How Perceptions Affect Reading: Cassie-la Talks Orson Scott “Giant Bigot” Card and Starting “Ender’s Game”

People have been telling me for years that I should read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I was always hesitant though, 1. because I am not a huge science fiction fan, and 2. because Orson Scott Card is a disgusting bigot. Which made me wonder, would knowing that I disagree with his beliefs cloud my judgement if I read his novel?

My initial thought was yes, of course I would be unable to enjoy literature (albeit supposedly good literature) because it was written by a person with such an opposing world view. After all, I enjoy literature more from authors I appreciate as human beings. Before meeting Scott Westerfeld I was a huge fan of his work. After meeting him and learning what a down to earth, nice person he is, I found myself loving his work even more. Surely reading a book from someone I loathe would make me dislike their book.

So I figured, why not give it a shot, why not read Ender’s Game and see what all the fuss is about? With all this milling about my head I decided to learn a little bit more about Card. I wish I hadn’t opened Pandora’s box, because it definitely swayed my opinion before I began reading. The fist thing  I learned is that Card was raised as a radical Mormon and that he opposes gay marriage and believes in Intelligent Design and thinks Charles Darwin is a phony.

Through my research I discovered that he opposes homosexual marriage because it cannot benefit society in the same way that heterosexual marriage can- procreation. <BEGIN SARCASM> Because there aren’t tons of children in orphanages and shelters who could use a good home, surely that wouldn’t benefit society for homosexual couples to give them loving homes. Not to mention that ALL heterosexual couples are obviously adequately equipped and able to bear children. No heterosexual couple is abusive or addicted to drugs or homeless and having children. Or physically unable, your God gives them all child-bearing prowess. <END SARCASM>

Furthermore, he argues that homosexual marriage passing is, “the end of democracy in America”, and that homosexuals, “cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society”. There is also a mention of a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, but this is where I got nauseous and stopped reading.

I don’t agree with the hypothesis that it is because Card is a Mormon that he has these beliefs. After all, Stephenie Meyer is Mormon and she approves of teenage werewolves falling in love with infants. Guy on guy love has to be more acceptable than that.

I am not a religious person, but I can be semi-tolerant of religious people as long as it’s not being rammed down my throat (said the altar boy to the priest- ba dump bump). This isn’t helping my argument, is it? As a whole I think I am a person who is tolerant of a lot of different beliefs – UFOs, ghosts, reincarnation, etc. I might not believe it all, but I won’t stop being your friend if you do. The same cannot be said of bigotry. I cannot be tolerant of a person if they are a bigot, that’s just who I am. It is here that I am going to refrain from ranting about how a lot of persecution is caused by religion, mostly because without religion, humanity would probably be raping and pillaging their way to anarchy.

Suffice it to say, I do not agree with anything Card believes in as a person, and with all this in my head I started reading. Albeit I started reading with regret that I had forked $6 of my money to support a racist, homophobic, crazy person.

The book started off with an intriguing premise. Society is fighting an alien race called the Buggers, and they cultivate and train intellectual and gifted children in society in what they call Battle School to fight this threat. Ender Wiggin (the chosen one) is a Third, a third child only sanctioned birth by the government due to the near success in the program of his siblings. He is taken to Battle School and quickly moves up the ranks, proving to be capable of fighting successfully and using impressive problem solving skills for a six year old boy.

Despite the strange dialogue and the confusing world I was thrust right into, I didn’t exactly mind the beginning of the novel. I didn’t fall in love with it or think it was the most amazing thing in the world, but it wasn’t bad either. And I soon forgot everything I knew about the author. That is until I found the below examples, which stopped me in my tracks.

I am currently halfway through the book and I have come across three blatant examples of racism. The first occurs between Ender and a friend of his from the same Launch group. Ender is the initial speaker.

“‘Hey, we can’t all be niggers.’

Alai grinned. ‘My grandpa would’ve killed you for that.’

‘My great great grandpa would have sold him first.'”

Maybe the world we live in now is way more PC than it was when this novel was written, or in this world racism is “funny”. Regardless, neither character seems bothered by the conversation and they go so far as to bond over it. Bonding over racism. Fun.

The second example is not a direct quote but rather the belief in this world that Jews are particularly adroit Commanders, so much so that Strike Forces are jokingly referred to as Kike Forces. This could be played off as a convention of the world Card creates, but he goes a step further and places a Jewish character nicknamed Rose the Nose (you read that right) as Commander of the Rat Army (yeah, he went there). All the Armies in Battle School are given animal names (Salamander, Condor, etc) but Card chooses to place a decidedly Jewish character as the head of the Rats- a moniker used as propaganda in Nazi Germany. I don’t know how I feel about that. And by I don’t know I mean I feel a smashing all consuming hatred. Especially because it was done so deliberately.

Not to mention the comment, “That little slanty-eyed butt-wiggler?”. I have learned that “slanty-eyed” was later removed from newer copies of the text, but Card’s slur is still known, thanks to the internet. See kids, time doesn’t fix everything. At least since the invention of the world wide web.

Ultimately, I don’t hate Ender’s Game as much as I hate its author, but it certainly doesn’t help that his true self shines through in the text. I’m hopeful however that this racism is not what people take away from the text (why would so many people like it if they did?) but rather for the excitement and brutality of Ender’s world.

How does this answer my hypothesis? It doesn’t. Perhaps I think the novel is only so-so because I am not a giant science-fiction fan, perhaps it’s because I knew Card was a racist and went out of my way looking for examples of his bigotry. Unfortunately, without a time machine it would be impossible to say if I think this book is just okay because it’s not my genre or it’s just okay because the racist tendencies in the writing jars and upsets me.

Unfortunately, I ruined my own experiment before I even started.

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14 thoughts on “How Perceptions Affect Reading: Cassie-la Talks Orson Scott “Giant Bigot” Card and Starting “Ender’s Game”

  1. Separating an author from the work, but understanding the work in context, is difficult and often the lines become muddled. Which normally is understandable…as most authors aren’t racist morons. I am proud that you even attempted to read it with a balanced and open mind, as he is clearly a douche of epic proportions. Seriously… gay marriage is going to end democracy?? Ugh. I can’t even.

    • I tried my hardest. In the end it was just an okay novel even if I ignore everything about OSC as a person, because it’s a science-fiction war novel. And there’s nine other books in the series and he’s still writing. No thank you.

      Oh yeah, he was planning on leaving because he didn’t want to see the fall of what he deemed “democracy”. I’m sure I could have found a lot more damning things but I got too nauseous and had to stop.

  2. Did it occur to you that YES those terms were a bit racist but partially, perhaps, because the people in the story are racist?!? racism being bad doesnt’ mean a character cannot be written as a racist… Rose the Nose, I always took to be a rude nickname, and the rat army was there before him wasn’t it? perhaps he was placed there due to a racist leader at the school; wartime is usually when things like racism get swept under the rug i think. Finally, a lot of terms that are considered racist are used by the ones they are racist towards and it is not considered racist… These are kids in this story, they will be a bit more judgemental/racist/rude/innapropriate then they should. I found each reference you made to be one which fit very nicely into the mould the story had made for it.

    • Brad, this was written to explore whether knowing the racist tendencies of an author can alter my understanding of his novel. You seem to think that the characters are acting without the influence of their author, which is in direct opposition to the purpose of this post. I do not understand how racism can add anything to a plot, nor do I feel it adds anything to this one.

      • Cassie,

        For the record, I disagree with Card and agree with you on the subject of LGBTQ rights, but you should keep in mind that just because a person is wrong about something important doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything, or that nothing they write is worth reading.

        This post seems to have taken a weird turn in the middle; you started out by criticizing what Card has said about homosexuality, which is perfectly understandable, but then halfway through he became “a racist, homophobic, crazy person”. And then, all the examples you gave from the text about why you didn’t like it were all about race, and had nothing to do with homosexuality. You seem determined to believe that because Card doesn’t like homosexuals, that he must be racist as well, which is a total non sequitur.

        The scene in which Ender tells Alai that “we can’t all be niggers” is obviously jarring, and I did a double take the first time I read it, but if you took it as evidence that the author is a racist, you should read more carefully. Alai (who is from north Africa) directs a racist slur at Shen, and what Ender is saying in response is “you shouldn’t call my Asian friend a slant-eye; how would you like it if someone called you a nigger?” As it turns out, Ender and Alai later become close friends, and Alai is an important protagonist in some of the Shadow sequels.

        Again, Rose the Nose is a character in a book written by Card. He is Jewish. Some people in the book are anti-Semitic towards him and other Jews. This does not mean that the author is an anti-Semite, he is just using Rose as exposition to show that anti-Semitism is still a problem in the landscape of this future Earth he is envisioning (and this is coming from a Jew). Obviously everything in the book is a creation of the author, but that doesn’t mean that the author approves of everything a character in his book says or does; are we to conclude from the character of Peter Wiggin that OSC also enjoys torturing squirrels?

        I don’t mean to jump down your throat with this, and I will reiterate that I don’t agree with what Card says about gay marriage, but whatever crazy religious ideas he may have, Ender’s Game and its various sequels are in part about the senselessness of racism and the importance of understanding those who are different, so it kind of rustles my jimmies to see Card accused of being a racist on top of everything else.

        -Jacob

        • Hi Jacob, I think I see where I confused you.

          I wrote this post organically as I was reading “Ender’s Game” which is why it pretty much took on a life of its own. It started with what I had heard about Card, particularly his views on gay rights and then moved into what I took out of his novel. Hence, the focus away from homosexuality onto racial issues around halfway through. Move from his personal life to his writing. There is no correlation between homophobia and racism, sorry if the post seemed to infer that.

          This being the only book in the series I have read I’m afraid I cannot comment on the other books, but I was not aware of their discussions of racism and anti-semitism. I just didn’t see how the racial commentary fit in this world of science-fiction in the context of “Ender’s Game” which is why I pointed them out. Who knows, maybe if I had went into the series without knowing anything about the author they wouldn’t have even jarred me in the way they did.

          • I found your blog through googling about OSC redacting the racial slurs out of his books, so I don’t want you to think I’m someone who popped up on here out of the blue.

            Anyway, I’m not defending Card’s views on homosexuality, at all, because they’re wrong and indefensible, but as far as the interactions between the kids, who are actually soldiers in a boot camp of sorts, I find that viewed through that lens it is perfectly appropriate. As a former Marine, I can tell you from personal experience that racial and religious epithets are thrown around constantly with no more thought or vitriol than calling someone an asshole or a jackass. White on black, black on white, asian on black, black on asian, jew on gentile, muslim on christian, I heard it all and in the few cases where someone was actually offended I can’t recall an instance where their wasn’t a quick apology. Service members definitely bond over things like racism, or religious bigotry, and I’m not really qualified to understand why it happens and it works, I just know from my experience that it does.

            Cheers,

            Michael

            • Thank you for shedding a tiny bit of light on that plot choice, Michael. As someone who has never been in a military setting like that it never crossed my mind that this was the mentality in these type of situations.

              Again, had I not already known OSC’s background perhaps I would not have inferred what I did and just considered the climate, but again, that’s now how this post came to be.

              • Whatever Card maybe, the excerpt cited as an example of his supposed racism is misleading, because it omits the contest. Here is the excerpt in proper context. Note the key sentence: “Ender decided that Alai was joking.” Thus, in response to Alai ‘pretending’ to be biased against east Asians, Ender uses the ‘n-word’, in jest. Ender is nothing if not empathetic — he certainly would not utter a racial epithet in the face of the African born Alai without knowing that Alai would understand he was replying in kind.

                “Let’s freeze a few,” Alai said. “Let’s have our first battle. Us against them.”

                They grinned. Then Ender said, “Better invite Bernard.”

                Alai cocked an eyebrow. “Oh?”

                “And Shen.”

                “That little slanty-eyed butt-wiggler?”

                Ender decided that Alai was joking. “Hey, we can’t all be niggers.”

                Alai grinned. “My grandpa would’ve killed you for that.”

                “My great great grandpa would have sold him first.”

                “Let’s go get Bernard and Shen and freeze these bugger-lovers.”

                • Pardon commenting on my own post, but to put this racially insensitive banter in a fuller context, it has to be understood that Ender is a ‘Third’, meaning the third child in a family in a society that ostracizes families with more than 2 children. Would be bullies constantly taunt his as a ‘third’, rhyming it with turd for example. So, he’s not just a white boy, but an ostracized one.

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