Study Guide

Ender's Game Isolation

By Orson Scott Card


Chapter 1

“Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will. […] So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?” (1.4-6)

Well, that might sound like a terrible idea – hey, we have this kid, let’s surround him with enemies! – but that’s pretty much what they do. And this is in the very first chapter of the book. From the very beginning, we have the connection between Ender and isolation.

Chapter 4

“Isolate him enough that he remains creative – otherwise he’ll adopt the system here and we’ll lose him. At the same time, we need to make sure he keeps a strong ability to lead.” (4.1)

This is both the administrators’ plan and their problem: they need someone who will be creative and find new solutions for old problems – so they isolate Ender.  Yet they still need him to be able to deal with people and lead them. If they isolate Ender totally, good-bye social skills. In some ways, this captures the double-edged sword that is isolation: it has its upside (yay, creativity) and its downside (boo, lack of social skills and empathy). As we’ll see some more, this issue is tightly connected to Ender’s education/manipulation.

If Graff was setting him up, there’d be no help unless he helped himself. (4.62)

First, Graff wants Ender isolated from the kids so he doesn’t pick up their thought processes (which, yes, is a little strange, since these kids are supposed to be the super geniuses of the world – not bad folks to copy). Second, he also wants Ender isolated from the adults so Ender doesn’t rely on them. This comes up a bunch of times in the novel. For instance, Graff later says that Ender can’t have anyone who he looks up to as parents (5.16) and that Ender can’t expect help out during the war itself (5.5).

Chapter 5

The fear stayed, all through dinner as no one sat by him in the mess hall. The other boys were talking about things – the big scoreboard on one wall, the food, the bigger kids. Ender could only watch in isolation. (5.46)

The “fear” that Ender feels is because Bernard is gathering a gang of bullies while Ender has no one, not even Valentine, to protect him. Ender has often stood outside the mainstream (check Chapter 4, where Ender thinks about being like the other boys). But here that isolation comes with an additional cost: it’s not just about being lonely, but being vulnerable. Here’s an unexpected negative side effect to isolation – Ender has no friends to talk to, sure, but he also has no friends to watch his back.

Chapter 7

For a moment, as Ender looked around at the laughing, jeering faces, he imagined their bodies covered with hair, their teeth pointed for tearing. Am I the only human being in this place? Are all the others animals, waiting only to devour? (7.103)

Every once in a while, Ender will say something that sounds like he’s a budding serial killer, like this. (That is, once you imagine that other people aren’t even human, it’s kind of easier to kill them; and in this case, Ender might think he’s killing them out of self-defense since they’re the dangerous animals.) We could also look at this quote and note how isolated Ender is – after all, if he’s the only human in the place, not only does he not have friends, but he couldn’t really make friends who were his equals even if he tried.

Chapter 9
Peter and Valentine Wiggin

“But I didn't hate you. I loved you both, I just had to be – had to have <em>control</em>, do you understand that?” (9.108)

Ender is probably the most isolated character in the book, but since the Wiggin kids are so similar in other ways, what about isolation? Here Peter is telling Val that his urge to control was so overpowering that he couldn’t really connect with his brother and sister. Don’t get us wrong – Peter really seems like a monster at the beginning. But it’s interesting to think that, in some ways, he might be just as isolated as Ender.

Major Imbu

“It has a private meaning to Ender.” (9.10)

This is Major Imbu thinking about the phrase “End of the World.” In some ways, “private meaning” has to be the most isolating thing in the world. Because if some phrase has a private meaning for one person, then that one person won’t be able to communicate that meaning to others.

Colonel Hyrum Graff

"Isolation is – the optimum environment for creativity. It was his ideas we wanted, not the – never mind, I don't have to defend myself to you." (9.304)

Graff starts to explain why isolation is necessary for Ender’s training (and why Ender didn’t get Val’s letters), but then he stops midway to say that he doesn’t need to defend himself. Which is what people always say when they <em>want</em> to defend themselves. We pulled this quote because in it, Graff nicely explains the positive side of isolation (“the optimum environment for creativity”); but the fact that he wants to defend himself shows that there’s something wrong about purposely isolating a kid. No matter the benefit of isolation, we should recognize the unhappiness it causes.

Chapter 10

It wasn't to unify the rest of the group – in fact, it was divisive. Graff had isolated Ender to make him struggle. To make him prove, not that he was competent, but that he was far better than everyone else. That was the only way he could win respect and friendship. It made him a better soldier than he would ever have been otherwise. (10.147)

After he starts to treat Bean badly, Ender finally realizes what the advantage of isolation is, and why Graff isolated him when he was first starting out at Battle School. The fact that multiple characters come to the same conclusions helps the reader get the idea.

Chapter 13
Colonel Hyrum Graff

"We train our commanders the way we do because that's what it takes – they have to think in certain ways, they can't be distracted by a lot of things, so we isolate them. You. Keep you separate. And it works. But it's so easy, when you never meet people, when you never know the Earth itself, when you live with metal walls keeping out the cold of space, it's easy to forget why Earth is worth saving. Why the world of people might be worth the price you pay." (13.193)

Is it true to say that Ender hasn’t met people? Isn’t Battle School full of people? And why does the army need to isolate people when those people are these super-genius kids? After all, the army wants Ender to remain creative, but isn’t his creativity helped by his relationships with Alai and Bean? Graff lays out the reason why they do what they do here – and it’s a story we’ve heard before. But we hear it so many times that we can’t help thinking of some problems.