Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Friends and Enemies

In Ender's Game it is never entirely clear who is a friend and who is an enemy. Graff, Anderson, and Rackham, who are undoubtedly Ender's friends, appear to him as enemies and are forced to do so. Peter attempts to befriend Valentine merely to get what he wants, but she never forgets that he is not a real friend. Petra Arkanian and Dink Meeker are always Ender's friends, but at times he is uncertain of where they stand. But by far the most striking juxtaposition occurs with the buggers. The only enemy that Ender truly fears, the buggers in the end prove to be friendly. The earth's greatest enemy, the alien race it was at war with, turns out not to have been intentionally hostile. Card constantly proves that friends and enemies are not clear distinctions.


The question of what it means to be human is taken up several times in Ender's Game. In the first place, children are affirmed to be just as real human beings as adults, even as the children are robbed of their youth. It is, after all, a group of children who save the world. But more fundamentally than this, to be human is to have compassion. The ability to feel for others is the mark of humanity. Peter's humanity is questioned, while Ender's is what saves the planet. In the end, the buggers themselves suggest to Ender that if things had gone differently both races could have celebrated the other's humanity. Their compassion for the humans they killed and their sorrow over the war means that they are human, and this is why Ender feels the need to do something to help them and why he so keenly mourns his destruction of their race.

Historical References

Card makes frequent use of historical references throughout Ender’s Game, juxtaposing military leaders and other historical figures with children. For instance, Peter is at various points compared to both Alexander the Great and Hitler; he mentions the Warsaw Pact and the League of Nations; he and Valentine adopt the pen names Locke and Demosthenes, referencing the English philosopher John Locke and the ancient Greek statesmen. In Chapter 7, General Levy says, “But shouldn't they still act like children? They aren't normal. They act like—history. Napoleon and Wellington. Caesar and Brutus.” These allusions, and others like it, highlight the blurring of the lines between child and adult in Ender’s Game, and the notion that the children, by being forced to occupy spaces historically afforded to adult military commanders, are making history at the expense of their childhoods.