Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. New York: A Starscape Book. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1985.
Summary of Chapter 1: “Third”
Each chapter begins with a dialogue between military personnel who are watching the boy, Andrew (Ender) Wiggin. He is six years old at the beginning of the story. One of the speakers (later identified as Colonel Graff) says the boy who calls himself “Ender” is “the one” (p. 1). He knows this because he has been watching through Ender’s senses by a monitor implanted in his neck. The other speaker (Major Anderson) brings up Ender’s brother and sister who had also been monitored and tested. He thinks Ender is “too malleable” and able to be influenced (p. 1). Graff mentions that the brother was impossible though he has ability. He thinks Ender will be all right if he is constantly surrounded by enemies. Anderson is surprised by Graff’s cruel idea, but Graff says they are preparing him to fight the buggers, and they have to think about saving the world.
The point of view changes to Ender who is having the monitor implant removed from his neck. The nurse says he will be glad to get rid of the monitor, but he worries because the monitor saved him from being attacked by his brother, Peter, who knew people were watching Ender. Ender hopes Peter will like him again. Having the monitor removed probably means that like his brother and sister, he was not chosen. He knows, however, that Peter is abusive and cruel. The doctor and nurse have difficulty in removing the monitor and mention that it has been left in for three years, and if they had made a mistake, they could have permanently switched off his brain.
When Ender goes back to class, he is dizzy, and he finds the taunting word “Third” written on his desk. Ender thinks it is not his fault that he is a third child, because he was an experiment allowed by the government. The Wiggins are all exceptional children. His sister Valentine taught him arithmetic when he was three. As Ender goes to catch the bus after school, the bully Stilson and his friends start to beat up on him. Ender surprises himself by kicking Stilson so hard in the breastbone, he drops lifeless to the ground. Ender knows he should stop, but he is afraid if he does not demonstrate his ruthlessness, these kids will gang up on him again, so he continues to kick Stilson on the ground as hard as he can until he bleeds. Ender turns the corner and begins crying. Without a monitor, he feels he has become as cruel as his brother, Peter.
Commentary on Chapter 1: “Third”
Chapter 1 contains the seed idea that a military organization is trying to turn children into killers, and that they have already succeeded with six-year-old Ender Wiggin. The purpose is supposedly to save the earth by training someone to become a military genius to kill the enemy, an alien insect-like race called the Formics, or “the buggers.” They speak of finding “the one” to do it. They have already tried Ender’s older brother and sister, monitoring them and rejecting them. It comes out through Ender’s memory that the older brother Peter is very cruel, a killer by nature, so it is surprising they do not use him for warfare. The speaker (Col. Graff), who is making the call, says Peter was unsuitable but does not explain. They do not comment on Valentine the sister here, but she was the one who taught Ender arithmetic when he was three, implying they are a family of genius children.
The relationship of the three Wiggin children is introduced. Peter torments his younger brother, and it will come out that Valentine the sister tries to protect Ender, the youngest child. She is in the sandwich position between the two rival brothers. Peter is obviously jealous of Ender, and it is only the monitor that keeps him from doing real damage. For his part, Ender hopes that the removal of the monitor means he too has failed the test, so that his brother will love him again. He wants to be a normal child.
However, the taunting of the other children that Ender is a “Third” lets us know he will never be normal. It is implied that families are allowed only two children, and a “Third” is a freak with no place in society. Ender knows it is not his fault. The government allowed their family a third child because of the genetic probability of producing another genius, perhaps one with the right temperament.
There is a tension set up, for Ender assumes he has failed the government test, but the dialogue of officers in the beginning shows Ender has already been chosen, and that they have already decided on the strategy for his development: “Surround him with enemies all the time” (p. 1). The incident with Stilson is apparently an accident, but it brings out what happens if Ender is confronted with an enemy. The mild, lonely boy turns into a killer. He is haunted with the fear that he might be like his brother Peter without a monitor as a restraint. He does not want to hurt anyone.