Ender spread his hands over the child-size keyboard near the edge of the desk and wondered what it would feel like to have hands as large as a grown-up's. They must feel so big and awkward, thick stubby fingers and beefy palms. (1.54)
Yes, being an adult is truly terrible (or so we’ve heard). Of course, later we’ll hear about how terrible it is to be a kid – always being told what to do, etc. But rarely in the world do we hear about how being a kid has its own advantages. This is definitely something to keep in mind. Sure, you can’t drive a car when you’re young, but maybe there are things young people can do better.
Like children fighting with grown-ups. (3.122)
This is how Ender thinks the humans looked fighting against the buggers during the Second Invasion – the humans didn’t do so well. It's an interesting comparison Ender is making. According to this, children are weak and don’t win against grown-ups. The rest of the book might make us reconsider that thought, though. One example is when the adults at the Battle School come up with unfair situations for Ender to battle through. Remember when Ender tells Anderson that he (the child) has beaten him (the adult)? (It’s 12.171, in case you wanted a big fat hint.)
Out of the woods emerged a dozen slavering wolves with human faces. Ender recognized them – they were the children from the playground. Only now their teeth could tear; Ender, weaponless, was quickly devoured. (7.69)
This image will come back to haunt Ender in real life, but the game seems to be saying something serious about children here: they’re like wolves. (Actually, notice how many of Ender’s bullies hunt in packs, like wolves.) There goes our cherished notion of childhood innocence.
"But shouldn't they still act like children? They aren't normal. They act like – history. Napoleon and Wellington. Caesar and Brutus." (7.10)
Some of the kids in <em>Ender’s Game</em> comment on how they’re not allowed to live normal kid lives (see below for an example of that), and some of the adults notice the same thing (like here). This is a very particular view on what makes a normal childhood – fun and games and whatever else it is that kids do. But even if we can argue about whether that sort of childhood is “normal,” we also should recognize that something is going on here with these kids.
“These other armies, they aren't the enemy. It's the teachers, they're the enemy.” (8.126)
Ender’s worst enemies seem to be the childhood bullies he faces; but many of Ender’s friends appear to think the problem is the teachers and the other adults. (This quote is said by Dink, but a similar issue comes up with Petra earlier (7.189).) This sets up the idea that there might be a war between the generations going on here.
“I've got a pretty good idea what children are, and we're not children. Children can lose sometimes, and nobody cares. Children aren't in armies, they aren't <em>commanders</em>, they don't rule over forty other kids, it's more than anybody can take and not get crazy." (8.134)
According to Dink, Battle School is stealing kids' childhood. Dink has memories of his brother and the stuff his brother is interested in (cars, girls). Measured against that, the Battle School students are – to put it mildly – crazy. As he says later, one of their problems is that they’re trying to act like adults.
Peter and Valentine Wiggin
"Peter, you're twelve years old. I'm ten. They have a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice."
"But we don't think like other children, do we, Val? We don't talk like other children. And above all, we don't write like other children." (9.61-62)
Adults may have clumsy, fat hands (see the first quote – we’re not just saying that to insult ourselves), but children have some problems, too. For one thing, as Val makes clear here, no one takes children’s ideas seriously. Peter has a solution for that, which is to hide their ages online. What’s curious here is that children have problems, but they can find ways to get around those. Can the adults? Well, sure: they can manipulate and use the kids.
He was a child. He was young.
No he isn't, thought Ender. Small, yes. But Bean has been through a battle with a whole army depending on him and on the soldiers that he led, and he performed splendidly, and they won. There's no youth in that. No childhood. (12.194-195)
There’s a slight trick here that Card pulls by talking about Bean’s battles; that is, Bean has been through pretend battles, in which his army was his team, and the other soldiers were his teammates. Looked at that way, Bean actually hasn’t been through real war. (Not yet.) So is it fair to say he’s had no childhood? Maybe it’s because the games that these kids play are treated super-seriously? Then again, didn’t you ever take a game seriously?
So, after wandering through the tunnels for a little while, he went to the mess hall and ate breakfast near a few marines who were telling dirty jokes that Ender could not begin to understand. (14.312)
Ender here is around eleven or twelve years old, and if he hasn’t gone through puberty yet, he probably will soon. This is a reminder that Ender is still a kid in some ways – he may know how to kill an entire species, but he doesn’t understand sex. (Or possibly humor. He’s not a very funny kid.)
"You're wrong, Ender. You think you're grown up and tired and jaded with everything, but in your heart you're just as much a kid as I am.” (15.106)
When Val tries to convince Ender to go with her to a colony world, she contrasts two ways of being: “grown up and tired and jaded with everything” vs. “in your heart you’re a kid.” Now, we know Ender isn’t grown up in some ways (see 14.312), but in what ways is he a kid at heart?