Review: Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card is a great great grandson of Brigham Young, and understandably a devout Mormon. However, in his novel, Ender’s Game, Card exposes precious little about his religious convictions in direct quotation. Instead, his characters primarily voice the humanist and naturalist philosophies commonly supported by the science fiction genre. Card only hints or alludes to topics beyond the realm of observable behavior, and most of his musings follow clichés towards generic ideals of peace and love anyway. Yet as I read, I find that the transcendental cannot be ignored.

Colonel Graff is the most vocal scientific naturalist of Orson Scott Card’s array. In one of his cold, blunt conversations with Ender, Graff states that “human beings are all tools” used by the species to “survive” (67). Earlier he warns the six-year-old boy that Battle School “might ruin [his] life.” Graff then explains that the risk pales in comparison with the “chance … mankind might survive” (56). For the International Fleet, Ender is only worth his contribution to humanity’s success, as measured by Darwin’s survival of the fittest ruler. But this lonely assertion is only a “half truth.” Until Card explains himself, the reader is left to search for the “other half” among symbols and character reflection.

Ender is the prime candidate for inspection as he was singled out above his brother Peter for his empathy – he can see beyond the cold facts and straight to the motives. On page 103, he reveals one significant memory of his mother praying over him when she thought he was asleep. Ender sets this apart as “holy” because he knows his mother “loved him when she thought that no one … could see or hear.” Such motherly love opposes the I.F.’s worth-earned mentality and shatters the benchmark of mere survival for the human race. It values an individual human being for a measure of intrinsic worth not validated by accomplishments or status. Because it was unobserved, her action was also unselfish.

Ender himself later defies the selfish conquest mentality of Battle School when, in his free-play video game, he overcomes the enemy serpent by kissing it on the mouth. Previously, he had “stepped on [its] head, … crush[ing] it under his foot,” but a mirror image of his violent brother stared him down each time (153). When he shattered the mirror with the snake, little snakes came out of the glass to bite him. The symbolism here is up to interpretation, but the clear allusion to Genesis 3:15 is unmistakable. “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” From this biblical framework, the snake can be seen as sin and evil. Card reveals the futility of Ender’s own attempts to conquer his inner evil, but with the image of a kiss, Card suggests a solution found in surrendering the human need for control.