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Community in the Work of Orson Scott Card
by Kimberly E. Holland, High School Freshman


Community is a very important thing. It allows people to associate with those similar to themselves. More importantly, it gives a person a sense of definition and belonging. One can become so dedicated to his community, to his people, that he will risk anything to save it, bending morals, forgetting the rules. "I'm Kristine's husband, Geoffrey and Emily and Charlie's dad, I'm Mormon, and I am a science fiction writer." Born in 1951, Card now has two other daughters, Zina and Erin. These are the communities to which Orson Scott Card belongs; this is how he defines himself. Through science fiction, Card addresses community and explores the topic not only within his personal beliefs, but also within his novels; ironically, community is also the context used to compare Card's most famous protagonist to a certain racist dictator.

Orson Scott Card frequently examines the morals of his characters and the validity of certain events or times; he rethinks his own views knowing that people from different communities will have drastically different beliefs. He notes that science fiction best allows him to do so: Science fiction permits a context for imagining the unimaginable, and Card believes it is the most supple genre for writing moral fiction. "Most fiction pretends to be dealing with current issues, but it is simply politically correct, follow-the-trend fiction. There are exceptions, but by and large, you're hearing the fad philosophy of the last five years, expressed through characters acting it out. That's unfortunate because you're not examining anything. In science fiction, we can't help but challenge. Science fiction exists to challenge. The whole point of reading science fiction is to be taken into a world that is different from what you know. In some of the best SF, you move into a universe where all moral bets are off, where you have a group of aliens, or humans in an alien setting, who live by different rules because some key aspect of life that we take for granted as human beings has been changed radically. And because of that one change, everything changes. The moral imperatives of that culture are so different from the moral imperatives for ours that after a while we can see ourselves through their eyes and see how bizarre we are. Then you come back and question everything."

Science fiction forces the reader to change his view of thinking; this is exactly what Card intends. The mind easily adapts to trivial changes in the future because they are expected. By adjusting views on the physical world, the mind is much more open to how morals have changed as a result. Seeing new principles in a foreign setting allows the reader to understand if not accept them. He begins to realize that perhaps these new ideas are better than what he had originally thought. Or perhaps they aren't; perhaps he realizes that these strange characters do have the wrong idea and that they could never be applied to the reader's own society. The point is, though, that science fiction forces the reader to analyze his morals and ethics in a new way he never thought possible.

One of the communities to which Orson Scott Card personally belongs is the artists. Card is an artist himself and believes that "good artists sustain that which is good through their art, and to call for the correction of that which is destructive of happiness. Art which is destructive of the values of a decent society is deserving of no special privilege or protection by that society." Art has an important place in the ways of any community, often defining and displaying as well as influencing the values and moral system of the community. Another aspect of community which attains the same goal is the government, which is designed to keep the community balanced and in order. "The natural tendency of evil people toward monopoly of power is the reason for the existence of the government, to level the playing field and protect the weak." Card suggests that the government is responsible for keeping equal rights, and that "In a merciful society, no one, regardless of merit, is undeserving of the basic necessities of life. In a just society, no one should have the power to withhold from others those same necessities." In a stable community, all within the group should have the same rights and privileges; if the governing system of the community does not keep this stabilized, the security of the community is in jeopardy. On a smaller scale, though a family is in itself a community, Card believes that stable families will support the larger communities to which it belongs. To Card, this means that "families need a father and a mother, and variances from this should be regarded as tragic, to be avoided when possible, but compensated for as much as possible by extended family, friends, neighbors, and finally the authority of the community, when they cannot be avoided." In other words, when the family fails to support the community, the community will support the family. These are Card's views on the basic structure of community; however, compared to his other beliefs, these simply "pale to insignificance."

Card's most valuable beliefs do not have to do with community at all; they are his spiritual beliefs. Card is Mormon by faith, however, his personal beliefs stand alone, influenced but not determined by standard Mormon beliefs. According to Card, "we are more than our bodies." He believes that the other part of a person, the part that makes moral decisions, has always existed and will never cease to exist. This part along with the body is on the Earth to serve God. God wants people to be happy; it is through serving Him that true happiness is reached. As for the goodness of humankind, Card believes that "every person has every motivations." It is which motivations a person chooses to follow that determine his moral nature; and so, it is impossible to say that humans are by nature either good or evil. All start on the same level, with every possibility open to them. In his work, Card is "completely uninterested in exploring evil. Evil (and weak and wicked) people are all evil (or weak or wicked) in the same boring ways. But good people are infinitely interesting in the ways they manage to be good despite all the awful circumstances of their lives." While individuals may be more good than evil or vice versa, God created humans with every motivation, including the one to serve Him. It is those that follow this calling, in Card's eyes, that will find happiness and spiritual fulfillment.

The personal beliefs of Orson Scott Card define him through his Mormon community and through other groups; however, the part of his life concerned with writing is a separate thing. Many things have influenced him in this aspect of his life. The first point at which Card was exposed to writing was throughout his childhood. Everyone in his immediate family was a writer; writing became a natural aspect of life. Card later became interested in screenplays and entered Brigham Young University with theater as his emphasis. Though he did not go on to become a professional screenplay writer, his experience in this field did develop some later-needed writing skills: "In the theater, playwrights, directors, and actors are all concerned with motivation. Why does a character do what he does? What is he thinking that motivates him to the actions called for in the script? If an actor hasn't thought through a convincing set of motivations for his character, the performance is flat. I approach my characters in the same way. . . I let the reader see what they are thinking. I tell the reader what the character intends to accomplish with his actions. Then if things don't work out as planned, I share the character's distress with my readers." Many authors have also influenced Card throughout his career. Joseph Smith, author of the Book of Mormon, has been the most important author to Card. He wrote the book which helped Card establish most of his beliefs. Many of the things that are part of Card's life in turn influence his writing itself. Specifically, Lost Boys is very closely modeled after Card's own life. The Card family shares many qualities with the fictional family of this novel: size, location, religion, paternal occupation, and a child with cerebral palsy. More generally, however, Card's Mormon knowledge has appeared in much of his work, including the Homecoming Saga and the Alvin Maker series. Though much of this is simply objective information, there is quite a controversy concerning the Mormon ideas in his writing, leaving many people, both Mormons and non-Mormon, very unhappy.

Perhaps because of Card's religious upbringing and the strong sense of community within the church, communities are a prominent topic among his novels. Communities, Card finds, are what makes up a person, what gives them their identity. "Our identity as human beings exists only in the context of community. We are nobody till somebody knows us, and the way they know us is by defining us in communitarian terms. . . . Our identity is the net sum of the communities we belong to plus the communities we vehemently don't belong to." In other words, without a community, an individual means nothing. He has no way to identify himself other than by naming characteristics he shares with other, predefined people. This solitary vehicle of identification undoubtedly is the reason why many are so dedicated to their communities that they will in fact do anything to insure the survival of it. "Card has explored to some depth the notion of an individual sacrificing himself for the greater good of his society." No one is about to let his community, the thing that supports him and makes him who he is, simply disappear.

The presence of communities and a network of ties to others makes a person strong, the lack of this, isolation, can be devastating. According to Card, if one is isolated it is the same as not having an identity. In Speaker for the Dead, the character Novinha is isolated her entire life. Beginning with the death of her parents, the only people to whom she had ever been close, Novinha is forced to the outskirts of Lusitania, her colony. Searching desperately for a community, she pursues the only thing she had ever a been part of: xenobiology. Her parents had been the xenobiologist of Lusitania before their deaths. They had been working on adapting to the Descolada, a virus contaminating every living thing on the planet. Her parents had indeed found a way to keep humans from dying of this disease; however, it was too late for them. So Novinha becomes a xenobiologist and, through the time she spends at the Zenador's Station with Pipo and Libo, Novinha finds her first community. "So the Zenador's Station for those few short years was a place of true companionship for two brilliant young people who otherwise would have been condemned to solitude." Still barely adults, Novinha and Libo find a community between themselves, their common thread being their isolation; these two also share a link with Pipo, Libo's father: the future of Lusitania.

Orson Scott Card directly addresses community in Speaker many times. One of the issues that comes up is the separation between the individual and the community. That is, where does one end and the next begin? For instance, an individual may have personal beliefs about a matter, but when it comes right down to it, he will probably be willing the shed these morals to protect his community: "If you had the only gun in your village, and the beasts that had torn apart one of your people were coming again, would you stop to ask if they also had a right to live, or would you act to save your village, the people that you knew, the people that depended on you?" People are so tightly connected to their communities that even something so simple as the validation of killing for protection becomes trivial information in the face of danger. It is here that we see that dedication to a community greatly transforms the actions of an individual; these actions really do affect the future of the community. In Speaker, two Zenadors, Miro and Ouanda, supposedly violate several laws set in the Starways Code and threaten the survival of their community. Simple acts of which only they are accused determine, in the eyes of the Hundred World's Congress, that all of Lusitania should not longer exist. The governor of Lusitania, Bosquinha, responds to this and allows the loss of her position so her community can survive. She cares enough, not about her leadership, but about the community, to protect it; it is very important to her as one of the things that defines her (200). Anyone, regardless of position in a community, can greatly affect it through his actions because a community is nothing more than a group of individuals, each member active, each member important.

One of the most important communities to which Orson Scott Card belongs himself is the Mormon community. Card is actively religious, and it shows through his work; sometimes he intends its existence, other times it is simply a religious reference within the text: In the original Analog version of "Ender's Game" for example, two characters realize that in training Andrew Wiggin to save humanity from the alien buggers, they have destroyed the child in him; in fact, says one, he is barely human any more. Is so, the second argues, the sacrifice is repaid in the fact that other children -- innocent in their untested humanness -- can now play safely in the public park. "And Jesus died to save all men, of course," the first counters, "but we're the ones who are driving in the nails." The passage could serve as an epigram to all of Card's fictions; trapped within a circle of opposing forces, one focal character must decide whether or not to become, like Ender Wiggin, æsomething of a savior, or a prophet, or at least a martyr. There are somewhat religious undertones throughout Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, in that the protagonist, Ender Wiggin, is somewhat of a godlike figure. In Speaker, Ender must "kill" a piggy, considered a person while not humans, so that he go into his next life; one article describes it, saying "the Christ-figure finds himself at the foot of an alien Cross crucifying another savior." While many religious ideas can be spotted in Card's fiction very quickly by those aware of the basic story of Christianity, Card does not purposely weave them into his stories: As far as actual religious tie-ins are concerned, I avoid them like the proverbial plague. I have strong religious convictions. That naturally influences my stories. But the influence will be as hidden as possible, because as soon as I catch myself saying or writing something overtly religious, or at least overtly in line with my own particular religion, I delete and sensor like crazy. If anyone cares to hear about my church, I'll be glad to tell him or her, in a personal conversation. But in my stories, I am not out to support any particular institution. My moral beliefs, my personal philosophy are inseparable from my work: my theology and Institutional membership have no place in it. Even so, theologists can compare apples to oranges and interpret subtle religious meaning. Card chooses not to force religion upon his readers; however, "Card amplifies its values by assuming the importance of religion rather that by asserting it or arguing for it." He does not, will not force his personal beliefs onto his readers; the message gets across, though, perhaps enhanced by the method by which it came.

As previously stated, Card does not agree with philosophers who state that humans are mostly or partly good or evil. This very topic comes up in a class held by Andrew (Ender) Wiggin on the planet Trondheim:

Now it was Styrka who spoke quickly. "Murder is murder. This talk of varelse and ramen is nonsense. If the piggies murder, then they are evil, as the buggers were evil. If the act is evil, then the actor is evil."

Andrew nodded. "There is our dilemma. There is the problem. Was the act evil, or was it, somehow, to the piggies' understanding at least, good? Are the piggies ramen or varelse?" The ramen are the peopleûhumans, buggers, piggiesûthat are self aware. They know the consequences of their own actions and can be held morally responsible; however, this does not guarantee that they understand the actions of the other ramen. The consequences of their actions in fact can be fatally misunderstood: Again Human squatted for a while, trying to make sense of this. "Speaker," he said at last, "my mind keeps seeing this two ways. If humans don't have a third life, then planting is killing, forever. In our eyes, Libo and Pipo were keeping the honor to themselves, and leaving Mandachuva and Leaf-eater as you see them, to die without honor for their accomplishments. In our eyes, you humans came out of the fence to the hillside and tore them from the ground before their roots could grow. In our eyes, it was you who committed murder, when you carried Pipo and Libo away. But now I see it another way. Pipo and Libo wouldn't let Mandachuva and Leaf-eater into the third life, because to them it would be murder. So they willingly allowed their own death, just so they wouldn't have to kill any of us." This frequently happens between different communities. Differences in thinking cause gaps between communities that are not easily bridged. It is because of misunderstandings like these that Styrka's theory is incorrect. The action cannot be said as good or evil because there is not a measure, no common standard against which all things can be compared. Of course, the one receiving the action will judge it according to his own standard, and that is all that matters to him. If judging the goodness of the act, however, the motive must be examined. One piggy named Human, unaware of the true identity of Andrew Wiggin, eloquently quotes this very idea of motive and action: "But the Speaker for the Dead, the one who wrote this book, he's the wisest man who lived in the age of flight among the stars. While Ender was a murderer, he killed a whole people, a beautiful race of ramen that could have taught us everythingûÆ æBoth human, though," whispered the Speaker. Human was near them now, and he spoke a couplet from the Hegemon: "Sickness and healing are in every heart. Death and deliverance are in every hand." Andrew Wiggin is all at once Ender the Xenocide, who killed the buggers; Speaker for the Dead, who wrote the Hive Queen and the Hegemon, showing all of humanity who the buggers truly had been; and now, missionary to the piggies. Every choice had been given to him, he seems to have chosen them all. To say that he is evil because of one action is invalid because it can be returned with the goodness of another action. It is the motive inside him that determines him as a whole.

Ender Wiggin, as a child, is responsible for the death of an entire species: xenocide. His community, humanity, finds it necessary to wipe out the buggers in order to survive. Ender is the tool of choice, and Elaine Radford finds this very peculiar: "Let me tell you about a book I just read. It's the story of a young boy who was dreadfully abused by the grown-ups who wanted to mold him into an exemplary citizen. Forced to suppress his own emotions in order to avoid being paralyzed by trauma, he directed his energy into duty rather than sex or love. In time, he came to believe that his primary duty was to wipe out a species of gifted but incomprehensible aliens who had devastated his kind in a previous war. He found the idea of exterminating an entire race distasteful, or course. But since he believed it was required to save the people he defined as human, he put the entire weight of his formidable energy behind the effort to wipe out the aliens. You've read it, you say? It's Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, right? Wrong. The aliens I'm talking about were the European Jews, blamed by many Germans for gearing up World War I for their own profit. The book is Robert G. L. Waite's The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler." Radford accuses Orson Scott Card of using Ender Wiggin to gain the reading audience's love and respect in order to forgive Hitler of his crimes. She makes it clear that the objective of both Hitler and Ender -- saving the community -- is unacceptable. Supporting this statement, Radford points out many similarities between Adolf Hitler and the fictional Ender Wiggin. They were both the third child in a line of siblings; both had what she called a "quasi-incestual relationship"; both suffered physical and emotional abuse; both remained virgins until the age of 37; and both selected a destructive mate. These are the ways in which Radford states that Card obviously meant for Wiggin to represent Hitler. She then goes on to declare how preposterous the idea of the Xenocide becoming a Speaker is, saying that: . . . Ender does kill everybody -- and then proceeds to steal their heritage. Ender the Xenocide becomes the first Speaker for the Dead writing the book that will define what the Buggers are for three thousand years. It is as if Hitler not only exterminated the Jews, he then went on to write his own story of what the state of Israel might have been. Radford assumes that no person who would wipe out a species deserves to tell its story. The reader sympathizes with the protagonist in Ender's Game, going on even to forgive him in Speaker for the Dead. Radford, seeing a clear symbolism between Wiggin and Hitler, finds this idea disgusting, that someone could metaphorically consider to forgive a man who did such a terrible thing.

Orson Scott Card, in defense of his novel, wrote a reply to this article. He does not hide the fact that Wiggin is in fact tied to Hitler: "On the broadcast level, it should be obvious to every reader of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead that I do draw one key parallel between historical monstrosities like Hitler, Stalin, and Amin, and my character Ender: they are thought of in the public mind as loathsome mass murderers. Despite their similar public image, however, every other element of Ender's story is designed to show that in his case the image is not reality -- he is not like Hitler or Stalin, exactly the opposite of what Radford claims. Far from using Ender to try to make people approve of Hitler, I use the contrast with Hitler, Stalin, and other genocides to illumine the character of Ender Wiggin."

Card obviously meant, if anything, for Wiggin to be exactly the opposite of what Radford claims. Card uses Wiggin, not to forgive Hitler, but to explain the clear difference between the motives of two people with the same action: Ender Wiggin had no notion he was killing real aliensûûhe thought he was still playing games. Hitler knew perfectly well he was killing flesh and blood people.

All Wiggin knows was that he is in training to command a battle which may well save humanity; he is training out of dedication to his community. He is never aware, however, that he is actually killing; had he known this, his action may have been different. It is near impossible to know; yet, Wiggin's motive would have remained the same -- always compassionate, always concerned for the good of the whole, including those outside of the community, outside of humanity. In her article, Radford also mentions the similarities between Valentine Wiggin's hierarchy of foreignness and Hitler's racial theory: Valentine's hierarchy of foreignness -- Utlanning, Framling, Ramen, Varelse was consistently used by her and Ender in an effort to bind aliens and strangers together, to make cooperation or at least coexistence possible.

The category of Ramen was meant to eliminate the automatic assumption that aliens are non-human, irrevocably "not like us," and rather to discover key points of similarity on which good relations and understanding could be built. Hitler's classification of Aryan versus non-Aryan was used for exactly the opposite purpose: to dehumanize the groups he hated, to provide a moral foundation for destroying them. In short, the hierarchy of foreignness in Speaker is exactly the opposite of racial theory.

Card even provides a reason for Ender's actions after the xenocide -- becoming the Speaker. By telling the true story of the buggers, Ender is doing the only thing he knows to make it up to them. He has unknowingly destroyed them, so he does all that is within his power to erase the damage that has been done. The writing of The Hive Queen and the Hegemon isn't done in ignorance. The buggers leave Wiggin an unborn hive queen in a place in which only he will recognize to look for it. By communicating with her, Wiggin can not only write her species' life story, but he can also hope to someday restore the species. He can, in fact, reverse the damage that has been done, by releasing the hive queen in a place where no humans can harm her. So though Ender Wiggin is like Adolf Hitler in that he is responsible for the death of a race, he is different in that he is actually concerned for this race as a people, regretful from the second he learns of his mistake.

A person belonging to a community is very dedicated, willing to do almost anything to keep it in existence. This does not excuse poor moral choices, however. Simply because a person has the good of his community in mind while killing does not make the killing right. It does, however, justify it for that person at that time. All he knows is that his community is in danger, and that he will do anything for its survival. This is not only because the community is dependent on the individual, but also because the individual is dependent on the community. The community is what ties him to other people; it is what gives him his identity. When community is taken away, the resultûisolationûis nearly unbearable. On the other end of the scaleûthe meeting of two communitiesûthe situation is just a grim. Because different communities have a different system of beliefs, communication and understanding between the two can often be difficult. The ups greatly outnumber the downs, however; community is as necessary to humans as is oxygen. Community is the foundation of all human interaction, a thing without which no person can physically survive. "I try to write in such a way that there is a superficial story always, that can be received without penetrating any deeper, and enjoyed. At the same time, those that are willing to pass through the different levels of revision will receive, I think, a much richer story."

[Copyright © Kimberly E. Holland, 2000. Reprinted with permission.]


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