Study Guide

Speaker for the Dead Lies and Deceit

By Orson Scott Card

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.