Study Guide

Ender's Game Strength and Skill

By Orson Scott Card

Strength and Skill

Chapter 1

He always knew the answer, even when she thought he wasn’t paying attention. (1.50)

The first thing we hear about Ender is from the two military guys telling us that he’s probably “the one,” and pretty soon, we see some examples of what makes Ender special. He understands that “it won’t hurt” means “it <em>will</em> hurt,” and he’s just generally so beyond the other kids at school. Like, he hacked the computer network at school and told the other kids how to send messages. All of this seems to get the message across pretty clearly: Ender is great at what he does.

Chapter 4
Colonel Hyrum Graff

“There's only one thing that will make them stop hating you. And that's being so good at what you do that they can't ignore you. I told them you were the best. Now you damn well better be." (4.77)

Ender later says pretty much the same thing to Bean, but here Ender is hearing it from Graff. Ender might have thought that Battle School was a chance to start over and become friends with kids who are as smart as he is. But Graff has other plans: he wants to isolate Ender, and here he says the only way out of that is for Ender to be the best. OK, so being the best isn’t necessarily the best way to make friends, but that’s another issue that Ender will face. (Though it’s interesting that the issue of skill and social position are so connected.)

Chapter 5

All he had to do was watch the game and understand how things worked, and then he could use the system, and even excel. (5.118)

In case we thought that Ender wouldn’t be any good at games, we get this reminder that um, yes, going to be quite good at games. (Here’s another hint: the book is called <em>Ender’s Game</em>, which is a title that really promises that Ender’s going to be OK at games.) But notice that this remark slips from talking about “the game” to talking about “the system.” What system is that? Is this thought about how Ender is pretty good at games or about how Ender has actually found a good place at the Battle School?

Chapter 7

[…] everything of value was in the school computer or his own head and hands. (7.289)

Here’s a curious thing: Ender is a super smart and super skilled kid but most of this book details how he destroys things. (And by “things” we mean people and an entire alien species.) At least Peter (maybe with some help from Val) comes up with a peace treaty, the Locke Proposal. It’s interesting to keep in mind that, for most of the book, all of Ender’s smarts and skills – all stored in his own head and hands – are used to take things apart. Maybe that's one reason why he doesn’t need to take anything with him when he goes to Rat Army – because he hasn’t actually made anything.

Chapter 8
Colonel Hyrum Graff

"Ender Wiggin is ten times smarter and stronger than I am.” (8.26)

Do we trust Graff when he says this? We’ve seen how smart Ender is (see the first quote in this time), so maybe this is just a reminder that Ender is the best at what he does. But when Graff says “stronger,” he’s not talking about physical strength – he’s talking about Ender’s identity. Do you agree with him that Ender has a strong character?

Chapter 9

Smarter than you, Father. Smarter than you, Mother. Smarter than anybody you have ever met.

But not smarter than me. (9.40-41)

Ender might be the best in some ways, but for all his work in Battle School, we’re reminded that he’s constantly being manipulated (which makes him seem a little less smart). If we want an example of some one who’s smart enough to do the manipulating, we might want to look at Peter and Val. For one thing, they work together to manipulate the world. But there are also serious questions about which one of them is manipulating the other. Here Val comes out and thinks about the issue. At its heart, the question is, who is the smartest Wiggin? Which might remind us that all the competitions and battles happen in regular life as well, not just at Battle School.

Chapter 11

He thought of a half dozen ideas before he went to sleep. Ender would be pleased – every one of them was stupid. (11.233)

This is not the first time that the book makes the connection between something smart and something stupid. (See also 7.269.) See, if everyone uses the same strategy (which is the buggers’ method), then there’s not going to be <em>any</em> good way to win. Ender – who is so darn smart and skillful – sees that there might be some value in trying out new things that seem stupid. This shows us how smart Ender is. He can see potential value where others can’t, and he seems to realize that the games are a good place to experiment.

So it was from the buggers, not the humans, that Ender learned strategy. He felt ashamed and afraid of learning from them, since they were the most terrible enemy, ugly and murderous and loathsome. But they were also very good at what they did. To a point. (11.113)

This is like a one-two punch, reminding us how good Ender is at what he does. How good? Well, for one thing, he’s so good that he can no longer learn from humans. (Which is a fun line we suggest you try out in class: “Can I be excused from class – I can no longer learn from humans.”) For another thing, Ender is so good that he can pick out problems with the buggers’ strategy. For us, this is a reminder that Ender’s so good that he’ll win everything. But this does raise a question: if we’re so sure that Ender is going to win, why do we keep reading?

Chapter 13

Still, thinking back on his life in Battle School, it occurred to him that although he had never sought power, he had always had it. But he decided that it was a power born of excellence, not manipulation. (13.205)

Ender’s very good at what he does, but this raises a problem for him – because what he does isn’t very nice and it reminds Ender of what Peter would do (there are zero WWPD bracelets, we can assure you). In order to feel less like Peter, Ender comes up with a distinction: I have power because I’m excellent, whereas Peter has power because he’s manipulative. Now, this doesn’t entirely seem convincing to us – after all, Peter is excellent at what he does. (Like figuring out secret troop movements by looking at ordinary train schedules.) Not to mention, Ender can be manipulative, too. (Remember, he starts out being friends with Alai because it’s a way to undermine Bernard’s authority.) In some ways, the fact that Ender is uncomfortable here just shows us one potential downside of being so successful: he’s responsible for what he does to other people.

Chapter 14

[…] whenever he was given a problem that involved patterns in space and time, he found that his intuition was more reliable than his calculation […] (14.36)

In case you forgot how smart Ender is – maybe it slipped your mind that he learned arithmetic when he was three (1.54) – here we get another little (math-based) reminder. Ender is so smart that the right answer just seems to come to him. (This isn’t so unusual – the right answer comes to us all the time. And so does the wrong answer.)