Arts and Entertainment

The Cognitive Dissonance of “Ender’s Game”: A Struggle in Identity

A book review of “Ender’s Game ”by Orson Scott Card, a tactical and psychological masterpiece with unprecedented concepts of science fiction and political relevance that outshines any minor flaws.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The paradoxes of the space-time continuum and time travel, and the perspective reorientation in null gravity: as one of the few authors who won the prestigious Hugo and Nebula science fiction awards in consecutive years, Orson Scott Card defined these concepts and their rules in mind-bending ways, creating unprecedented boundaries for sci-fi literature. “Ender’s Game,” his most acclaimed novel displays a sharp and magnetic writing style that unearths the protagonist’s complex identity and the moral cost of manipulation and destruction. From the Enlightenment period starting in the 1500s to modern day, these prevailing themes shape and permeate social beliefs, resonating with people who discover parts of Ender within themselves.

“Ender’s Game” follows the physical and emotional maturation of six-year-old strategic genius Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender. He is isolated among his classmates, singled out because he is a Third in a society where families are only allowed to have two children and because he alone has a monitor, a government device that observes his actions. After passing a government test, Ender is transported to Battle School, a space station where ingenious children are trained to be soldiers through simulated battles in preparation for the impending threat of an invasion by insect-like aliens, buggers. The general plot is simple and straightforward: the backdrop of any science fiction novel. While the novel traces Ender’s growth at Battle School, a subplot explores the actions and motivations of his two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, back on Earth.

Card utilizes the pair to provide context to Ender’s later struggle with his identity, adding psychological depth that allows readers to glimpse his hidden humanity. Through superficial government evaluations, Peter was rejected from Battle School for being too cruel, Valentine for being too compassionate. Peter is physically brutal and toxic, setting the standard of evil for the other siblings, who dread becoming like him. His true character and motives, however, are ambiguous, since Card never reveals Peter’s thoughts, highlighting Card’s brilliant decision to use only Ender and Valentine’s points of view. Peter’s ostensibly sincere apologies and justifications for his cruelty and manipulation result in a complicated and developed character, alluding to the blend of good and evil in humanity. Valentine is primarily angelic, though she also utilizes emotional manipulation for power, blurring the difference between her and Peter. Peter uses fear, Valentine flattery, but they share the same ambition for power.

By writing controversial news columns and joining adult political discussions online, Peter and Valentine fulfill their intense ambition for power by quickly amassing their international influence under the names Locke and Demosthenes, respectively. Locke advocates for world peace as the “mature” perspective, while Demosthenes seeks to escalate anti-Russian sentiments, which subtly incorporates real-world American political sentiments post-Cold War. Peter plans to have Demosthenes suddenly support Locke’s view, shifting a major part of the world’s political influence to his side, the opportune moment to take control as world leader after Ender defeats the buggers. Ender demonstrates his capability to be brutal in self-defense but empathetic at heart, not wishing to exterminate the bugger race. A manifestation of both Peter and Valentine, Ender’s struggle to maintain his morality and find his own distinct and separate identity becomes an engrossing psychological conflict.

Ender’s battles in null gravity and later computer simulations with the buggers present his inner conflict with morality and are notable for their vivid dynamics. The battles are conducted in low lighting or dusk, and there are “stars,” which are stationary. Though the colors, breadth of the Battle Room, and tactile descriptions are insufficient, Card implements this stylistic choice to focus on the fluid and chaotic movement of battle as soldiers rebound off handholds on walls in different directions and shoot lasers to temporarily freeze enemies. It highlights Ender’s tactical brilliance as he challenges the rigid structure of battle, proving that multiple groups of soldiers can provide a more immediate and logical response to an enemy’s unexpected tricks.

Though these evocative movements are a highlight of the battles, the novel disappointingly lacks female representation, even incorrectly asserting that females don’t belong in the military because they aren’t qualified to get into Battle School. There is only one female, Petra, who trains alongside Ender. This sexism implies that females are too sensitive or incapable for battle, a dated and problematic flaw in Card’s futuristic dystopia.

Despite a lack of female role models, the core message of “Ender’s Game”—the struggle with identity and maintaining one’s moral values—is clearly conveyed through Ender’s inner conflict as he later kills the buggers and finds his own identity separate from the influence of Peter and Valentine. Ender’s experience with loneliness and isolation on Earth and in Battle School is admirable and heart wrenching as he is forced to mature quickly alone. Card not only shatters the boundaries of physical descriptions in sci-fi, but also adds a flawed complex depth to the minds of characters, blurring our perspective on moral virtue and true identity, a timeless question to which there is no definite answer.