Empathy for the Buggers: The Change in Ender Wiggins’ Morality
Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game features an intense change in the protagonist’s morality and motivation. Prior to interacting with the alien race, the Buggers, Ender has a very logical, and strategic approach to his problems. He chooses to see the utilitarian picture, rather than focus on the details or the potential pain his victims may be in. However, this mindset changes once he begins to interact with the race he is fighting against and eventually destroys. The buggers begin to infest his dreams, causing him to learn from them and begin to be able to communicate with them. This causes him to have a volatile reaction when he unknowingly commits genocide, as he no longer has the solely utilitarian and unemotional mindset. Instead, Ender has become empathetic and connected to the Buggers which allows him to communicate with the Buggers at the end and choose to help them restart their civilization.
Even at a young age Ender displays a strategic-type mindset—one where he chooses to focus on the future and self-preservation. He enlists this approach during his first attack once his monitor is removed. Although he severely injures his attacker, he claims his reasoning for doing so was not out of malice, but rather a method to ensure he is never attacked again, “Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too, right then, so they’d leave me alone” (Card 23). Although he shows some remorse and empathy when he compares himself to his violent older brother Peter, this does not stop Ender from repeating the same mindset in similar situations. Later when Bonzo attacks him, Ender ends up killing him. Although he claims the death was unintended, Ender expresses before the fight that he knows what he must do, “If I’m to walk away from here, I have to win quickly, and permanently” (Card 284). Even though Ender reacts to the death by claiming he is done with war, this act was not enough to end his mindset as he is manipulated back into training by being told that his help could end all the wars to come. This shows that despite severely hurting others, Ender’s mind is focused on the big picture.
This big picture thinking is reflective of how a general views strategy—Ender treats every fight as if it is a battle in a larger war. Ender believes that to end a war, the battles must be fully destructive so that the enemy will not and cannot return. Ender displays this type of thinking during his war games and even his social interactions. When he first arrives at the training academy, he instantly begins to evaluate his social standing and start to make strategic choices as to assert himself. When his peers try to give him the worst bed area, he thanks them instead—learning how to win each social battle so he can win the war. Even in the war games, Ender focuses on ways to completely obliterate each team he fights in the most efficient way possible. This shows that his militaristic and logical way of thinking has seeped even beyond self-preservation—it consumes every thought and action, showing how his morals are based mostly on what can result in the most efficiency and most personal benefit.
Ender’s mindset stays predominantly strategic and unempathetic throughout the book, however, he does start to develop more empathy and start to drift away from his established way of thinking once the Buggers start to communicate with him. As the Buggers start to learn more about Ender, Ender starts to understand them more and starts to consider if killing them would be wrong. He begins to wonder whether the Buggers can actually communicate, and if they had realized humanity was an intelligent race which is why they hadn’t attacked again. This type of trying to understand his enemy, displays that Ender begins to develop more empathy and less of a “what is best for the majority” mindset. This type of change continues until the genocide of the Buggers.
When Ender unknowingly destroys the Buggers, he is distraught and completely enraged for he understands his enemy and has developed a greater sense that he shouldn’t begin harming people unless absolutely necessary. Due to his morality shift Ender is furious when he discovers that his training simulations were all real and he actually killed all of the Buggers, “I didn’t want to kill them all. I didn’t want to kill anybody! I’m not a killer! You didn’t want me, you bastards, you wanted Peter, but you made me do it (Cord 456). Following his breakdown, Ender goes into a deep sleep, unable to cope with the knowledge that he had destroyed an entire race who could communicate and were not going to attack humanity again. Once Ender comes to terms with what he has done, he chooses to continue in a life far from war or anything similar, showing that killing the Buggers truly affected him and changed his perception of life and the people around him.
When Ender finally stumbles upon the last remaining hope for the Buggers’ race—the last Queen egg—he has no debate as to whether or not he will help them restore what they had lost. His first question is, “How can you live again”, showing his eagerness to remedy his crime against the Buggers—something he never would have done prior to encountering them earlier as restoring the Buggers could result in vengeful destruction of the human race. Instead, Ender embarks on a mission to help others see and understand the Buggers as he does, so that he can peacefully restore the alien race. He writes “Speaker for the Dead”, an account of the Buggers’ lives, mistakes, and their side of the Bugger Wars. By doing so, Ender displays his complete moral change as he no longer focuses only on his own preservation and the utilitarian approach. Following his encounters with the Buggers, Ender develops a greater sense of empathy and understanding—making him detest war and try to fix his past actions.
Ender’s Game details the moral journey of its titular character, showing how a young boy can grow up with a strategic mindset perfect for war, yet lacking in personal empathy and understanding that hurting others can take serious tolls. Only by encountering the Buggers, first by dream-communication where he starts to understand them and their motivations does Ender’s mindset begin to shift. Eventually, Ender’s approach to the world is completely altered when he unknowingly destroys the entire Bugger race and he starts to realize the consequences of focusing on logical reasoning and future self-preservation. Finally, when Ender finds the new queen, his new mindset is set—being empathetic and ensuring the survival of everyone is now his new focus. This complete turnaround shows the growth and development of Ender as he navigates the world of war and its aftermath.
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Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game features an intense change in the protagonist’s morality and motivation. Prior to interacting with the alien race, the Buggers, Ender has a very logical, […]