The novel takes an omniscient perspective opening outward from Andrew Wiggin's (Ender's) perspective, but it is punctuated by conversations between characters who are at first unknown. As the novel opens, two characters are discussing a boy and his older siblings. One says, "I tell you, he's the one." The other voice is not as sure, but he acquiesces to the first's request to "take him," because they're "saving the world, after all." Already we learn of "the buggers," or Formics, the alien enemy.
Andrew (Ender) Wiggin has been wearing a "monitor" that permits the authorities to understand his experiences from the inside. He has it taken out on the day that the book begins. Ender is extremely smart for a young boy. For instance, he understands that the nurse is lying when she says that the removal of the monitor will not hurt. He is also very cynical about such things: "Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth." Ender turns to inner discourse about whether his brother Peter will stop hating him now that Ender is without the monitor. But Ender decides that Peter will never leave him alone.
During the monitor removal, Ender feels intense pain. He needs a shot to stop the pain and muscle spasms, and the doctor is angry that "they" left the monitor in for so long. Eventually, the drug wears off. Ender keeps looking around for something without remembering what he is looking for.
When Ender returns to class, the other kids whisper about the fact that his monitor has been removed. After school, several of the kids, including the lead bully, Stilson, taunt Ender. Soon they physically attack him, but Ender manages to manipulate Stilson into fighting him alone, playing off his pride and taunting, "it takes this many of you to fight one Third?" (Ender is the third child in the family, and Thirds are looked down upon.) When the others back off, Ender kicks Stilson, taking him by surprise, and drops him with the kick. Then, Ender walks up to him and kicks him several more times, making the point that he will win decisively so that no bullies will attack him again--the others will be far too afraid of Ender to try anything. After the fight, Ender sits down and cries until his bus comes, afraid that he is becoming vicious like Peter.
Chapter 2 also begins with two anonymous speakers. They seem like the same two from the first chapter, and they are again discussing Ender, the removal of his monitor, and his fight with Stilson. One compares Ender to Mazer Rackham, who will turn out to be the man who beat the "buggers" in their last invasion. He remarks that "in the judgment of the committee," Ender has passed some sort of test--so long as he deals with Peter correctly now that the monitor is off. The two people also acknowledge that they are a kind of "wicked witch. We promise gingerbread, but we eat the little bastards alive." Even so, one of them says that he likes Ender.
When Ender gets home, his sister Valentine tells him that she is sorry that his monitor was removed (it suggests that he did not pass). Ender is glad is is gone. When Peter walks into the room, he immediately gets angry at Ender. Valentine says that without the monitor Ender is "like us," but Peter denies the claim because Ender wore the monitor for so long. Peter's ruthlessness comes out when he realizes that "they" can't check up on Ender through the monitor anymore, and he suggests a game of "buggers and astronauts"--Ender is always the bugger and gets beaten up by Peter. Peter pushes Ender down and presses on his groin with his foot, and then he kneels on Ender and threatens to kill him--until Valentine tells Peter that she would tell everyone that he murdered his younger brother. Even when Peter lets up, he tells the others, "So. Not today. But someday you two won't be together. And there'll be an accident." And although Valentine has left a letter in the city library saying that Peter killed her--so that, in the event of her death, the secret will be revealed--Peter calmly states that some day, Ender and Valentine will forget that they had this conversation, or will decide that he was joking, and then when Ender is killed, Valentine will believe that it was just an accident and will keep silent. Finally, Peter says that he was joking after all and that Ender and Valentine are "just the biggest suckers on the planet earth." They do not believe him.
Ender realizes that Peter is the one he should have fought, not Stilson. Valentine keeps him from doing anything. But when Peter taunts Ender, Ender points to his shoe and says, "See there, on the toe? That's blood, Peter. It's not mine." Peter disregards this fact and mocks Ender more.
When the Wiggin parents get home, Mrs. Wiggin commiserates with Ender about the monitor being removed, and Mr. Wiggin goes on and on about how happy he is that they get to keep all three children, that "they still had a Third." Ender, however, feels like his father is lying, since he is an embarrassment to his parents now, because all three children will be at home with "no obvious explanation."
That night, when Peter leaves their bunk bed to go to the bathroom, he returns and stands over Ender. Ender expects him to smother him with a pillow, but instead, Peter leans over and whispers, "Ender, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know how it feels, I'm sorry, I'm your brother, I love you." When Peter gets back in bed and eventually falls asleep, Ender cries for the second time that day.
The manipulation of human beings is pervasive in this society of the future. It is exemplified best by the discussion about Ender in the initial conversation between the two adults. They agree to "take him" in order to save the world, and they thus are going to start to control all aspects of Ender's life. Their desperation to ensure that he succeeds as "the one" is clear, however, so their manipulation is set up as something to be excused because it is necessary. The conversations in the beginnings of many chapters, set in different type, act as an adult counterpoint to the focus on the children's lives through their own perspective.
From the beginning, Ender is an extremely bright but very cynical young boy. He understands that the nurse is lying when she says that the monitor removal will not hurt, realizing that every time an adult says that, it means that it really will hurt. From such experiences, he infers that lies are more dependable than the truth. This is a cynical point of view for anyone, but it is especially cynical for a boy that young. The author has presented a future in which many children are not carefree anymore; indeed, Ender and his siblings, and even his classmates, seem mature far beyond their years.
Ender's real name is Andrew Wiggin, but Ender is the name he chose for himself. All but his parents tend to use it. The nickname "Ender" is significant in that it foreshadows his eventual role in ending the bugger war. Moreover, Ender "ends" many other things in addition to (soon enough) the lives of several billion buggers: he kills Stilson and will kill Bonzo, acting decisively. He also ends other parts of his life beyond the war with the buggers: he will successfully complete all the tasks set for him.
Ender is caught between the characters of Valentine, who is too good to be "the one," and Peter, who is too evil. Ender is more good than bad. Instrumentally he also is extremely good, not only because he tends to make good decisions, but also because he makes up for mistakes. Ender is kind, fair, forgiving, and will make major sacrifices for the good of the world. Ender makes hard choices that include pain and suffering beyond what we might imagine Valentine to be able to stand. Peter, on the other hand, always acts out of his own self-interest, and he is willing to be violent to achieve his ends. Even though Peter's actions sometimes yield good results, he does them for the wrong reasons.
Part of Ender's maturity is that he "knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare." This is part of the vicious streak in Ender. He decides not to follow the "rule" against kicking an opponent while he is down. Even so, he does it for the purpose of ending the fight decisively: "now, and for all time, or I'll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse." After his attack on Stilson, Ender cries for several minutes, showing that while he did the calculated, smart thing in order to win decisively, he hated it. Thus, while ruthlessness is sometimes necessary, he tends to use it only when nothing else is available. In this he is somewhere between his two siblings in temperament.
After huring Stilson, Ender thinks, "I am just like Peter. Take the monitor away, and I am just like Peter." He will remain worried, throughout the book, that he will end up like his horrible older brother. Even so, the fact of his conscience seems to make him different from Peter, who displays little effort to stop himself, at least at the beginning of the book. Peter seldom shows remorse after doing the horrible things that he does.
Ender is a "Third," and although the designation is not fully explained in the first chapter, it becomes easy to conclude that being a "Third" means being the third child in a family. (It also reflects the idea of being a "third-class" citizen.) Since Ender's family has three children, his parents are breaking the population code (with permission) by having more than the allotted two children. The government authorized his parents to have a third child, but the other children, including his brother and the kids in his class at school, mock him anyway for being a Third. Thus, they have established a pattern of isolation of Ender, giving him an independence and a loneliness that pervades his character throughout the rest of the novel.
The two voices again begin Chapter 2, and we still do not know who is who. Still, we learn a little more about them, and the important name Mazer Rackham is brought up. The first passage of Chapter 2 is important because it shows the extremes to which they are going in order to develop Ender into the "one" they want, if they can. Despite possible affection for Ender, they will do whatever it takes, even "screw him up." Interestingly, however, we still do not know what they actually need Ender for, or why he is so important to them.
Ender's reaction to Peter's "joke" about killing his siblings is interesting. Although just several hours earlier, he cried for several minutes about having to beat up Stilson, now he decides that Peter actually deserves a beating. Ender's switching back and forth between feeling remorse at his actions and wanting to recreate them is worth noting as a sign of character. He seems to be hovering between two entirely different personalities, again in between Valentine and Peter. Does Ender's personality actually switch between the two extremes, or can it survive the tension as a hybrid personality?
Up to the end of Chapter 2, Peter has only been portrayed as completely heartless. Yet, he tells Ender, when he thinks his brother is asleep, that he loves Ender and that he is so sorry that Ender's monitor was removed. This complete reversal of Peter's character gives Peter a bit of moderation in his personality. We are led to wonder if Valentine has something belligerent in her own sweet personality.
Chapter 2 introduces the first war game as a reflection of reality, the common "buggers and astronauts." Although games are often separated from reality, in Ender's Game they are completely interconnected. Many important ideas and interpreted and discovered through the games, and strategies are learned for the later real battles against the buggers. In the final battles, the boundary between game and reality is completely removed for those who have manipulated Ender. The difference between reality and games is unclear even in "buggers and astronauts"; although Peter makes it sound harmless, he intends actually to hurt Ender, and the game originated in Peter's very real jealousy and hatred of his younger brother. This hatred also reflects a reality in which much of humanity seems to hate the buggers.
The battle between good and evil is also represented in "buggers and astronauts," with Ender's bugger representing good and Peter's astronaut representing evil. This is an ironic reversal in that Ender is actually the good one, while Peter plays the human. Once again, we see the fine line that separates good and evil, in personalities as well as in actions. Peter, Ender, and Valentine will be too complex as characters to be simply good or evil in many of their actions. Ender will kill billions, but Peter probably never kills a person (though he will kill animals brutally).
Finally, the battle between good and evil is closely interconnected with the motif of sibling rivalry among the three pairs Ender and Peter, Peter and Valentine, and Ender and Valentine. Readers are led to wonder if there is some sort of sibling rivalry, rather than simple belligerence, between the humans and the buggers.