Study Guide

Ender's Game Youth

By Orson Scott Card


What do you usually think of when you ponder childhood? Toys and games? Schoolwork? Innocence? Growing up? Being carefree? Ender's Game is all about kids, but it doesn't fit any of our assumptions about childhood: Ender is at school, but his schooling is about warfare. He plays games, but they're military games. Ender is also under a lot of pressure. He's fighting a war against aliens that might invade Earth, after all. And the kids in Ender’s Game are not exactly innocent – they’re bullies, killers, and manipulators. Then again, are kids in real life usually innocent? Card doesn't think so. Check out what he has to say about the matter:

I show children as being every bit as ambitious, conniving, controlling, fearful, ignorant, angry, hungry, and loving as adults. Which, of course, they are.

The innocence of children comes from the fact that they do not have enough knowledge or understanding to grasp what the full consequences of their actions will be. […] They try for an immediate consequence, without considering what else might result from their action. […] We consider children innocent, therefore, because when they do rotten things, we know that they did not realize that these rotten things would result. Adulthood is when you are expected to anticipate the reasonable results of your choices. (Read more here)

Orson Scott Card sure makes us reconsider our thoughts about how sweet kids are.

Questions About Youth

  1. Check out the Orson Scott Card quote above. Now, do you think that Ender is "innocent" based on Card's definition? Does he lose his innocence at some point in the book? Would you consider any of the other children in the book innocent?
  2. Adults are the enemy – or at least, there’s a few times when Ender and his friends note that the teachers are the enemies. Is there a generational war going on here? Or is that just with the teachers? What about other adults? How do adults and children actually get along?
  3. When Graff comes to take Ender away (in Chapter 3), he tells Ender that he wouldn’t have a normal childhood anyway because of how smart he is. Many characters at Battle School comment on how weird Battle School is for children, but would these kids have a “normal” childhood anyway?
  4. Ender’s Game isn’t exactly a regular coming-of-age novel, but it does show some growing up. Or does it? Are these kids already grown up? Or maybe we should start with a more basic question: what does it mean to be grown up in this novel?
  5. Why does Card use kids in this story? Why, according to the Graff, Mazer, and other adult characters, was it necessary to use kids to fight the buggers? Do you agree with them?
  6. One of the main criticisms of this book is that the children aren’t very believable as children. What do you think about this? Are these children believable, even as super-genius children? How does this affect your reading of the book? Do you find the children here to be so strange that you can’t identify with them? Do you empathize with Ender?

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