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
Control, Manipulation, and Authority Quotes in Ender’s Game
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“There is no war, and they’re just screwing around with us.”
“Because as long as people are afraid of the Buggers, the IF can stay in power.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”