Ender’s Game

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Control, Manipulation, and Authority Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love, Empathy, and Destruction Theme Icon
Games, Computers, and Virtual Reality Theme Icon
Morality and Survival Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Control, Manipulation, and Authority Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Ender’s Game, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Control, Manipulation, and Authority Theme Icon

It’s clear from Chapter 1 of Ender’s Game that Orson Scott Card’s novel takes place at a time when the governments of the world exercise harsh control over their own citizens. There seem to be three major powers in the world: America, controlled by the powerful Strategos; Russia, controlled by the equally powerful Polemarch; and the IF, supposedly controlled by both the Polemarch and Strategos, but in actuality controlled largely by administrators like Colonel Hyrum Graff. It’s worth understanding how these forces maintain their power, and what Card is suggesting about the way authority works.

The great powers in Card’s novel maintain control of their people for highly specific reasons. Early in the book it’s explained that religious and sexual freedom in the United States has been regulated to the point where it’s illegal to have more than two children. (This clashes with the teachings of religions such as Mormonism and Catholicism.) The supposed reason for these restrictions of people’s freedom is population control—it’s implied that there’s not enough food to go around, meaning that the only way for the human race to survive is to limit human reproduction. Much the same is true of Ender’s education under the IF at Battle School. Ender’s freedom to communicate with his family or to make friends is taken away from him, always with the stated purpose of making Ender a superior soldier and defeating the Buggers, thereby saving the human race from destruction.

When presented as a problem of “freedom versus survival,” it’s hard to argue with the logic of restricting Ender’s mail or limiting the legal number of children. But Scott heavily implies that there is something more sinister going on. At one point, Dink Meeker, a friend of Ender’s, suggests a disturbing possibility: there are no more Buggers—the IF is fabricating the threat in order to maintain control of the world’s children. While Dink turns out to be wrong about the Buggers themselves (they’re still alive), he’s half-right: in a sense, the IF is creating the Bugger threat to manipulate others. This becomes clear toward the end of the novel, when Ender realizes that the Bugger queen trusts Ender, and wants to cooperate with him to ensure that both Buggers and humans can live in peace. The IF wrongly assumes that the Buggers will continue to wage war on humans, and it acts accordingly. When understood in this way, the tyranny of the IF (or, for that matter, the governments of Earth) doesn’t demonstrate mankind’s need to survive so much as mankind’s inexhaustible need to fight. Sure enough, less than 24 hours after the Buggers are defeated, war breaks out on Earth.

If there is a problem with the governments in Orson Scott Card’s novel, it’s their lack of understanding of people (or Buggers) who are unlike them. It’s not entirely clear what Orson Scott Card would put in their place, but it’s notable that his novel ends with Ender going off to found both a new world and a new religion—one that’s based on a sensitive understanding of other people. Throughout Ender’s life, he’s been controlled and manipulated by governments that push him to be violent and attack those unlike him. In his new world, Ender hopes to pioneer a new kind of authority that rejects the fear, violence, and strict control of Earth’s rulers.

Control, Manipulation, and Authority ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Control, Manipulation, and Authority appears in each chapter of Ender’s Game. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Control, Manipulation, and Authority Quotes in Ender’s Game

Below you will find the important quotes in Ender’s Game related to the theme of Control, Manipulation, and Authority.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?”
“If we have to.”
“I thought you said you liked this kid.”
“If the Buggers get him, they’ll make me look like his favorite uncle.”
“All right. We’re saving the world, after all. Take him.”

Related Characters: Colonel Hyrum Graff (speaker), Major Anderson (speaker), Andrew “Ender” Wiggin
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In this early quotation, two high-ranking officials in the "International Fleet" (IF) discuss the education they're planning for Ender Wiggin. Ender is a phenomenally brilliant young boy--his intelligence and leadership potential could make him the greatest military commander the world has ever seen. Graff and Anderson's strategy for Ender's education could be summed up as "survival of the fittest." In order to ensure that Ender becomes a first-rate commander (and defeats the biggest threat to humanity, the aliens known as Buggers), they'll bombard him with hostile opponents: rival students, bullies, aggressive teachers, etc. With these teaching methods, they hope to toughen up their prized pupil.

One of the key questions of Card's novel is how people rationalize cruelty and evil to themselves. In the case of Graff and Anderson, the answer is simple: the ends justify the means. Treating a small boy so cruelly might seem harsh, but—in the officials' view—the cruelty is outweighed by the threat of the Buggers invading once again.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

“They look at you and see you as a badge of pride, because they were able to circumvent the law and have a Third. But you’re also a badge of cowardice, because they dare not go further and practice the noncompliance they still feel is right.”

Related Characters: Colonel Hyrum Graff (speaker), Andrew “Ender” Wiggin , Mr. Wiggin / Father , Mrs. Wiggin / Mother
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Colonel Graff walks a fine line between honesty and manipulation. Graff explains to Ender that his parents—religious people forced to live in a secular society—took a great risk when they had Ender. In Ender's society, it's illegal to have more than two children. The government gave Ender's parents permission to have another baby, because their genetic "stock" was considered to be good for producing future generals. Graff claims that Ender is a badge of pride for his parents—by definition he's a very special child—but adds that he's also a source of shame for them.

Graff's logic is a little confused: he claims that by having "only" one extra child beyond the legal limit, Ender's parents are bringing themselves shame, since they secretly believe that people should have the right to have as many children as they can (particular because of their religion). It doesn't really follow that Ender should make his parents ashamed, simply because they haven't gone far enough in rebelling against a controlling government. Graff appears to be manipulating Ender in order to make Ender more likely to agree to leave his family behind and go to Battle School. Ender, for all his intelligence and leadership abilities, can't quite see through Graff's distortions of the truth.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“I won’t lie now,” said Graff. “My job isn’t to be friends. My job is to produce the best soldiers in the world. In the whole history of the world. We need a Napoleon. An Alexander.”

Related Characters: Colonel Hyrum Graff (speaker), Andrew “Ender” Wiggin
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Graff, the commander of Battle School, explains the scope of his assignment to Ender. Graff has been tasked with using his education program to produce the best military commander possible—a commander so brilliant that he'll be able to defeat the alien Buggers. Graff even admits that he lied and manipulated Ender before so that Ender would be more likely to attend Battle School. The fact that Graff is now being (mostly) honest with Ender signals that he has complete authority over Ender—he doesn't need to lie anymore.

On the surface, it's almost amusing that a grown man is waxing poetic about Napoleon and Alexander to a 6-year-old boy. Graff's quote presupposes a faith in "the system"—he's confident that his educational program can, in fact, produce great generals, and (just as importantly) predict which students have the greatest potential. Graff claims that he's finally being honest with Ender, but—as Card will quickly make clear—this simply isn't true. Even if Graff will tell Ender the truth at certain times, he'll still manipulate his young pupil in increasingly devious and elaborate ways.

Chapter 5 Quotes

He could not cry. There was no chance that he would be treated with compassion. Dap was not Mother. Any sign of weakness would tell the Stilsons and the Peters that this boy could be broken.

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (speaker), Peter Wiggin , Stilson , Dap
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In the course of Ender's time in Battle School, he trains himself to control his emotions. In this quotation, for instance, he forces himself not to cry late at night, even though Dap—the caretaker and self-described "mom" of the new recruits—is offering his support. Although Ender is lonely and misses his family, he also believes that he'll be ridiculed for his weaknesses.

By this point in the novel, Ender has learned not to trust authority of any kind. Even though Dap seems to be a kind, sympathetic man, Ender doesn't trust him. He knows that Dap and Graff are associates; in other words, if Ender exposes any weakness to Dap, Graff will use it against him. Ender's self-control is incredible, but also tragic—this is essentially a six-year-old boy learning how to dehumanize himself in order to survive.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“Ender Wiggin is ten times smarter and stronger than I am. What I’m doing to him will bring out his genius. If I had to go through it myself, it would crush me.”

Related Characters: Colonel Hyrum Graff (speaker), Andrew “Ender” Wiggin
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Colonel Graff tries to justify his behavior to his colleagues at the Battle School. Graff has been manipulating Ender to put him in harm's way: first turning his fellow recruits against him, then sending him to serve with Bonzo. Although Graff's actions have raised some eyebrows, Graff's justification is always the same: Ender's treatment is necessary, because it's the only way to create a first-rate general. Here, Grant offers a further elaboration: Ender will be able to withstand anything that comes in his way.

Graff's pronouncement is a clever rhetorical maneuver. By emphasizing his own weakness and foolishness, Graff creates the impression that he's a modest, cautious man while also suggesting that Ender is more than capable of surviving Bonzo's hostility. In short, Graff undercuts his own achievements and authority in order to justify his actions.

“There is no war, and they’re just screwing around with us.”
“But why?”
“Because as long as people are afraid of the Buggers, the IF can stay in power.”

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (speaker), Dink Meeker (speaker)
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

One of Ender's superiors in his new army, Dink Meeker, tells Ender his theory. Dink believes that the International Fleet, or IF, is manufacturing rumors of a Bugger invasion in order to maintain power. The IF has a virtual monopoly on the world's greatest military leaders: it runs tests around the world to harvest the best minds and train them for years in a secure location (Battle School). The IF can always justify the tremendous power it exerts over the world by saying that Battle School is necessary for defeating the Buggers. In short, it's in the IF's interest to manufacture a story about an impending Bugger invasion.

Although Ender dismisses Dink's theories for a number of reasons, Dink's ideas are relevant because they reinforce the notion that the IF will use deception and manipulation to get its way. As we've already seen, the IF will lie to children in order to get them to come to Battle School—it doesn't seem to be assuming too much to say that it would also lie to the people of the Earth.

Chapter 9 Quotes

“When the Bugger wars are over, all that power will vanish, because it’s all built on fear of the Buggers. And suddenly we’ll look around and discover that all the old alliances are gone, dead and gone, except one, the Warsaw Pact. And it’ll be the dollar against five million lasers.”

Related Characters: Peter Wiggin (speaker)
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter, still a teenager, tries to convince Valentine that the Earth is facing an impending crisis. If the Buggers are defeated in battle, the nations of the Earth will begin a scramble for power. The world's great powers have only united together temporarily out of fear that they'll be wiped out by Bugger warriors. If there are no more Buggers, there's no more unity—war is inevitable.

Peter's speech—which he uses as justification for his own plan to become the leader of the world—is interesting because it sheds light on Peter's own definition of leadership. Ender, a soldier and a general, thinks of a leader as a calm, collected figure who comes up with the best strategies. Peter, on the other hand, thinks of a leader as a political figure, someone whose principle job is to maintain a delicate balance of power between many rivals. Peter's speech also presupposes that human beings are basically selfish entities—they'll do whatever it takes to gain as much power for themselves as possible. We can guess that Peter sees himself in exactly the same terms—he's a power-hungry young man.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Ender wanted to undo his taunting of the boy, wanted to tell the others that the little one needed their help and friendship more than anyone else. But of course Ender couldn’t do that. Not on the first day. On the first day even his mistakes had to look like part of a brilliant plan.

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin , Bean
Page Number: 161-162
Explanation and Analysis:

Ender is given control of an army at Battle School. On his first day commanding the army, he verbally abuses a young soldier named Bean, making fun of him for his size. Ender immediately regrets his actions and wishes he could take back what he said. But Ender also knows that his priority is developing his authority over his new group of soldiers. For this reason, he doesn't apologize to Bean, but instead moves on with his speech.

Ender's behavior in the scene illustrates the contrast between his cold, calculating manner and his secret compassionate side. Ender was a sweet child, but Graff and his other teachers at Battle School have trained him to be harsh, intimidating, and impressive. Yet in spite of the training he's received, Ender continues to feel the same sense of compassion he always did: Graff hasn't stamped it out of him yet.

In the second half of the novel, Card poses a question: which part of Ender's personality is stronger, his brutality or his compassion? Based on the quote, it would seem that Ender's brutality is stronger: he yells first, then feels sorry later. At the same time, though, Ender had to learn brutality from Graff—his compassion is innate. The fact that Graff has yet to get rid Ender's sense of compassion suggests that it, not Ender's brutality, is the stronger force.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“They need us, that’s why.” Bean sat down on the floor and stared at Ender’s feet. “Because they need somebody to beat the Buggers. That’s the only thing they care about.”
“It’s important that you know that, Bean. Because most boys in this school think the game is important for itself—but it isn’t. It’s only important because it helps them find kids who might grow up to be real commanders, in the real war. But as for the game, screw that.”

Related Characters: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (speaker), Bean (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Battleroom
Page Number: 196-197
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Ender confides in his friend Bean—a young, ambitious soldier in the Dragon Army, whom Ender had initially mocked for his size. Ender tells Bean what he's learned about Battle School so far: the game, he believes, is fake, while war is real. Ender claims that most students in school are so competitive that they never fully grasp that the game is "just a game"—there are always students like Bonzo who are so competitive that they're willing to kill an opponent because of a win or loss in the Battle Room.

Ender's speech is ironic, as we'll soon find out, since in the end, there is no difference between the game and the war with the Buggers. Ender's mistake—his tragic flaw, you could say—is that he thinks he can preserve some of his humanity and compassion during Battle School; i.e., he can be a brutal commander during a game, and a normal human being for the rest of the day. Graff, knowing full-well that Ender thinks the Battle Room is just a game, will manipulate Ender into heartlessly annihilating the Buggers by lying to him about what is and isn't real.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“We got the judges to agree that the prosecution had to prove beyond doubt that Ender would have won the war without the training we gave him. After then it was simple. The exigencies of war.”
“Anyway, Graff, it was a great relief to us. I know we quarreled, and I know the prosecution used tapes of our conversation against you. But by then I knew that you were right, and I offered to testify for you.”

Related Characters: Colonel Hyrum Graff (speaker), Major Anderson (speaker)
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

In the aftermath of the Bugger War, Graff is prosecuted for criminal behavior. He's accused of turning Ender Wiggin into a monster: encouraging him to hurt other children and ultimately murder an entire race of creatures. As Graff explains here, he was able to get acquitted very simply: he just argued that Ender's brutal training was necessary for winning the war against the Buggers—in other words, to be against Graff is to be against humanity.

Graff's legal victory reminds us that Ender was only ever a pawn for the IF, and remains a pawn even after the Bugger Wars. As Graff makes very clear, Ender's only purpose was to defeat the Buggers: Graff cynically crammed him with lessons in violence and brutality, never caring about (or choosing to ignore) the fact that Ender might be permanently warped by this "education." And even now, after the Bugger Wars, Graff's judges are forced to admit that the ends justify the means: Ender's prolonged torture at Battle School (he's forced to murder children, for example) is less important than humanity's victory against the Buggers.