual rules and striking at an opponent’s weakest point.
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The battle begins. Right away, Ender notices that there are “stars” scattered through the battleroom. He directs his toons to shoot through the room and improvise their strategies once they’ve secured a position. Ender notes with pleasure that his toons are arranging themselves so that they break up the Rabbit Army into small, weak parts. One of his toon leaders, Crazy Tom, has the bright idea of ordering his troops to flash their own legs, making them nearly invisible in the low light of the battleroom. Ender makes a mental note to praise Tom for this decision later on.
Ender is a good commander, and this means that he gives credit where credit is due. It’s hard to imagine Rose or Bonzo praising Crazy Tom for his ingenuity—they’d either take credit for the idea themselves, or punish Tom for disobeying them. Ender can’t help but take pride in his accomplishments as a leader—like it or not, he’s starting to enjoy the battleroom.
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The battle proceeds very quickly—Ender’s organized yet free-thinking troops easily overpower the Rabbit Army’s plodding forces. Ender assembles five troops and sends them through the enemy’s gate, winning the battle. After the battle, Carn Carby, the leader of Rabbit Army, approaches Ender and commends him for his good performance.
Ender emphasizes improvisation and individual agency in his troops. Thus, when they fight against a highly organized, centralized force like the Rabbit Army, it’s easy for them to surprise the enemy and defeat them.
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It’s still early in the morning when Ender’s troops have left the battleroom. He orders them to the mess hall for breakfast, and then to the battleroom for their usual practice. Ender himself doesn’t eat any breakfast—he’s too busy thinking about his next move. He’s just won a major victory with an inexperienced, barely-trained group of soldiers, and he now expects to see the other armies imitating his methods—dividing armies into small toons that use improvisational strategies. At practice, Ender doesn’t linger on praising his troops. He gives everyone strict instructions for how to improve their performances. By this point, the soldiers are used to Ender’s calm yet severe style of leadership: they know that he’s stern but also very patient with them.
Ender gives praise where it’s due, but he doesn’t give in to his temptation to reward his troops with rest and relaxation (and in this, he once again echoes Graff’s methods). In order to lead in this way, it’s important that Ender establish early on that he’s tough but fair—he needs his troops’ respect, but not their friendship. One consequence of this arrangement is that Ender is very lonely—he can’t make friends with anyone in his army because to do so would mean that he has a soldier who can’t fully accept his authority.
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After practice, Ender goes to the commander’s mess hall, and notices his old toon leader Dink Meeker sitting there. Dink greets Ender cheerfully, and compliments him for his good showing in the battleroom. After a few moments, however, Ender realizes that Dink isn’t as friendly as he seems—in fact, Dink finishes his conversation with Ender quickly and goes to sit at a different table. After Dink leaves, Carn Carby sits down with Ender and praises him once again. Ender is impressed: Carn seems sincere, even if he’s a lackluster commander. That night, Ender sleeps better than he has in months.
Ender’s isolation from his peers is confirmed by his behavior in this scene. Dink, his old mentor, seems angry with Ender, even if he hides his anger and resentment behind a cheerful exterior. Competition is at the heart of every aspect of Battle School, so when someone is clearly the best at something, everyone else is naturally jealous of them. At the same time, Carby’s pleasant behavior is a welcome relief from the usual dynamic between Ender and others.
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The next day, Ender wakes up to find that he has another battle scheduled, this time with Petra Arkanian’s army, Phoenix. He’s disturbed to see that he’s already late: the battle is scheduled in only half an hour. Quickly, he runs to his troops’ barracks and tells them about the battle. They’re surprised—having two battles in two days is unheard of. Nevertheless, the troops perform well against Petra. (Card gives almost no details about the battle.) At the conclusion, Petra is visibly angry with Ender for beating her. Ender hopes that they’ll be friends again at some point.
It’s clear that the IF is manipulating Ender so that he antagonizes his former friends—first Dink, now Petra. Card doesn’t give many details about their battle but the point is that Ender defeats his old, loyal friend, and she doesn’t take the loss well. In the end, the battleroom makes enemies of everyone. Ender was friends with Petra when he was still a powerless victim—now that he is a threat, she finds him less sympathetic.
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By the end of the week, Dragon Army has fought seven battles, and won all of them. Ender has acquired a reputation among commanders for being cocky and arrogant, especially because he’s younger than the average commander by more than a year. Other commanders bully him, pushing him aside in the halls.
In stark contrast to the IF leaders, who justify everything they do by arguing that the Buggers must be defeated, the students at Battle School seem preoccupied with their own power struggles and to forget that the Buggers are the real enemy—they can’t see the forest for all the trees. In this way, they bully Ender for beating them when they should actually be supporting him for trying to save their lives.
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Ender focuses his attention on learning new strategies for the battleroom. He researches old propaganda videos of Mazer Rackham defeating the Buggers. As he watches in more detail, it becomes increasingly clear that the humans should never have defeated the Buggers in the first place. Human ships were slow and difficult to navigate, while the Bugger ships, by contrast, moved quickly and skillfully. He notices that the Buggers have only one big strategy: send as many ships as possible to the greatest point of enemy concentration. He also notices that there’s almost no footage of Rackham’s true victory—only a few shots of Rackham firing at one large ship.
Ender’s far-reaching ambitions are aptly symbolized by his studies of Mazer Rackham—who is portrayed as the ultimate military commander. It seems that Ender knows what he’s destined for, and he’s ready to command a large, dangerous fleet against the Buggers. The absence of useful footage of Rackham’s attack reminds us that the governments of Earth practice strict censorship, and make us wonder if they’re hiding something about the Buggers from their people.
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One day, Ender receives a visit from Anderson and Graff. They ask him how his army has been doing, and ask him why he doesn’t play the Giant’s game anymore. Ender, who’s been frustrated with Graff for months now, fires back that his troops are exceptional, and capable of beating any army in Battle School. He adds that he doesn’t play the Giant game anymore because he already won. Graff tells Ender that he wants him to be as happy as possible, but also wants him to improve as a commander. He gives Ender a slip of paper with his new battle assignment: he’s fighting the Salamander Army, still commanded by Bonzo Madrid.
In previous battles, Ender has been forced to antagonize Petra and Dink, his former friends. Now, Ender is being forced to antagonize his old enemy, Bonzo Madrid. As usual, it’s impossible to read Graff’s emotions in this scene. He’s so committed to pushing Ender to the extreme that we can’t tell if there’s any joy in doing so for him, or if he’s pained by his duties. Everything now seems to be leading up to a confrontation between Ender and Bonzo.
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Ender goes to his troops and tells them about their new battle. Thinking quickly, he devises a novel strategy: he assembles the larger boys and freezes their legs. Then, he lets the smaller boys sit on top of the larger boys, creating a strong defensive position from which the smaller boys can fire without being hit in return. The battle proceeds quickly, and Ender’s troops overpower Bonzo’s in less than a minute. (Again, Card gives few details.)
Ender defeats Bonzo in a humiliatingly short period of time—Card’s lack of description of the battle is a surefire clue that it was a blowout. Clearly, Ender’s close observation of Bonzo has paid off: Ender learned exactly what Bonzo was doing wrong with his army, and took the opposite approach with his own Dragon forces.
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After the battle, Major Anderson enters the battleroom, approaches Ender, and congratulates him on his victory. Ender is furious, however, and insists that he should have been paired against a competent army. He asks Bean what he would have done as Salamander commander, and Bean points out that Bonzo should never have kept his troops in one place. Ender leaves the battleroom quickly, still angry with the teachers for pitting him against an incompetent army. As he emerges, he realizes the truth: Bonzo will despise Ender for beating him.
Whether Ender realizes it or not, he’s further humiliating Bonzo by having Bean, his smallest and least intimidating soldier, call out a superior strategy that Bonzo could have used. It takes Ender a surprisingly long time to realize that Bonzo will surely seek revenge for this loss. Ender has long ago moved beyond the realm of boys like Bonzo—he is focusing on the Buggers, while Bonzo is still concerned with his personal pride and machismo.
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The chapter cuts to Bean’s point of view. Bean is sitting in his barracks room when he receives a message from Ender. He goes to Ender’s room, where Ender asks him how he’s been doing in the battles. Bean knows that Ender knows the answer to his own question, but he plays along: he explains that he’s completed every assignment he’s ever been given, and always has an impressive number of hits. Ender asks Bean why the teachers made him a soldier at such a young age. Bean replies that the IF needs commanders as soon as possible. Ender sighs and tells Bean the truth: he’s tired of commanding and tired of fighting. Bean realizes that Ender is no longer bullying him—he’s confiding in him.
In the past, Ender took out his anger and aggression on Bean, partly because Ender saw Bean as another version of himself—smart, shy, and eager to prove himself. Here, Ender chooses to confide in Bean for the same reason—because he thinks Bean will understand what he’s going through. The two boys don’t become especially close here, but Bean does have some useful observations—it’s clear enough that Ender is being pushed because the IF thinks he’s valuable, and because the Buggers are nearby.
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Ender asks Bean for his help. He needs Bean to think of “crazy ideas” to help the Dragon Army win in the coming weeks. The teachers will continue to challenge Ender by giving him tighter schedules and increasingly unfair odds, but if Bean is on his side, then Ender might be able to weather the new challenges. Bean agrees. By the time Bean returns to his barracks, he’s already thought of half a dozen ideas: “Ender would be pleased—every one of them was stupid.”
Time and time again in this novel, Ender turns to new friends for help and understanding—and each time, the IF finds a way to distance Ender from these friends. Graff has already established that for Ender to become a great leader he must be likeable, but still fundamentally isolated from his peers. This is a valid point, perhaps, but the problem is the psychological toll it takes on Ender himself—he is still just a boy, and he feels totally alone in the world.
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