Speaker for the Dead: The Story Card Actually Wanted to Tell
Posted by erikthereddest
Hello everyone! I’m back on rotation and have a lot of things to talk about. A while back I talked about how Orson Scott Card’s character Ender was a great example of writing someone who has realistic limits and flaws, thus avoiding the crippling HHH disorder. I also talked about how I was somewhat hamstrung in my analysis of his character because I had not read Speaker for the Dead, the second book of the series which has Ender grown up. Well, I’ve since read (actually, listened to) the book and can say that my estimation of Card’s writing of Ender has only increased. I’d like to deconstruct a few things about how Card handled the book, but first I’ll start with some background, specifically on what “Speaker for the Dead” actually means.
WARNING: Spoilers are not intended, but somewhat unavoidable. I have avoided important plot points from both Speaker for the Dead and Ender’s Game, but I can’t really talk much about Ender without letting a few things slip!
Ender as Speaker
Even those of you who have read Ender’s Game might not be fully clear on what a Speaker is. It’s covered in the end of the story, after the events of the war, in which Ender plays a direct role in the wiping out of the Formic race (referred to as “The Buggers”). But Ender discovers that the entire war was a tragic mistake, and takes it on himself to try to help humanity understand this in hopes of keeping it from ever happening again. Ender goes from world to world as humanity expands to new colonies, telling the story of the Buggers, and starts a tradition of telling the story of the dead. People would speak at a person’s funeral, focusing on the truth of how the person lived and thought so that the ones left behind can better understand them. This creates something of a secular priesthood, called Speakers, who make it their lives to travel and perform these ceremonies as impartial third parties, doing as much investigative work as possible to make sure the truth about the deceased is told, regardless of the pain or embarrassment anyone may feel.
Ender is 35 by the beginning of Speaker for the Dead, but that’s just by time-dilated space travel standards. To the people on the ground, it’s been 3000 years since the Bugger War. This creates an interesting distance between Ender’s character in the first book and the second that gives Card a lot of room to work in. Not only is Ender now physically an adult (even if he acted rather like an adult as a child anyway), now everyone else sees him (or at least, his figure in history) as Ender the Xenocide, the one man responsible for the death of an entire sentient race. Thanks to Ender’s own work, over the course of 3000 years, humanity has decided that his act of self defense on behalf of Earth was actually murder. Thus he travels the colonies under the name Andrew, and while no one ever knows he is the infamous villain (everyone naturally assumes he died thousands of years ago), he still hears everyone continually cursing his name.
Perhaps surprisingly, this doesn’t actually change that much about who Ender is. His ability to empathize with people (human or not) from the first book is only heightened by his work as Speaker, and although his natural cynicism deepens it does not devolve into
nihilism. But the changes he sees in humanity do affect his view of life and dampen his hope for his mission. While humanity seems to have generally gotten the point that it was really a bad thing that the war had to be fought and a tragedy that a mere lack of being able to communicate resulted in so much death, the human race continues to be reactive and fearful of the idea of other intelligent life. It also sure seems like having literally every human being in existence grow up believing you were Galactic Hitler would be cause for a pity-party, but Ender doesn’t react that way. This is where the young Ender from book one definitely shines through: Ender decides that he can endure his own suffering if it means the mistake of his war with the Buggers doesn’t happen again, and as long as he is alive, he will work to change humanity’s impulse from fear to love for all sentient life.
The difference of Ender between the books is underplayed by the physical changes and distance of time, but Card did a masterful job of showing just how Ender came from the little boy of the first book to the man we see in the second. Ender never feels like a different person, but he has very clearly matured and developed. Not all of his growth is positive, and the same character flaws that we saw before rear themselves here, but these flaws are very human, and while Ender is definitely an extraordinary person, we can still relate to his pain and desires, and admire his goodness and honesty.
But that’s enough for today! I definitely recommend Speaker for the Dead, but only after reading Ender’s Game, of course! The understanding of Ender’s role as speaker is integral to the plot, and I hope I haven’t spoiled too much here for you. Next week I’d like to talk about another part of this book, Card’s brilliant design for the second alien race of his world, affectionately dubbed “the Piggies”. Until then, have you read Speaker of the Dead? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
About erikthereddestI'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.
Posted on June 5, 2013, in Books, Characters, Characters, Ender Wiggin, Ender's Game, Erik Marsh, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Orson Scott Card, Science Fiction, Speaker for the Dead, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged characters, Enders Game, Orson Scott Card, science fiction, Speaker for the Dead. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.