I promised these posts over two years ago…here they finally are.
Sexuality as a theme is often ignored in the Ender’s Game series, but from the Piggie’s reproductive cycle to Ender’s perpetual lack of sexual relationships, the theme is ever present. One by one, I’m going to analyse each of the relationships between Ender and other people that showed potential for romance or sexuality and discuss how Ender acts as a perfect example of an asexual fictional character.
If you’ve never read the book, you probably got the idea that there was some chemistry between Petra and Ender in the movie. Yet, in the book, Ender saw Petra purely as a friend. He regularly saw her naked but never experienced a sexual reaction to her, granted he was a little kid at the time.
Regardless, the fact that he spent years at a dominantly male-populated battle school suggests that were he heterosexual, he would have at least had some sort of sexual feeling for Petra, if even immature sensations. The books gave no indication that Ender was attracted to Petra either from a physical or romantic standpoint.
Next comes the sentient computer with whom Ender obviously has a deep, intimate relationship. Considering that Jane is a computer, it’s clear that there is no sexual weight in the relationship. Thus, we can be safe in calling it platonic.
Despite this, it’s also evident that this relationship runs much deeper than friendship –at least for Jane. Unfortunately for Jane, Ender isn’t quite as invested in the relationship as she is. He’s sensitive to the discovery that he’s hurt her, but ultimately, is perfectly fine with the idea of moving on.
Ender has a deep emotional connection with Jane, but it isn’t romantic on his part.
The next obvious female figure in Ender’s life is Valentine, his sister. Though most people wouldn’t consider her a romantic candidate in his life, Ender has an extremely intimate relationship with her.
Consider the following exchange between Ender and Ciefeiro:
“No,” said the Ceifeiro, “even the celibate priests think that our chastity in marriage is, at best, eccentric.”
“But I don’t,” said Ender. For a moment he wanted to tell them of his long companionship with Valentine, as close and loving as a wife, and yet chaste as a sister. But the thought of her took words away from him. He sat on the Ceifeiro’s bed and put his face in his hands.
Ender lifted his head, trying to shake off the sudden attack of love and longing for Valentine. “I’m afraid that this voyage has cost me more than any other. I left behind my sister, who travelled with me for many years. She married in Reykjavik. To me, it seems only a week or so since I left her, but I find that I miss her more than I expected. The two of you–“
“Are you telling us that you are also celibate?” asked the Ceifeiro.
“And widowed now as well,” whispered the Aradora.
It did not seem at all incongruous to Ender to have his loss of Valentine put in those terms.
From this, it’s clear Ender has no sensual interest in his sister, but that he still views her almost the way he would a wife. He has an almost romantic attachment to her that is devoid of sexual desire, but bares an intimacy too great to be a mere friendship or kinship bond. At the same time, I’m hesitant to go so far as to call it romantic.
Personally, I saw little evidence to support the idea that Ender was at any point sexually attracted to Novinha. Initially, he decided to marry her because he loved her family and wanted them to have a good father. Most prominently, however, Ender seems to realise that Novinha had married Marco as penance, and wanted to give her a better life.
Even though she had agreed wholeheartedly with Ender that it was right for Miro to go, it was still unbearable to lose her child. It made Ender wonder if his own parents felt such pain when he was taken away. He suspected they had not. Nor had they hoped for his return. He already loved another man’s children more than his parents had loved their own child. Well, he’d get fit revenge for their neglect of him. He’d show them, three thousand years later, how a father should behave. Bishop Peregrino married them in his chambers. By Novinha’s calculations, she was still young enough to have another six children, if they hurried. They set at the task with a will.
Pay close attention to the organisational structure of this paragraph. Ender doesn’t connect his marriage with Novinha to sex, but to a platonic love for the family. He feels duty-bound to give them a better life and to be a better parent than his own parents had been. Sex doesn’t come into the picture until the last sentence, but it’s Novinha’s sentence, not Ender’s.
It is merely Ender’s interpretation of Novinha’s words, and it’s written mathematically, with calculation, anything but sensual.
This final phrase, “they set at the task with a will,” assures that their marriage may have involved sex, but it isn’t inferred that Ender needed or wanted it. Often, asexual persons will agree to engage in sex on behalf of the other party, and this strikes me as one of those instances.
“[W]ith a will,” sounds more like a duty than sensual desire. If Ender had felt something of the latter, I think the choice of diction here would have been very different: “with a passion,” perhaps.
Next, we must reverse our steps to the scene where Ender first meets Novinha in person:
“In answer, he raised his hand and brushed his fingers across the back of her cheek. It was a timid gesture, almost an adolescent one; it reminded her of Libo, and it was more than she could bear. She took his hand, hurled it away, then shoved past him into the room.”
It could easily be said that this gesture on Ender’s part was a sexual one, but it can be even more convincingly argued that it was a gesture of comfort. The viewpoint character in this passage is not Ender, but Novinha. Her first instinct is to peg Ender’s gesture as “adolescent,” “timid” and thereby innocent.
Then, due to her past experience, she’s reminded of Libo, and she instantly forgets the innocence that she previously associated with Ender, instead projecting on Ender her vision of the gesture as a sexual one.
The scene gets more complicated as it continues:
“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. How dare he, she whispered to herself, touching the cheek that he had touched.
A lot of people peg this statement by Ender as a sexual one, but they do so on account of a connection drawn between the metaphor in Ender’s statement and the fact that the Piggies reproductive cycle revolves around the planting of trees. However, little have these people considered that despite this theme, Ender knows nothing about the Piggies reproductive cycle at this point in the novel.
Rather, Ender’s statement is meant to symbolise spiritual renewal, a conclusion backed by an awareness of Orson Scott Card’s religious background. His LDS Book of Mormon frequently uses the planting of a seed/tree as a metaphor for spiritual renewal.
Furthermore, if Ender truly had any sexual interest in Novinha, Ender, being as brutally honest with himself as he is, would mention it in one of his own viewpoint chapters. What we have to keep in mind is most of these sexually perceived statements of Ender’s are being filtered through Novinha’s viewpoint. Since she’s allosexual, she naturally assumes that Ender is too.
There is only one other instance in the series where it is explicitly stated that Ender and Novinha “made love,” but in the same sentence, Ender is described as being very distracted by something else. Again, his marriage with Novinha becomes sexual only because that is how they have traditionally thought of marriage.
“In the long run, it might well be that the descolada was the most adaptable species, the one most capable of subduing worlds and eliminating rivals, stronger than humans or piggies or buggers or any other living creatures on any settled worlds. That was the thought that Ender took to bed with him that night, the thought that preoccupied him even as he made love with Novinha, so that she felt the need to comfort him as if he, not she, were the one burdened with the cares of a world. He tried to apologize but soon realized the futility of it. Why add to her worries by telling of his own?
After Novinha leaves Ender, we’re further enlightened on the details of Ender’s absent sex life.
Miro, pondering his loss of Wanda, expends a great deal of energy saddened over the fact that he never slept with her when he had the chance. Ender on the other hand, after losing Novinha, does not think of sex at all. He thinks about the person that he’s lost emotionally, but his thoughts of lost physical intimacy do not go further than no longer being able to hold his wife’s hand or being saddened at the loneliness of having to sleep alone.
Once again, we must return to the tree in fertile ground. As Ender interacts with the Piggies, he’s forced to explain the descolada’s effect on Piggie reproductive cycles, which then leads Valentine and Ender into explaining the Human reproductive cycle to Planter:
“A male does best, reproductively, if he wanders and copulates as widely as possible.” (Valentine)
“I’ve done the wandering,” said Ender. “Somehow I missed out on the copulating.”
“I’m speaking of overall trends,” said Valentine. “There are always strange individuals who don’t follow the norms.”
Here, Ender states specifically that he’s never had sex, and considering that he’s been married for 30 years when he says this, I think it’s safe to say that he never wanted it. Further in this conversation, Valentine almost makes fun of Ender, by calling him her “reproductively unavailable brother.”
As Valentine is describing male sexual dominance, Ender’s first thoughts are not directly about sexuality itself:
Ender found himself very uncomfortable, hearing Valentine talk this way. He knew all this was true as far as it went, and he had heard it all before, but it still, in a small way, made him as uncomfortable as Planter was to learn similar things about his own people. Ender wanted to deny it all, to say, Some of us males are naturally civilized. But in his own life, hadn’t he performed the acts of dominance and war? Hadn’t he wandered? In that context, his decision to stay on Lusitania was really a decision to abandon the male dominant social model that had been engrained in him as a young soldier in battle school, and become a civilized man in a stable family.
As you can see, he thinks first of his experience in war, then of his subconscious choice to “abandon the male-dominant social model.” It is only after these thoughts have solidified in his mind that he actually questions his own sexuality.
“Yet even then, he had married a woman who turned out to have little interest in having more children. A woman with whom marriage had turned out to be anything but civilized, in the end. If I follow the male model, then I’m a failure. No child anywhere who carries on my genes. No woman who accepts my rule. I’m definitely atypical.”
“But since I haven’t reproduced, my atypical genes will die with me, and thus the male and female social models are safe from such an in-between person as myself.”
Here, Ender has consciously separated himself from the sexual world. What he’s conveyed to us in the last three paragraphs (they all come consecutively in the Xenocide), is this:
- He’s successful in the male tendency to be violent, but he’s deliberately chosen to reject that on account of his moral views
- He tried to settle down and be a normal husband, but subconsciously married someone who like him, had no sexual investment in their relationship.
- And not only did he choose her (being subconsciously aware of that fact), he can’t even get a woman to “accept his rule.”
- Thus, he has failed the allosexual success test.
Then of course, there’s the question of why Novinha left Ender in the first place. She left him because she was jealous of Ender’s relationships with Jane and Valentine, of the fact that he was closer to them than he was to her.
Ender had expected Novinha to be jealous when Valentine came, and he was prepared for that. He had warned Valentine that there would probably be few opportunities for them to be together at first. And she, too, understood– Jakt had his worries, too, and both spouses would need reassurance. It was almost silly for Jakt and Novinha to be jealous of the bonds between brother and sister. There had never been the slightest hint of sexuality in Ender’s and Valentine’s relationship– anyone who understood them at all would laugh at any such notion– but it wasn’t sexual unfaithfulness that Novinha and Jakt were wary of. Nor was it the emotional bond they shared– Novinha had no reason to doubt Ender’s love and devotion to her, and Jakt could not have asked for more than Valentine offered him, both in passion and in trust.
It was deeper than any of these things. It was the fact that even now, after all these years, as soon as they were together they once again functioned like a single person, helping each other without even having to explain what they were trying to accomplish. Jakt saw it and even to Ender, who had never known him before, it was obvious that the man felt devastated. As if he saw his wife and her brother together and realized: This is what closeness is. This is what it means for two people to be one. He had thought that he and Valentine had been as close as husband and wife can ever be, and perhaps they were. And yet now he had to confront the fact that it was possible for two people to be even closer. To be, in some sense, the same person.
That says a lot about Novinha’s perception of Ender. First of all, we discover that since her first encounter with Ender, she has ceased to perceive him as a sexual person, and secondly, she’s figured out what kind of relationships he’s capable of having and feels that he has deeper relationships with other women than he does with her.
The best way I can describe an asexual relationship (at least Ender’s version of it) is this: it’s like friendship, only much, much deeper. The dilemma in Ender’s marriage is that Novinha recognises this about him and perceives Ender as having formed these types of relationships with other women despite his being married to her.
Interestingly enough, Ender doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, he sees himself as having a romantic attachment to Novinha but doesn’t feel that way about either of the other relationships. Yet, it’s obvious that he has in fact formed some type of extremely intimate bond with Valentine and Jane in addition to his bond with Novinha.
It isn’t uncommon, as Novinha does, for a family member to recognise a person’s asexuality before they recognise it in themselves. Ender does seem to be aware of it, however, because when Valentine first arrives on Lusitania, one of his first thoughts is to worry that Novinha will be jealous of their closeness.
Young Peter & Young Valentine
Next, of course, comes Ender’s unfortunate accidental creation of the duplicate young Peter and Valentine. These two morph into existence both as Ender’s perception of them, and as reflections of the insecurities in his unconscious mind.
In Peter’s first taunts, he makes a point of his own liking for girls and then taunts Ender for his lack of the same.
“You’re a tired old fart who can’t even hold onto his woman. And you never even fathered a child, you pathetic old eunuch.”
The very fact that Ender’s unconscious mind would call himself a eunuch suggests that in the allosexual societies of which he has been part, he considers himself a sexual failure.
Not only this, but in the coming weeks, Ender is thrown into even greater turmoil, acting out of character to overcompensate for his lack of sexual motivation. He talks to Novinha, and despite his having never previously thought of her in sexual terms, refuses to join the Children of the Mind on the grounds that he isn’t ready to give up sexual desires.
Yet, in all honesty, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t actually need that. What he needs is someone to dispel all of his insecurities regarding his sexual identity.
In the coming days, he confides in Jane.
“You’re crying,” said Jane in his ear.
“This is such a happy day,” he said.
“It is, you know. You’re just about the only person wasting any pity on you tonight.”
“Fine, then,” said Ender. “If I’m the only one, then at least there’s one.”
“You’ve got me,” she said. “And our relationship has been chaste all along.”
“I’ve really had enough of chastity in my life,” he answered. “I wasn’t hoping for more.”
“Everyone is chaste in the end. Everyone ends up out of the reach of all the deadly sins.”
“But I’m not dead,” he said. “Not yet. Or am I?”
“Does this feel like heaven?” she asked.
He laughed, and not nicely.
“Well, then, you can’t be dead.”
“You forget,” he said. “This could easily be hell.”
To me, this doesn’t really say, “I’m horny and want to be with my wife.” To me it says, “I don’t understand why I’m such a sexual failure. Maybe it would have been better if I had chosen to be sexual despite my lack of internal desire for it.”
This is a thought that certainly goes through the minds of plenty of asexual people when they get involved in mixed-orientation relationships. One account of sexual differences, relationships that occur between an allosexual person and an oblivious asexual person often end in pain for both parties.
“Better to have loved and lost,” he murmured, “than never to have loved at all.”
What’s further interesting to me about that prior passage is the fact that Jane knew that Ender was thinking about himself as a sexual failure without him having to bring it up.
How do we know he’s not just repressed because of trauma?
We don’t. There’s no telling what he would have been like had he not been to battle school and suffered through war. But regardless, we do know that he isn’t sexually attracted to any of the women he has romantic feelings for.
There are plenty of people who identify as asexual on account of trauma, but somehow I don’t get that vibe from Ender. Even seeing Petra naked in battle school didn’t give him those types of feelings, and that was before he underwent the worst of his traumatic experiences.
Furthermore, it’s clear from the fact that Ender is so comfortable discussing sexuality that he is not sexually immature. He has absolutely no problem talking about sex. He knows enough about it to figure out the Piggie’s reproductive cycle and explain it to people, but he does so from a purely biological perspective.
Likewise, his research on Novinha’s marriage and sex-life is objective and even cold, and serves only the function of allowing Ender to understand Novinha and Marco as people.
Ender strikes me as a sex-apathetic asexual with romantic tendencies towards the female gender, albeit in multiple species.
But what about Orson Scott Card? Isn’t he anti-gay, ant LGBTQ+ etc.?
Actually, if you read Card’s work objectively, he’s not quite the horrible gay-hater that the media paints him as. Most of the quotes that the media uses of his are presented completely out of context and in a way that deliberately sets him up for accusations that are not accurate. Sexual identity is brought up a number of times throughout the Ender’s Saga, and in a way that shows us Card is not only comfortable discussing it, but that expresses a tolerant view of it.
It’s clear from the start that Ender Wiggin was not written asexual on accident, or if he was, Card was aware of it by the time he got down to writing Speaker for the Dead. If Ender were intended to be heterosexual, I think it would have come out clearly in the writing as it does for other characters.
Card is not shy of writing about sex, and we know this from reading Novinha’s viewpoint, hearing her and Libo’s frequent jokes about sex, Miro’s regrets at not having lost his virginity when he’d had the chance, as well as from the relative ease with which he allows Ender to describe the Piggies’ reproductive cycle. SEXUALITY IS A MAJOR THEME IN THE ENDER’S SAGA SERIES. If Ender was a sexually motivated person, I think it would have been far more obvious.
On an unrelated note, it’s my personal opinion that Card’s supposed ‘homophobia’ should in no way impact our enjoyment of his writing. In fact –never do I believe that the author’s personality or personal interests should determine whether or not we appreciate his work.
I’m of the school of writers who believes that while a work is certainly very intensely related to the author, it isn’t really his anymore once it’s available for the masses to read. When you publish something, you part with the right to be the sole interpreter of it. Therefore –we can’t always differ to the author as a source of meaning.
Were Card the determiner of meaning, Speaker for the Dead would hold more popular precedence than Ender’s Game (which was his original intention).
At the same time, this doesn’t mean that anything goes. The work should speak for itself, and that’s what I’ve strived to look at in this analysis. I didn’t twist anything to fit my personal experience, and I didn’t differ to Orson Scott Card for the interpretation. I simply analysed.
There you have it. That’s my opinion; do what you wish with it.