WIKIMEDIA.COM "Speaker For the Dead" by Orson Scott Card
“Speaker For the Dead” by Orson Scott Card

“Ender was a destroyer, but what he destroyed was illusion, and the illusion had to die. Somehow this ancient man is able to see the truth and it doesn’t blind his eyes or drive him mad. I must listen to this voice and let its power come to me so I, too, can stare at the light and not die.”

Fast forward 3,000 years from the time of “Ender’s Game.” The aliens have been defeated and the presence of humans has expanded across the galactic frontier. In the midst of this exploration is Ender himself, whose interstellar travels have allowed him to age much more slowly than everybody else.

“Speaker for the Dead,” the sequel to the much-loved original, is a history lesson about colonization. It’s a rebuke against how we’ve almost always dealt with unfamiliar cultures, from the Aztecs to the Native Americans and all things in between. One group of humans can’t control its desire to warp another society to fit its own plans, and the consequences are boundless.

We’ve been disillusioned with our sense of superiority from day one of history class. We’ve been told that the conquistadors and colonists oftentimes took advantage of the situation and cared little for the preservation of strange cultures. We’ve been told that this mindset is wrong, yet in “Speaker for the Dead,” we’re reminded of how easily people repeat the mistake when dealing with things they find threatening.

To me, the message runs deeper. Conquerors of a society aren’t the only ones at fault of being ignorant and judgmental. Every one of us is quick to stereotype, quick to categorize events that occur daily. I’m not referring to our prejudice against other people, which is already a well-trodden argument. I’m talking about how we constantly perceive and judge ourselves.

When I take just a moment to think about who I am, there’s no single image that defines me. Instead, I sort myself into a list of traits and stereotypes. Since I know that what I write will be seen and judged by others, I decide to judge myself first and weed out all the bad qualities before any readers have the chance.

So, who am I? I am creative, nerdy, eclectic, slightly awkward and have a great sense of humor.

After taking out what I don’t want you all to see, I’m left with a very generic list of characteristics. In fact, when I read them aloud, it doesn’t really seem to be describing my actual self anymore. I believe those qualities to be a part of me somewhere, but by stripping away the quirkier layers of my personality, I’ve created an illusion that can’t possibly hold up to reality.

This is the kind of one-sided story that Ender fights to break down throughout “Speaker for the Dead.” Rather than seeing a person for the mask that he or she puts on, he forces the audience to consider the entirety of that person instead. Someone’s motivations, actions, failures and successes are what truly form an individual, and taking away even one element is like removing the worst wooden piece in a game of Jenga — the whole foundation comes toppling down.

When we pick and choose what words describe us best, we give ourselves the illusion of power. We have the authority to define ourselves on our own terms, except as the saying goes, you become your own worst critic. I built my list of characteristics on the sense that it was really doing my self-image justice, except I ended up being confined to how I wanted others to perceive me.

In the end, we are blinded by this illusion, believing that we have chosen and are happy with our identities. Yet without the truth, there’s little room for experimentation. So if I could summarize myself in a few sentences, who am I really? Surely I’m not just what that original list states. Maybe I have those traits, but it’s so far from being me that to say it would be a lie.

What are some of my personal truths? For starters, I have an entire list of poetry ideas written down in my iPhone next to an even more important reminder to get the song “Mambo No. Five.” When I’m in public I accessorize to the max, but right now it’s late and I’m wearing my mom’s old zebra nightgown that makes me look like a potato sack. I have this habit of licking hot sauce off a spoon when I’m hungry. Sometimes I love going out and acting like a hooligan, while other times I make up an excuse I know is lame so that I can play video games or read an awesome book about aliens alone.

Although the truths unveiled by the Speaker for the Dead are centered on those who have already passed, his stories succeed only by daring the living to confront their own reflections. With these personal truths, I’ve dismantled just a small portion of the illusion I present about myself, and so far I don’t think I’ve gone insane. It may not be much, and surely these aren’t my deepest dreams and regrets, but it’s progress.

Hannah Kaufman is a rising sophomore in the College. Back to Futures Past appears every other Monday at

One Comment

  1. Andrew Hian-Cheong says:

    I just read this book this summer and it was amazing! One of my favorite new books!

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