This is a paper I wrote for English class. On the whole, I feel that Science Fiction characters are misunderstood. The result of such musings was this paper, which I then turned in for credit. Surprisingly enough, I received a good grade! Perhaps my teacher was able to appreciate a foundation of truth beneath what may be perceived as bullshit...
Ender, the protagonist of the novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, is a complex character. Often in life, one’s motivation for a certain manner and set of actions is not what others might suspect it is. This can be for many reasons, but primarily, even the most normal-seeming of actions may have subtle, subconscious connections that are meaningful only to a person with the correct set of contexts. Indeed, adolescents are a prime example, since their wild mood swings and behavioral spectrums may seem to be caused by hormones, but as any adolescent can tell you, a particular mood is related to the complicated events surrounding the time period, and cannot be explained as a merely biological phenomon. In this case, because of a deep-rooted desire for power, especially over his own destiny, Ender is willing to do everything he can to succeed in Battle School and at war against the Buggers.
One of Ender’s deepest secrets, one he keeps even from himself, is a powerful desire he has for control, and a contempt for those who control him. These emotions manifest themselves at certain times – either trivial or vital - in the novel, and often represent a turning point for the boy and his ambitions. Perhaps the most dramatic of these moments is when Ender decides not to play the Giant’s Drink game within the fantasy environment in the Battle School computers. After many tries (after all, the boy is persistent), Ender becomes frustrated, ruminating: “I hate this game. It isn’t fair. It’s rotten” (64). Refusing to admit that the Giant, which is perhaps a metaphor for the I.F. or the Buggers, has control over his game character’s fate, Ender goes outside of the regular rules of the game and murders the beast, getting him to Fairyland, which, as can be seen later in the book, becomes a very important place for him. Such refusal to admit control, and the willingness to take the necessary swift action, is what makes Ender such a great command prospect, but it also makes him reluctant to play the Battle School’s games, including, eventually, the game – the battle room. However, before Ender even gets his own army, he is just a soldier, albeit a particularly skilled one in tactics and strategy. In his first army, Salamander, Bonzo Madrid refuses to let Ender draw his weapon in battle. Aside from the strategic, command-related stupidity of this, Ender is upset by the order as an aspect of his controlling personality. Knowing that he could make a difference, and that this difference would be beneficial to others, it strikes him not only as remarkably foolish but as personally frustrating that he is more or less powerless in that situation. Without that power, Ender feels naked, like he has not felt since the days when Peter ruled over his daily life. Finally, the boy’s fundamental need for control is most clearly displayed in his behavious when he does gain command of his own army. Ender takes charge immediately, developing a disciplined army, yet provides his soldiers with the freedom to make their own decisions in battle. Such a novel way of organizing and deploying his forces, and the immediate results he got with his keen sense of tactics, got Ender the recognition and respect that he so deeply craves. Earlier in the book we see how he needs such recognition when he realizes that “he may be short, but they knew his name. From the game room of course, but it was something” (81). This realization pleases him at a basic level, which he may rationalize as strategy for his military career, but which is actually part of his own personality. Overall, desire for power and contempt for those who control him is one of the main motivations behind Ender’s life at Battle School and beyond.
By very nature of his being a Third, Ender has no control over his destiny at all (once the I.F. determines he is necessary for the Bugger War effort), and this bothers him in the fundamental, power-hungry core of his being, motivating him to do anything he can to manipulate his own fate. As such, Ender tries as hard as he can to rectify such a situation, possessing a tendency to emulate those who have control over his life, because he hopes to learn how they exert their power over him. Perhaps the most psychologically and emotionally important figure to Ender is his brother Peter, whose cruelty and maliciousness was the bane of his childhood. Although Ender does not consciously try to be like his brother, he does, at times, act like Peter, and he is not altogether unpleased with his motivation or the results he obtains through such action. A prime example of this is how he beats up the bully Stilson, attempting not only to win that fight by knocking the boy over, but to “win all the next ones too” (19), by beating him badly. Such an analytical approach to his acts of violence does make him like Peter, and since it got him the desirable results, this similarity is reinforced in his mind as a way to gain and maintain power and control. Throughout the book, he also tries to be like his sister Valentine, noting not only that she is a good person, but that he is utterly a slave to her virtue and unconditional love. Such emotions are probably the most powerful Ender ever experiences, and, as such, he constantly compares himself to her – in his mind, at least – utterly perfect example. Finally, the most powerful figure at Battle School is Colonel Graff, and he is therefore the person with the most direct control over Ender’s life. This power is implemented even as Ender is being shuttled up to the station for the first time, through Graff’s somewhat ingenious method of isolating the boy to cause the group of launchies to “sort itself out.” Surprisingly enough, such a cruel, if effective, method is exactly what Ender uses with his own Dragon Army and the precocious Bean, and perhaps it has the same desirable effects. Regardless of these, however, Ender observes Graff’s control over his life, and tries to be like the Colonel in order to gain a similar control. This emulative tendency of Ender’s, in addition to his desire for power shown most dramatically by his work on the fantasy game, combine to imply an immense quest for self-direction in the boy’s innermost psyche.
Much of Ender’s will to succeed at Battle School and against the Buggers is motivated by the transferral of this power-hunger and search for control to his fighting and command abilities. Once placed in an army environment where he can flourish, Ender proceeds to use his strategic skills to make up for any deficiency in physical prowess or marksmanship, keeping him at the top of the individual standings and making him one of the most influential soldiers at the school! His amazing drive to succeed, and his humanitarian selflessness, as evinced by his extra practice sessions with the Launchies, must have roots in a desire for control. For, although he does not purposefully involve others in his practice sessions as students or subordinates, in essence, this is what they become, and Ender slowly but steadily builds up a command base at school, even without an army of his own. Another great example of Ender’s search for control is his ability, and even tendency, to go outside the normal Battle School order of operation. Aside from his supposedly impossible feats on the fantasy game, Ender’s style of soldiership and command are totally unprecedented, like when he first assumes command of Dragon army, pointing out that his first orders are “the reverse of the usual pattern, and Ender knew it. ... he didn’t intend to be like many commanders...” (157). With brand new tactics and organizational structure, Dragon Army shoots through the rankings, all because the enemies are caught totally off guard. Such a propensity for unusual thinking demonstrates that Ender will try to succeed in any way he can, without concern for conformity or possible failure – a sure sign that control of his soldiers and his military career is foremost in Wiggin’s mind. Even later, when it is the Buggers he is battling, Ender absorbs the complex rule system of the “simulators” almost immediately, and he sees right through to the tactics of what are actually the Buggers. Of course, knowing, at least subconsciously, that it was war with the Buggers for which he was being trained all along, Ender spends the majority of his free time studying videos of the First and Second Bugger Wars. Such a willingness and eagerness to get inside the mind of his enemy shows how much Wiggin needs as much control of his destiny as he can garner. As a consequence, of course, he is well-prepared for battle, and the control pays off. In fact, much, if not most, of Ender’s success in the International Fleet organization can be attributed to these desires for power and for control of his own fate.
Power motivates Ender more than anything else to work hard at school and war, and by struggling, to acheive that upon which the fate of humanity rests. Despite the obvious nature of the I.F.’s true enemy, it seems to me that it was not a desire to “save the world,” which, first and foremost, convinced Ender to do his best. Of course, the motives of famous and infamous people are always far more complicated than meets the eye, and literary figures, if realistically portrayed, are no exception to this rule. Such complexity and realism lends a powerful new dimension to Card’s work, making this portrayal of an adolescent - with wisdom and responsibility beyond his years - believable, albeit utterly fantastic in nature. As a work of fiction, Ender’s Game demonstrates many interesting facets of human nature far better than a true story could ever do.