Study Guide

Speaker for the Dead Quotes

By Orson Scott Card

  • Community

    "She told the Bishop that if the Pope declared her parents to be venerable, it would be the same as the Church saying that her parents hated her. The petition for canonization of her parents was proof that Lusitania despised her." (1.47)

    Novinha is defined throughout the novel by her opposition to the community of Lusitania. Here, she argues that if her parents are saints, they would answer her prayers and come back to her. If they choose not to, they must not care for her, or in other words, they care more for the community than they do for her. She loves her parents, and the community cares for her parents, but she sees these loves as mutually exclusive. The success of the community is at her expense.

    "Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn't belong to…a person who really believes she doesn't belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad." (1.137)

    Many stories, and many science-fiction stories, define self against community; heroes are often cowboys, lone rebels defying the rules (think Han Solo.) In Speaker for the Dead though, self is defined by community. Novinha's refusal of community messes everybody up (and think what happens to Miro when he climbs the fence to escape his community.)

    I'm not the same person, really, from book to book, because each world changes who I am, even as I write down the story of the world. And this world most of all.

    This is Valentine thinking about how community changes her. You'd think that since she's a rambling traveler who belongs to nowhere, she'd be outside community, but instead she's saying different communities make her different people. And of course she's actually settling on Trondheim and having kids and a family. Happy endings in Speaker for the Dead aren't so much romantic love or victory as they are getting a home and a community and a mortgage and a faster than light ship in the garage.

    Large and stable communities could absorb a reasonable amount of unsanctioned coupling; Milagre was far too small. What Ouanda did from faith, Miro did from rational thought—despite a thousand opportunities, they were as celibate as monks. (9.136)

    Speaker for the Dead is in many ways a conservative book; it is worried about, or concerned about, transgression, and the effect transgression will have on communities. If Miro and Ouanda had slept together, they would have violated the incest taboo, since they're actually brother and sister. So effectively, pre-marital sex in this instance leads to incest; smaller infractions reveal themselves as really big infractions. Speaker or the Dead says be good, kids.

    "It's the thing our dear San Angelo did not understand because there was never a true monastery of the order during his life," said the Aradora. "The monastery becomes our family, and to leave it would be as painful as divorce. Once the roots go down, the plant can't come up again without great pain and tearing. So we sleep in separate beds, and we have just enough strength to remain in our beloved order." (10.89)

    Community is here figured as roots or trees, and the piggies of course actually become trees. For Speaker, the piggies are maybe a utopia—after death they are even more rooted, even more part of the community than ever. Speaker takes the whole putting down roots thing very seriously.

    She felt it as her dearest and only friend, her lover, her husband, her brother, her father, her child—all telling her abruptly, inexplicably, that she should cease to exist. (11.28)

    Jane's community is one person—Ender, so when he momentarily doesn't want to talk to her, she feels like her life is ending. No matter how perfect your love affair, you need to have other interests. Jane needs to get out more, take up a hobby or two, meet new data terminals.

    Bosquinha smiled. "My chauvinism meant that as soon as Lusitania Colony was mine, I became more loyal to the interests of Lusitania than to the interests of the Hundred Worlds or Starways Congress." (15.16)

    Chauvinism here is not exactly a bad thing. It means loyalty to those near you; choosing a community of those who you are responsible for, and who are responisbe to you.

    Dom Cristao murmured to his wife, "They came for gossip and he gives them responsibility." (15.116)

    This is a quick synopsis of the good and bad of communities. On the one hand, community means being constantly judged and picked at by your neighbors if you don't mow the lawn. On the other hand, it means having someone around when you're sick (maybe they'll even mow the lawn for you). Other people—can't live with them, can't transmit them to distant planets by ansible. (At least, not at this point in the series.)

    Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis, and when they veer too far, they die. Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So, of course, we killed him. (16.11)

    This is San Angelo talking about community and Jesus. He is arguing that Jesus commanded obedience to the law and forgiveness of transgression, which is a difficult balance. Speaker for the Dead is in a lot of ways less concerned with how people can be good than with how communities can be good. The novel suggests that you don't get good communities from good people, but good people from good communities.

    "I see," he said. "They were part of the tribe. From the sky, but we made them brothers and tried to make them fathers. The tribe is whatever we believe it is." (117.322)

    Ender is teaching Human that communities can be what you want them to be; you can achieve greatness by claiming other folks as kin rather than by killing them. Which is cool, but it seems like the other people have to agree too. Inducting Pipo and Libo into the tribe didn't work so great, and mosquitos aren't ever going to be part of the human community. (Though trees can be, maybe. Or cats, as long as you don't mind them peeing on the bed occasionally.)

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    "It is another chance God has give us," declared Archcardinal Pio of Baia. "We can be redeemed for the destruction of the buggers." (Prologue.3)

    The piggies are often figured as a second chance, a way for humans to make up for having wiped out the buggers. That seems to reduce the piggies to being a kind of trope or plot twist for humans; they're there to help people get over their unhappiness, rather than there for themselves. Who is compassion there for—the object of the compassion, or the person who feels bad?

    For he loved her, as you can only love someone who is an echo of yourself at your time of deepest sorrow. (5.89)

    Ender is in love with Novinha before he even meets her because she reminds him of himself and his own sorrows. Compassion here seems like a form of self-pity. Also, Novinha is like thirteen, and Ender flies off to marry her. Shmoop is not sure Shmoop approves.

    "Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins." (8.49-50)

    Ender is talking about Marcao here, but he's also talking about himself, since Ender's the one who committed über-genocide. In general, Marcao is a stand in for Ender—both are sinners, both seek love, both marry Novinha. When Ender speaks for Marcao, you could argue he's speaking for himself.

    He was not prepared to deal with my mistake, thought Jane, and he did not understand the suffering his response would cause me. He is innocent of wrong doing, and so am I. We shall forgive each other and go on. (11.39)

    Oddly, the one act that Speaker has trouble forgiving, or making whole, is when Ender turns off the earpiece, cutting Jane off. The Hive Queen forgives Ender for killing all her people, but Jane (and the novel) never quite forgive Ender for not wanting to talk to Jane for a minute. Shmoop is not sure what the deal is with that, especially since Jane is such a thoroughly annoying character who Shmoop wishes wasn't there to begin with.

    A strange thing happened then. The Speaker agreed with her that she had made a mistake that night, and she knew when he said the words that it was true, that his judgment was correct. And yet she felt strangely healed, as if simply speaking her mistake were enough to purge some of the pain of it. It wasn't a matter of confession, penance, and absolution, like the priests offered. It was something else entirely. Telling the story of who she was, and then realizing that she was no longer the same person. (13.160)

    Telling stories is figured in Speaker as healing. You are your story, so telling your story right makes you whole. Speaker is itself in this sense a speaking: it tells the story of who Ender is, so that his past evils can be seen as not belonging to the same person. Orson Scott Card is maybe healing Ender the way Ender heals Ela.

    Ender smiled "What man among you, if his son asks for bread, gives him a stone?"

    "Ouanda nodded. "That's it. The Congressional rules say we have to give them stones. Even though we have so much bread." (14.59-60)

    Ouanda and Miro see the piggies as kin, and therefore morality applies. And morality says that need and compassion have to be more important than the law.

    "I think you can't possibly know the truth about somebody unless you love them. I think the speaker loved Father, Marcao, I mean. I think he understood him and loved him before he spoke."

    Mother didn't answer, because she knew it was true.

    "And I think he loves Grego, and Quara, and Olhado. And Miro, and even Quim. And me. I know he loves me. And when he shows me that he loves me, I know it's true because he never lies to anybody." (16.120-122)

    This isn't actually true—the Speaker lies all the time, at least by omission. He misleads Olhado into helping him, for example, because Olhado doesn't know that he's going to use the information to break into Novinha's files. If compassion is built on truth, then Ela's case for the Speaker's universal compassion seems dubious. For that matter, the book itself is a lie—after all, there is no Ender, no Ela, no Lusitania. Does that mean the book isn't compassionate? Or does it mean that truth and love don't go together in quite the way Ela (and the novel) seem to want them to?

    "My oath is to the Starways Congress," said Bosquinha, "but I'll perjure myself this minute to save the lives of my people. I say the fence comes down and we try to make the most of our rebellion." (16.374)

    Community here is the incubator of compassion, and maybe the other way around too. Bosquinha is willing to break rules because she feels her first commitment is to the people there who she loves. And who she loves determines how the community works—in part by taking down the fence and including the piggies.

    "I cut him with these hands, " he cried. "I tried to honor him, and I killed his tree forever!"

    "No," said Ender. He took Mandachuva's hands, held them. "You both thought you were saving each other's life. He hurt you, and you—hurt him, yes, killed him, but you both believed you were doing good. That's enough, until now." (17.375-376)

    This is another round of I am guilty, you didn't mean it, so forgive. The last bit, though suggests that this isn't quite enough—you also have to go on and try to change things. You can't just keep planting humans willy-nilly. Two dead humans is an error; three or more starts to look like carelessness.

    "I think you have the heart for what you have to do," she said softly, so that only he could hear.

    "Cold and ruthless?" he asked…

    "Compassionate enough," she said, "to put the hot iron into the wound when that's the only way to heal it." (17.400-402)

    The constant hymns to Ender's empathy are really old by this point in the book. Yes, okay, we get it, he loves everybody. Jeez. By the end of the thing you're willing to forgive Ender anything if he'd stop being so darn compassionate for just a minute.

    "That's how I beat her, the Hive Queen, I knew her so well that I loved her, or maybe I loved her so well that I knew her. I didn't want to fight her anymore. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. So I blew up her planet." (18.126)

    This comes up in Ender's Game too—he's supposed to have defeated the Hive Queen because of a kind of weaponized empathy. Genocide is the product of love—which seems like really bad math to Shmoop. Are we supposed to believe the gas chambers in Auschwitz were the product of love? Color Shmoop unconvinced.

  • Foreignness and the Other

    Five days later they realized that the little forest-dwelling animals that they had called porquinhoes—piggies—were not animals at all. (Prologue.2)

    The moment when the colonists realize the piggies are intelligent could be seen as the moment when they stop being foreign; they're not animals anymore. But it could also be the moment where they are foreign. Animals aren't foreigners, after all—they're animals. It's only somebody else who can be somebody else though, so you've got to be human to be alien.

    "The Nordic language recognizes four orders of foreignness. The first is the otherlander, or 'utlanning', the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the 'framling' [...]. This is the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another world. The third is the 'raman', the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the 'varelse', which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it." (2.19)

    The characters use these categories throughout the book. Varelse, or true aliens, is an important category, but Shmoop wonders how much sense it makes. Varelse is supposed to include all animals, but dogs and cats aren't strangers and we definitely know what causes make them act (food and ear scratches, namely). In fact, often you can understand animals better than people, really. Maybe the truth is that categorizing your ethical and personal relations with others like this may not be quite as good an idea as Demosthenes thinks it is.

    "Speaker, I know you're thinking that we're afraid of the piggies. And perhaps some of us are. But the feeling most of us have, most of the time, isn't fear at all. It's hatred. Loathing. (6.100)

    This is when Ender first meets Bosquinha. As a Speaker, Ender is greeted by the Lusitanians with both fear and loathing, so Ender is right away associated with the piggies—a stranger, even if he doesn't have a snout.

    Until Quim finally screamed at him to shut up about that servant of the devil or he'd ask the Bishop to conduct an exorcism because Olhado was obviously possessed… (12.69)

    Possession here is a metaphor for turning into the stranger—accepting the other makes you the other. So Miro and Ouanda have become piggies by thinking of the piggies as human. You can be possessed by difference and change—which is actually a kind of comforting thought if, like Ender, you want to stop being who you were. The Exorcist as growth experience, with less blood and a romantic soundtrack.

    "We've always tried to play along with it, and act as if we believe it."

    "How condescending of you," said Ender…

    "You're cultural supremacists to the core. You'll perform your Questionable Activities to help out the poor little piggies, but there isn't a chance in the world you'll notice when they have something to teach you." (14.78-80)

    Ender says Miro and Ouanda are condescending because they don't treat the piggies as equals, but isn't Ender pretty condescending himself? He's always lecturing people and handing down wisdom. Maybe it's just not condescending as long as you're the star of the book?

    "Renegades. Those who have denied their own people, and claimed the enemy as their own…."

    "The way you define it," said Ender, "the piggies are also human. That's why you're a renegade." (14.127, 134)

    Foreignness is a function of how you define community or how you see yourself. Miro and Ouanda have decided that the piggies are part of their community, which makes them outlaws to those who define the community differently. As Shmoop discussed in elsewhere in the "Themes" section, individuals in Speaker are often defined by their communities, rather than the other way around.

    "If we are ramen," shouted Human into the Speaker's face, "then it is ours to decide, not yours! And if we are varelse, then you might as well kill us all right now, the way you killed all the Hive Queen's sisters!" (14.212)

    This is one of the few times anyone really wins an argument with Ender. Human, the piggie, insists that Ender can't withhold knowledge, that the piggies should decide for themselves what they need and what they don't. Condescending imperialism is the same as genocide—if you're equal, you need to be equal. Ender is in fact guilty of some of the condescension he was criticizing Miro and Ouanda for, and Human calls him on it.

    "We are in space precisely because of the impact of a devastatingly superior culture. And yet in only a few generations, we took their machines, surpassed them, and destroyed them. That's what our fence means—we're afraid the piggies will do the same to us." (16.253-254)

    At first we think the fence is for the piggies's protection (as in the Prime Directive in Star Trek); then the novel switches and says, no, it's there because humans are afraid. This is a nice reversal, but sort of ignores that colonization doesn't usually involve fences. Why isn't anyone in Lusitania interested in getting out of the fence to take land, food, or just to screw with the piggies the way colonizers often just exploit the colonized for the hell of it? Ender's analysis of colonization is cynical, but not really cynical enough, given most of human history.

    "They named you right," he said. "You are a human, not one of us." (16.370)

    Leaf-eater is accusing Human of the same thing that Quim accused Olhado of—being possessed by the other and abandoning his community. In their distrust of the other, the humans and the piggies are pretty similar.

    "You said you wouldn't try to change us."

    "I said I wouldn't try to change you more than is necessary."

    "Why is this necessary? It's between us and the other piggies." (17.290-292)

    Human has a point, but this time he doesn't win the argument. Note that it's Ender who gets to decide whether and to what extent it's necessary to change the piggies. In this case, he's saying they can't go to war with one another, and it's hard to argue with that. But why does he get to decide? Because he's got better weapons and can tell them what to do? Or, more charitably, you could say that they're all trying to become one community, and so they're not figuring out how much to change the piggies, but how and in what ways to change each other.

    Mandachuva told the wives […] That what made humans stronger than piggies was not something inherent in us—our size, our brains, our language—but rather the mere accident that we were a few thousand years ahead of them in learning." (18.209)

    Ender is here explaining why Mandachuva was going to be taken to the third life. Basically, he was being honored for recognizing that the piggies could handled the Descolada virus and the humans couldn't, and so humans weren't better than piggies. He's honored for recognizing that racism is false.

  • Language and Communication

    I'm not good at this constant game of taking information while trying to give nothing in return. (1.11)

    It's hard to communicate when you don't want to reveal anything about yourself. Think about it next time you're talking to a stranger—What do you tell them about yourself? What could you ask them without letting them know anything about you (even without letting them know what you don't know)? This is why spies have to be so sneaky.

    "Because he's dead," roared Andrew, "and so I'm entitled to speak for him!" (2.32)

    This is a joke—Ender's saying he gets to speak for everyone who's dead. It's not entirely a joke though, since Ender really does get to be the one to tell you about folks who can't speak for themselves. Communication (the Hive Queen, Jane, info about the piggies) goes through him or his consciousness, which does shut down conversation, just as Ender's joke is meant to end the debate with his student. Since Ender is the one who gets to speak, it can be hard to get a word, or a thought, in edgewise.

    And—quite an amazing turn—they have several times referred to the females as varelse! (4.5)

    Pipo is expressing astonishment that the male piggies refer to the female piggies as animals. But of course human males have a long history of talking about and treating human females as less than human. Since the book has so much to say about spouse abuse, you'd think it might mention this.

    The ship's computers were bright enough to help him get the hang of the switch from his fluent Spanish to Portuguese. It was easy enough to speak, but so many consonants were left out that understanding it was hard. (6.11)

    Ender's fluency in Spanish marks him as a sort of half and half outsider to Lusitania—not entirely a local, but able to make himself understood. It's interesting too that Ender can talk but not listen and understand. He does an awful lot of talking in this book.

    "You win with her, too. It's the most she's said to anyone outside the family in months." (7.147)

    Quara's silence outside the family indicates the extent to which the family is cut off from the rest of the community. Ender makes her open up and replaces her father; when the family is healed or whole, then they can talk to others.

    His words were an accusation, but his voice spoke of wistfulness, even forgiveness, even consolation. I could be seduced by that voice. That voice is a liar.


    "Calling for you was a mistake. I'm sorry." Her own voice sounded flat. Since her whole life was a lie, even the apology sounded rote. (8.31-33)

    Her lies have poisoned Novinha's ability to use language. She can't apologize, and she can't tell truth when she hears it (since Ender always speaks truth.) Though, on the other hand, Novinha's life is a lie—it's in a book of fiction.

    "I speak to everyone in the language they understand," said Ender. "That isn't being slick. It's being clear." (14.67)

    Why can't it be clear and slick? Ender is slick, after all; he's very good at manipulating people, and gets cranky when Jane calls him on it. If he'd been in marketing, he could have sold a lot of Diet Coke.

    "A wife," murmured Madachuva.

    "What's her name?" asked Ender

    The piggies tuned to him and stared. "They don't tell us their names," said Leaf-eater.
    "If they even have names," added Cups. (17.34-36)

    Later we learn that the males do have names for the females, and a wife even gives her name. Maybe this is a sign that the piggies initially seem strange, but eventually become familiar. Or it could just be the book trying to make the piggies seem distant and inhuman and then failing to follow through. You decide.

    "Human, do you mean you can't say it because you're afraid, or because there are no words for it?"

    "No words. For a brother to speak to a wife about him commanding her, and petitioning him, those words can't be said in that direction."

    "Ouanda smiled at Ender, "Not mores, here, Speaker. Language."

    "Don't they understand your language, Human?" asked Ender.

    "Males' Language can't be spoken in the birthing place," said Human. (17.63-69)

    Piggies have much greater difference between the sexes than men do (men turn into trees, for example), and the different languages emphasize that. Language also emphasizes hierarchy; the way you use words and the way you think says who is in charge. Which suggests that the Speaker for the Dead has a lot of power.

    "Scanning. He can scan. If we bring him in by the terminal, I can make it scan the letters and he just says yes when it hits the letters he wants."

    "That'll take forever," said Quim.

    "Do you want to try that, Miro?" asked Novinha.

    He wanted to. (17.233-236)

    Miro went over the fence to try to escape his community, which had become intolerable. He wanted to be a stranger, and his loss of language makes that happen. Quara starts to speak, and Miro stops. Everyone else is now a productive citizen of Lusitania; Miro has become, like Novinha, an exile in his home.

  • Lies and Deceit

    She would also destroy all the records of her work in this area, all the records of her parents' work that had led to her own discoveries. They would be gone. Even though it had been the focus of her life, even though it had been her identity for many years, she would destroy it as she herself should be punished, destroyed, obliterated. (3.53)

    The deception here involves erasing herself, and a kind of self-punishment. Maybe you could say something similar about Ender, who spends all those years deceiving people about his past.

    In the meantime I can't report any of this because, whether I meant to or not, I've clearly violated the rules… Never mind that the rules are stupid and counterproductive. I broke them, and if they find out they will cut off my contact with the pequeninos…. So I'm forced into deception and silly subterfuge. (5.6)

    Pipo can't tell the truth because the laws are stupid. It's not enough to be truthful yourself—you need the community to be one in which truth can be told. If you tell a lie, it's everybody's fault. (This is not a defense recommended in a court of law.)

    "I ask people questions and try to find out true stories."

    "Nobody at the Ribeira house knows any true stories."

    "I'd settle for lies." (6.218-220)

    And lies are what he gets, because again what we've got here is fiction, not true stories. The novel doesn't do much with this though; it just accepts that within the fiction what it says is true is true. As a result, in the novel it's often a lot easier to tell what's true than you'd think it should be.

    "You called him," he said softly. "You."

    "To tell the truth!" she answered…."Everybody in Milagre is so kind and understanding…They just look the other way when Father gets himself raging drunk and comes home and beats Mother until she can't walk." (7.107-108)

    The truth here isn't contrasted with lies, but with being kind. The novel often presents truth as harsh, as the bitter ugly thing under convention.

    "It means a life of constant deception. You will go out and discover something, something vital, and then when you get back to the station you'll write up a completely innocuous report…. Father and I began doing this because we couldn't bear to withhold knowledge from the piggies. You will discover as I have, that it is no less painful to withhold knowledge from your fellow scientists." (8.1)

    Is withholding knowledge a lie? Not telling what you know is here presented as an ethical failure, like failing to tell the truth. Perhaps this is because lying or deception is a violation of community—it cuts you off from the community and, in doing so, from yourself.

    "Ignorance and deception can't save anybody. Knowing saves them." (12.133)

    This seems optimistic; surely sometimes knowing just makes you more miserable.

    "I want all the secrets opened up. I want all the files unlocked. I don't want anything hidden."

    "You don't know what you're asking," said the Speaker. "You don't know how much pain it will cause if all the secrets come out."

    "Take a look at my family, Speaker," she answered. "How can the truth cause any more pain than the secrets have already caused?" (13.220-222)

    This is the working premise of Speakers for the Dead: No matter how ugly the truth, it is better than lies. Which seems reasonable, though surely there are some exceptions. For example, if you hate Shmoop, Shmoop doesn't want to know (Shmoop is sensitive like that.)

    "…he knew that Ender was a destroyer, but what he destroyed was illusion, and the illusion had to die. Somehow this ancient man is able to see the truth and it doesn't blind his eyes or drive him mad. I must listen to this voice and let its power come to me so I, too, can stare at the light and not die. (15.164)

    Ender as old, mad, bad searing divine awesomeness. You feel like you're supposed to drop to your knees and worship the book yourself, here. (Shmoop resisted the impulse though.)

    She spoke. "You are the holy Speaker?" translated Human.

    Jane corrected the translation. "He added the word holy."

    Ender looked Human in the eye. "I am not holy," he said.

    Human went rigid.

    "Tell her."

    He was in turmoil for a moment; then he apparently decided that Ender was the less dangerous of the two. "She didn't say holy."


    "Please," said Ender, "be truthful between her and me."

    "To you I'll be truthful," said Human. "But when I speak to her, it's my voice she hears saying your words. I have to say them carefully."

    "Be truthful," said Ender. "Don't be afraid. It's important that she knows exactly what I said. Tell her this." (17.103-112)

    The emphasis on exactitude as truth is a little odd if we're talking about translation. You can't translate exactly between human languages, so translating between a human and an alien language would involve a fair bit of approximation you'd think (surely the concept of "holy" can't be the same in both languages).

    Ender smiled. His translation was strictly true, but he had the sense not to get into specifics. It was conceivable that the wives might actually want the little mothers to survive childbirth, without realizing how vast the consequences of such a simple-seeming, humanitarian change might be. (17.192)

    The males deceive the wives—and for once Ender is okay with the deception. He just finished telling Ela and Ouanda that changing childbirth has to be up to the piggies, but then, all of a sudden, he's okay with it being up to the male piggies, while the female piggies—who are the ones most affected—are cut out. Is it okay to lie to them because they're female? Because they're stupid? (They don't seem stupid otherwise.) Because Ender happens to agree with the males? Because birth control is bad? It's just not clear what the logic is here.

  • Literature and Writing

    "Such a poet," said Dona Crista. There was no irony in her voice; she meant it. "Do the piggies understand that we've sent our very best as our ambassador?" (1.86)

    You can tell this is a bizarre sci-fi alternate reality because they honor poets.

    And perhaps when he found the truth, and spoke in the clear voice that she had loved in the Hive Queen and the Hegemon, perhaps that would free her from the blame that burned her to the heart. (3.61)

    Is the clear voice that cleanses and heals the same voice as the voice of Speaker for the Dead itself do you think? How much of Ender the writer is supposed to be Orson Scott Card the writer? And does that mean he's boasting in passages like this?

    "All your education was military, and the only other gift you have is a flair for words. You wrote a bestseller that spawned a humanistic religion—how does that qualify you to understand the pequeninos?" (4.75)

    Jane knows, Shmoop is pretty sure, that it's exactly Ender's gift for writing that qualifies him to understand the piggies. In Speaker for the Dead, writing is knowing other people; it's a kind of condensed compassion. This is why, as a writer, Shmoop knows that your ear itches right now.

    […] Ender was the Speaker for the Dead; his genius—or his curse—was his ability to conceive events as someone else saw them […] from the cold facts of Novinha's life he was able to guess—no, not to guess, to know—how her parent's death and virtual sainthood had isolated Novinha. (4.88)

    Ender just about becomes the novelist here. How can he know from the facts who Novinha is unless he's not just interpreting, but writing her story? Is he learning what she is, or is he making her what she is?

    But Miro had insisted on giving them, along with it, a printout of the Hive Queen and the Hegemon. "St. John says nothing about beings who live on other worlds," Miro pointed out. "But the Speaker for the Dead explains buggers to humans—and humans to buggers." …not a year later they found the piggies lighting fires using pages of St. John as kindling, while The Hive Queen and the Hegemon was tenderly wrapped in leaves. (9.122)

    A big part of popular literature is identification; we like to be able to see ourselves in literature. The piggies are no different—which is another way of saying we can see ourselves in them seeing themselves in the Hive Queen. Literature is one way you bridge foreignness with sameness.

    "Yes, you're ungrateful, and a terrible daughter," he said laughing softly. "Through all these years of chaos and neglect you've held your mother's family together with little help from her, and when you followed her in her career, she wouldn't share the most vital information with you….." (13.109)

    The Speaker is speaking Ela's story—sort of a mini-speaking before the big event. What he says is also what the book says; we learn the truth about Ela from both simultaneously. Ender barely knows her, but he's nonetheless the voice of narrative authority. What the words say are what Ela is.

    The Bishop remembered the scene in his chambers more than a decade ago….Yet he had been alone. He had told no one. Who was this Speaker, and how did he know so much about things he could not possibly have known? (15.137)

    Ender knows, of course, because Orson Scott Card told him. Ender speaks true because Card lets him speak true… and oddly, the reverse is the case as well. Ender's miraculous powers of perception underline, or validate, Card's story. Card's story about Marcao and Novinha must be true, because Ender can see so much else that is true. Ender's perceptiveness becomes Card's perceptiveness, and vice versa.

    "So she endured, even invited Marcao's punishment. It was her penance. It was never penance enough. No matter how much Marcao might hate her, she hated herself more." (15.165)

    This is Ender telling Novinha's story. We're supposed to see that story as true—we're told over and over that Ender is revealing truth. But we know it's just a story, and even in the story it's not Novinha that tells it, but Ender. Ender says Marcao didn't want power over Novinha, but are we sure that's true? Doesn't Ender also assert power over her by telling her he knows her story better than she does?

    "I'll tell your story," said Ender.

    "Then I will truly live forever." (17.461-462)

    Shakespeare used to brag that he could immortalize people in his sonnets. Ender is like Shakespeare if Shakespeare were also Napolean and the Buddha.

    He lived with the piggies for a week while he wrote the Life of Human. (18.231)

    One final literary superpower: Ender writes amazingly fast. Shmoop doesn't know how long it would take to understand an alien culture well enough to write a definitive history of one of its members, but Shmoop is pretty sure that doing it in a week is impressive.

  • Sex

    So she let him draw her down to the bed, where he clung to her tightly until in only a few minutes sleep relaxed him arms… She might have been thrust out of the garden because of her ignorant sin like Eva. But, again like Eva, she could bear it, for she still had Libo, her Adao.

    Novinha's comparing herself and Libo to Adam and Eve, and Pipo's death to their exile from the Garden of Eden. That connects Pipo's death to eating the fruit of the tree of life—and the piggies were trying to make Pipo into a tree for reproductive purposes. You could say the piggies are so confusing because they're familiar; the symbols seem to fit, but then they don't quite. Novinha ends up exiled from the garden because she doesn't understand, rather than because she does.

    "'Thou art fertile ground, and I will plant a garden in thee." It was the sort of thing a poet says to his mistress, or even a husband to his wife, and the tu was intimate, not arrogant. (8.84)

    Ender is saying this to Novinha. It's supposed to be about spiritual renewal, Shmoop supposes, but it's also sexual… which seems a little forward since they just met.

    "In a way it's rather sweet of him," said Ender. "he'd rather believe that Marcao's disease was different from every other recorded case… Marcao's decay progressed like every other, testes first, and all of Novinha's children were sired by someone else." (9.67)

    The doctor, Navio, can't read Novinha's sexual relationship. This is similar to the problem the colonists have with the piggies—they have all the reproductive pieces, but the piggies don't make sense to them. Sex in this book is a secret (or a bunch of secrets).

    "No wonder Marcao was bitter and angry. Every one of her six children reminded him that his wife was sleeping with another man." (9.67)

    Was Marcao bitter and angry because his wife was betraying him, or was he bitter and angry in the first place? He seems like he was pretty unhappy before he was married; you could even say that's why he got married. Is presenting him as a solved riddle fair to him? Is attributing his rage entirely to Novinha fair to her?

    "The rules must be adapted to the strength of the Filhos de Mente," the Ceifeiro explained. "No doubt there are some that can share a bed and remain celibate, but my wife is still too beautiful, and the lusts of my flesh too insistent." (10.86)

    The Filhes's chaste marriage has a number of parallels in the book—Ender's relationship with Valentine, Ender's relationship with Jane, Ouanda and Miro, and even Novinha and Marcao. Love without sex in the service of community is something of an ideal for Speaker.

    Miro: The piggies call themselves male, but we're only taking their word for it.

    Ouanda: Why would they lie?

    Miro: I know you're young and naïve, but there's some missing equipment. (13.3-5)

    Miro and Ouanda are joking about knowing about sex, which is ironic because they don't know anything about sex in their own families. Humans lie about sex a bunch; the piggies don't really, though. Maybe missing the equipment is conducive to truthfulness.

    "And this mother that you loved, had she already committed adultery?"

    "Ten thousand times."

    "I suspect she was not so libidinous as that. But you tell me that you loved her, though she was an adulteress. Isn't she the same person tonight? Has she changed between yesterday and today? Or is it only you who have changed?" (16.41-43)

    Mostly Shmoop wanted to highlight this quote because the line "I suspect she was not as libidinous as that" is really funny. The book's take on sex is usually pretty serious, but every so often we get a zinger.

    "The fathers are ripe on the bark. They put their dust on the bark, in the sap. We carry the little mother to the father the wives have chosen. She crawls on the bark, and the dust on the sap gets into her belly and fills it up with little ones." (17.161)

    A lesson in piggie biology: not the birds and the bees, but the worms and the trees. In some ways this is the inverse of the Filhes. Not love without sex, but sex without love—and for that matter, sex without communication between a semi-sentient tree and a non-sentient worm. The novel likes thinking of ingenious ways to pry apart the interaction part of love from the sex part.

    "What if they could find a way to let infant human girls conceive and bear children which would feed on their mother's tiny corpse?"

    "What are you talking about!" said Ouanda.

    "That's sick," said Ella.

    "We didn't come here to attack them at the root of their lives," said Ender. "We came here to find a way to share a world with them. In a hundred years or five hundred years, when they've learned enough to make changes for themselves, then they can decide whether to alter the way their children are conceived and born." (17.173-176)

    Sex is seen here as the root of people's lives—as it is for Marcao and Novinha, who Ender explains in his speaking largely on the basis of who they do or don't have sex with. More importantly though, Shmoop also appreciates Ender's little horror movie about infant human mothers having their babies eat their way out of the corpses. If he wasn't so busy writing biographies, maybe Ender could have been the futuristic Stephen King.

    It was all right for Human to take pride in his father's many matings, but as far as the wives were concerned, they chose fathers solely on the basis of what was good for the tribe. The tribe and the individual—they were the only entities the wives respected. (17.263)

    The piggies are essentially eugenicists—they engage in planned mating in the interest of promoting good genes from the most valuable individuals. It's interesting that none of the humans seem to find this disturbing. Eugenics was an important part of Nazi thinking, is related closely to racism, and is one of the more unquestionably evil ideologies that humans have managed to inflict on each other. A race of determined eugenicists you'd think would at least merit some ethical discussion in the novel, but it doesn't.

  • Warfare

    "Through these Nordic layers of foreignness we can see that Ender was not a true xenocide, for when he destroyed the buggers, we knew them only as varelse; it was not until years later, when the original Speaker for the Dead wrote the Hive Queen and the Hegemon, that humankind first understood that the buggers were not varelse at all, but ramen; until that time there had been no understanding between bugger and human." (2.24)

    The claim here is that if you don't see your enemy as human, then you're not really committing genocide against them. But in fact, humans usually decide that the enemy is not human as a prelude to, or as an excuse for, killing them. The buggers had spaceships and advanced technology; Ender and everybody else knew they were intelligent, and they certainly knew they weren't animals. The way the argument is phrased, you could let the Nazis off the hook because they thought Jewish people were subhuman monsters, and how were they to know killing them was a bad idea?

    Their only intercourse with other tribes seems to be warfare. When they tell stories to each other (usually during rainy weather), it almost always deals with battles and heroes. (6.1)

    Interestingly, we never see the piggies go to war in the novel, though they're supposed to be extremely warlike. The only violence we see them commit is the killing of Pipo and Libo, which is kind of a mistake. Would we like the piggies less if we saw them at war?

    "He wrote cruelly, to turn their pride to regret, their joy to grief. And now human beings have completely forgotten that once they hated the buggers, that once they honored and celebrated a name that is now unspeakable—" (8.47)

    We see Ender as the bullied underdog sent to war in Ender's Game; then in Speaker for the Dead, we see him as the hated xenocide. Despite his great capacity for violence and his massive war crime, Ender is always the despised underdog. This seems maybe problematic.

    Someday, Libo warned them, there may be trouble between human and piggy; we will make no path to guide a pogrom to its destination. (9.77)

    Libo is very reasonably worried about war between human and piggies. He's trying to thwart human attacks on piggies, which someone could probably see as a kind of treason. As the novel notes in many different contexts, trying for peace in wartime tends to get you seen as an enemy.

    "We are dead!" shouted Human. Miro had never seen him so agitated. "We are being murdered every day. Humans are filling up all the worlds. The human build their stupid fence to keep us out, but that is nothing. The sky is our fence!" (14.195)

    Human basically equates the restrictions on the piggies with war; not being able to expand is seen as cultural death. If there is to be peace and equality there must be… Piggies in Space.

    "The chance for what?"

    "To undo what Ender did in the Xenocide three thousand years ago." (15.202-203)

    The hope is that peace with the piggies will undo the destruction of the buggers. This is especially the case because the buggers will also establish themselves on the piggies's world. Still, while peace can end or heal war, does it undo the past? Ender killed lots of folks, and while learning peace from that is a good thing, it doesn't bring the dead back to life.

    Is this what all their work and sacrifice was for, to give some transient advantage for one tribe of piggies? Almost he said, Libo didn't die so you could conquer the world. (16.146)

    The xenologist's efforts to help the piggies is quite possibly going to result in war and death. Good intentions, road to hell, etc. (Though of course the road does not lead to hell after all, because Speaker for the Dead is determined that good intentions are good, so we don't ever really see good intentions go awry.)

    "Cutting off the ansible, or even seeming to, would be an act of rebellion. Of war." Bosquinha was saying it as harshly as possible, but Ender could see that the idea appealed to her. (16.228)

    War is here equated with an end to communication, and refusal to communicate in the novel is seen as an aggressive act. Remember that Ender turning off Jane and not communicating with her is seen as really bad. In the world of Speaker for the Dead, you better answer your smartphone, no matter who's calling.

    Everybody condemns the Xenocide because it destroyed an alien species that turned out to be harmless in its intentions. But as long as it seemed that the buggers were determined to destroy humankind, the leader of humanity had no choice but to fight back with all their strength. We are presenting them with the same dilemma again. (16.311)

    Is it Shmoop, or is this passage justifying the xenocide? It seems especially odd because Speaker actually works to show that you do have other options when attacked—as the piggies point out, the humans didn't kill all the piggies when Pipo was tortured to death. Peace and patience are options. Maybe the book just gets confused because it's so eager to defend Ender?

    "To grow until all the space you can see is part of you, under your control. It's the desire for greatness. There are two ways, though, to fulfill it. One way is to kill anything that is not yourself, to swallow it up or destroy it, until nothing is left to oppose you. But that way is evil." (17.300)

    War is seen as the perverted form of a natural desire for expansion and survival. Ender argues that you could instead expand through alliances, or through joining with other people. Would it be possible just not to want to expand, to just want to hunker down and mind your own business? Shmoop thinks so—though maybe that's just because Shmoop is the retiring type.