During Ender's training in preparation for Ender's Game he and his comrades are inspected by Colonel Graff and Seargent Dap. Graff holds a speech about possibly promoting some of the cadets and that everybody is in competition to everyone (clearly in an effort to inspire competition and quench too tight bonds between the cadets).

When he is about to leave, Ender asks if their e-mails are blocked and slightly protests against that, only to get a harsh "shut up and obey"-response. But Ender keeps on replying up to the point where the only reason seems mere defiance:

Dap: Keep it up son and you will never make it to command school!
Ender: I thought it was a legitimate question.
Dap: What?
Ender: You said if we had a legitimate question...
Dap: DROP and give me twenty!... You think you're the smartest kid in the school?
Ender: No sir.
Dap: You will never be a commander, I will never salute you!
Ender: Yes, you will, Seargent.
Dap: Give me twenty more!... Get up. You do not speak unless spoken to. Am I clear?
all: Sir, Yes sir!
Ender: Even if I have a legitimate question?
Dap: SHUT IT WIGGIN!... Now go to sleep, all of you.
Ender (to everyone else looking at him): You heard him, get some sleep.

But I wonder what to make out of this reaction exactly, seeing that he seemed to exaggerate his truculence here a bit. But it also seemed to give him a bit of appreciation from his comrades, which together with the fact that he was a very tactical and pragmatic thinker might even suggest this as a deliberate outcome.

So are there any further hints to what Ender's motivation for this slightly rebellious reply was?

  • Was he simply being a bit defiant against the authorities there, maybe due to a little discontentness with his situation (or just Graff's crushing response)?
  • Or was this really just to get higher esteem from his comrades in order to become their leader (especially seeing his last sentence)?
  • Or did he just want to strengthen the bonds between the cadets in general and pose the superiors as the true enemies in reaction to Graff's group-destroying announcement?

There is of course also the possibility that this has been left deliberately ambiguous in order to not draw Ender's motivations too clearly or because all those factors apply, but maybe there are more hints I missed or information about the background of his actions there.

4 Answers 4


I read the novel years ago. FANTASTIC BOOK. Based on that and the movie, I believe Ender hates hypocrisy and/or corruption. He wants clear rules. He also wants to be able to respect authority, and he won't do that if they're selfish. If two rules are in conflict, he will point it out.

I think he wants everyone to be united, and that means that everybody realizes that the greater good (of the entire group) is more valuable than anyone's individual desires. That means that everyone should agree to the same rules and follow them. If one of the rules is that any legitimate question can be asked, he will see it as damaging the group if someone refuses to abide by the rule for selfish reasons.

This was a little clumsy, and if I had a few hours to think about this I'd probably be more eloquent, but I wanted to put in my two cents. Someone else will probably be able to state all this more clearly.

  • "This was a little clumsy, and if I had a few hours to think about this I'd probably be more eloquent" - Not too necessary. I already got what you said and it seems pretty reasonable.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 10:48
  • 1
    I also realized this morning that Ender respects hierarchy as part of the system. But he does not tolerate disrespect for the system, like breaking the system's rules by not answering a legitimate question. Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 16:37

I agree with @Johnny Bones.

Contrary to the book - in the movie, Ender is told that he will be the one to eventually command the forces. But to be an efficient commander - he needs the respect of his fellow cadets. In the book - there is time for him to demonstrate his smartness and strategic thinking to win their respect. But when converting to on-screen - showing that he will fight for what is right is a side to show that the cadets start to respect Ender for his values. Other scenes that earn Ender others' respect are:

  1. When he demonstrates he can navigate 0 gravity better than everyone
  2. When he is eager to practice even though he is new to the Salamander army and has been asked to sit out of battles
  3. When he shows strategic thinking in turning the battle with Petra's help and winning for Salamander
  4. When he refuses to give in to the "senior cadets are favored first" policy when he is given command of the Dragon Army.

I always saw his defiance as a result of realizing no adult will ever be there for him/protect himself.

So his defiance in this example was to gain power/authority so he could protect himself.


Ender is looking for "Street Cred". By fighting for his fellow cadets right to get certain privileges, he gains their respect. To a certain degree, the Sergeant knows that Ender needs that credibility too, as is evidenced by other discussions he has with Ender that are more private.

  • "the Sergeant knows that Ender needs that credibility too, as is evidenced by other discussions he has with Ender that are more private" - Could you elaborate on that or give some examples, as it sounds like some interesting angle I might not have got at all.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 9:10

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