Halfway through Ender’s Game, Ender Wiggin tells Valentine, his sister, his views on love and hate: “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.” This sentence can be said to sum up the paradox of Orson Scott Card’s novel: the deadliest warrior isn’t a warrior at all. Ender is a good, kind child who sincerely loves his friends and family—and yet it’s because he’s a good, empathetic person that he’s also capable of the most brutal and ingenious acts of violence.
At the beginning of the novel, Ender attacks a boy, Stilson, who’s bullying him. He succeeds in overpowering Stilson, and contemplates walking away when he’s ahead. But because Ender is capable of understanding the way his opponent’s mind works, he realizes that he’d have to fight Stilson again and again if he walked away now. As a result, he decides to kick Stilson in the face, eventually killing him. The same empathy and understanding that allow Ender to form loving relationships with Valentine or with his friends also compel him to fight brutally. It is for this reason that Ender is recruited by the International Fleet and sent to Battle School.
Over his years in school, Ender echoes his fight with Stilson in conflicts with his jealous rival Bonzo Madrid, with opponents in the “battleroom,” and eventually with the Buggers, the alien force that he’s asked to kill. Each time, Ender’s kindness and empathy allow him to understand others (even the Buggers, an alien species), and each time, this understanding enables him to hurt or even kill these others. Ironically, a “meaner” child, like Ender’s brother Peter, wouldn’t be able to get inside his opponent’s head, and therefore wouldn’t be capable of the same acts of destruction.
Toward the end of the novel, it seems that the International Fleet has been right all along: the most dangerous warrior isn’t a cruel bully like Stilson or Peter—instead it’s a calm, empathetic child like Ender. And yet the book doesn’t end on such a pessimistic note. Even if Ender has the power to be a terrible warrior, he only becomes one because of the manipulations of the IF. Left to his own devices, Ender discovers that he has the power to be an agent of peace as well as war. He travels across the galaxy with Valentine, and becomes the leader of a new, peaceful colony of humans. More importantly, he discovers that the Buggers left him a single pupa, capable of repopulating the Bugger race. Instead of giving in to the destructive instincts the IF has worked so hard to instill in him, Ender decides to take the pupa to another world, giving the Buggers a new home. In the final chapter of the book, Scott implies that Ender finds a home for the Buggers after years of searching. Although Ender is responsible for the destruction of an entire species, he atones (in a way) for his crimes by bringing the species back from the dead. Even if love and empathy can be manipulated for violent purposes, by themselves these qualities have a much greater potential for good.
Love, Empathy, and Destruction ThemeTracker
Love, Empathy, and Destruction 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.”
But he did not reach for a pillow to smother Ender. He did not have a weapon.
He whispered, “Ender, I’m sorry, I know how it feels. I’m sorry, I’m your brother. I love you.”
“Tell me why you kept kicking him. You had already won.”
“Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too, right then, so they’d leave me alone.”
“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.”
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.
He hadn’t meant to kill the Giant. This was supposed to be a game. Not a choice between his own grisly death and an even worse murder. I’m a murderer, even when I play. Peter would be proud of me.
That’s how they think of me, too. Teacher. Legendary soldier. Not one of them. Not someone that you embrace and whisper Salaam in his ear. That only lasted while Ender seemed a victim. Still seemed vulnerable. Now he was the master soldier, and he was completely, utterly alone.
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.
He caught her wrist in his hand. His grip was very strong, even though his hands were smaller than hers and his own arms were slender and tight. For a moment he looked dangerous; then he relaxed. “Oh, yes,” he said. “You used to tickle me.”
Forget it, Mazer. I don’t care if I pass your test, I don’t care if I follow your rules, if you can cheat, so can I. I won’t let you beat me unfairly—I’ll beat you unfairly first.
In that final battle in Battle School, he had won by ignoring the enemy, ignoring his own losses; he had moved against the enemy’s gate.
And the enemy’s gate was down.
“Val,” he said, “I just want one thing clear. I’m not going for you. I’m not going in order to be governor, or because I’m bored here. I’m going because I know the Buggers better than any other living soul, and maybe if I go there I can understand them better. I stole their future from them; I can only begin to repay by seeing what I can learn from their past.”
And always Ender carried with him a dry white cocoon, looking for a world where the hive-queen could awaken and thrive in peace. He looked a long time.