(Content: ableism, victim blaming, family violence, abuse apologetics and statistics. Fun content: the Bishop, Fred Clark, and speechwriting tips from April Ludgate.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 256--270
Chapter Fifteen: Speaking
This is it: the Speaking of the death of Marcos Ribeira; the pivotal event that must, in its way, stand as the defence of this whole book. This is the sole responsibility of a speaker, the demonstration of Ender's mastery of human understanding, and the most complete account we have of what it means, in Ender's estimation, to tell the whole truth about someone who can no longer speak for themselves. We have been told, more than once, that Ender does that which seems outrageous but is ultimately right.
People show up to hear him based on the compelling power of rumour, because they're all really superstitious:
So word spread that Marcão's little girl Quara, who had been silent since her father died, was now so talkative that it got her in trouble in school. And Olhado, that ill-mannered boy with the repulsive metal eyes, it was said that he suddenly seemed cheerful and excited. Perhaps manic. Perhaps possessed. Rumors began to imply that somehow the Speaker had a healing touch, that he had the evil eye, that his blessing made you whole, his curses could kill you, his words could charm you into obedience.Card explains that this is partly the Bishop's fault, because he made Ender sound like the devil's personal servant, and the villagers are less interested in good versus evil than they are in strong versus weak (and God is mighty and therefore scary) so checking out what this supposed miracle-worker is offering. Space-faring colonists with some of the most brilliant scientists ever, almost four thousand years in our future, are comparison-shopping Satanism on the basis of what they heard down at the pub.
They gather in the praça, where the mayor has provided Ender with the Legally Mandatory Microphone. We get a roll call indicating that every named human on the planet is there, including Conceição (Pipo's widow), Bruxinha (Libo's widow), and, spurring a flurry of whispers, THE BISHOP in simple priestly robes rather than his fanciest vestments. They start wondering if he's going to engage Ender in divine battle like an outtake from St John's Apocalypse, which would frankly be twelve million times better than what's actually going to happen.
Ender shows up, looking "ghostly" because he's so white in a huge crowd of black people. He starts by listing Marcos' "official data. Born 1929. Died 1970. Worked in the steel foundry. Perfect safety record. Never arrested. A wife, six children. A model citizen, because he never did anything bad enough to go on the public record." I seriously question the claim that 'not arrested' is the sole criterion for considering somebody a model citizen. If you're not an avid reader of Fred Clark, this is as good as time as any to read his post on "God's battered wife", a character (in books which outdo even these for awfulness) who blames herself for forcing God to smite her, and who, in that world's bizarre theology, managed "to act like a good person without actually being a good person".
Throughout this passage, Card rejects the 'show, don't tell' dichotomy and creates a third malformed option, wherein he tells by showing--members of the audience analyse Ender's speech as he goes, to explain to us why it works. For example, Ender doesn't Orate, preferring a conversational tone: "Only a few of them noticed that its very simplicity made his voice, his speech utterly believable. He wasn't telling the Truth, with trumpets; he was telling the truth, the story that you wouldn't think to doubt because it's taken for granted." (If this does need to be said outright, it's a rare moment when I think it would work better in Ender's own thoughts, reminding himself to keep a casual voice in hopes of compelling them, showing his strategy rather than stating its effects.)
Ender goes on about the strength of Big Marcos, Marcão, whose might was so important in manual work in the foundry, where people's lives depended on him. Marcos' colleagues nod sagely to each other:
They had all bragged to each other that they'd never talk to the framling atheist. Obviously one of them had, but now it felt good that the Speaker got it right, that he understood what they remembered of Marcão. Every one of them wished that he had been the one to tel about Marcão to the Speaker. They did not guess that the Speaker had not even tried to talk to them. After all these years, there were many things that Andrew Wiggin knew without asking.Oh my goddamn stars and fucking garters. Ender, without the slightest information beyond 'Marcos was a burly steelworker', has correctly guessed the entirety of his co-workers' perceptions of his entire twenty-year career. Not one of them is like "Okay, yeah, he was a competent assembly-line worker but he was a terrible conversationalist, and he skewed the whole the team, because I once tried to get the guys to confront him about beating his wife and they were like 'mind your own business' and then I got passed over for a promotion because they thought I didn't have their backs in case word ever got out that their home lives weren't all rainbows and unicorn giggles". Nope. People aren't that complex. People don't have histories and independent thought and secret judgments like that; those are for main characters. Factory workers who aren't plot-relevant enough to have names form a two-sentence opinion of a man and then it remains immutable for decades.
Then Ender comes to Marcos' third name, Cão, Dog, for when he'd been beating his wife bloody. The audience silently snarks at Ender for his lack of decorum in bringing this up, but they know they've all said the same in private. Ender goes on that none of them liked Novinha, but "she was smaller than he was, and she was the mother of his children, and when he beat her he deserved the name of Cão", as if her height or their lack of children might have excused it? Novinha is right there in the crowd, of course, and people glance her way with a mix of fear and pity. (Why do they fear her? She has no power over them, and we're told that they care much more about power than good or evil; the worst she can do is make them feel guilty by saying exactly what Ender is already saying.)
Ender goes on about how Marcos had no friends, even in the bars, how he was always surly and short-tempered whether he was sober or about to pass out, had no respect from anyone as soon as he stepped out of the foundry, was "hardly a man at all", but they're all genre-savvy enough to realise that Ender is about to turn on them, because someone who is 'hardly a man' is still a man. The other foundry-workers catch on first, thinking in unison as befits their interchangeable NPC status: "We should not have ignored him as we did. If he had worth inside the foundry, then perhaps we should have valued him outside, too." Yeah, that's definitely where your priorities were skewed. Well done, detectives.
Ender says they called him Cão "long before he earned it", when he eleven years old and already two metres tall, and they called him names because his size made them "ashamed" and "helpless", which are very weird reactions that, as an unpopular and very tall child, I don't recall ever having aimed at me by anyone. Dom Cristão (Ye Must Love Reapers) the COTMOC remarks quietly that "They came for gossip, and he gives them responsibility", in case readers are just as stupefied as Card's cast.
Ender goes on about bullies, about how they attacked young Marcos "because as big as he is, you can make him do things", and at last I see some justification for this atrocity, because in the same way that Ender invented the notion of Novinha and fell in love with her before they met, he's invented his own Marcos as well, and Ender hates bullying* and sympathises with the child who can't help being so far above his classmates that it makes them uncomfortable. Ender is gracious, of course, and says that children can't be blamed for being "cruel without knowing better", which sounds like a lot of 'boys will be boys' rubbish that deflects all responsibility from parents or from children (in a series with a running theme that children are full people with complete and complex emotions and psychologies).
Ender seems to say that "You called him, a dog, and so he became one", and this is a feint, but first we get the less-genre-savvy plebes giving what Card considers to be the obvious and inadequate responses: Ela is furious that Ender is excusing her father's brutality, and THE BISHOP thinks to himself that people must be held responsible for their own sins or they can never really repent. Ender strikes again:
"Your torments didn't make him violent--they made him sullen. And when you grew out of tormenting him, he grew out of hating you. He wasn't one to bear a grudge. His anger cooled and turned into suspicion. [....] So how did he become the cruel man you knew him to be? Think a moment. Who was it who tasted his cruelty? His wife. His children. Some people beat their wife and children because they lust for power, but are too weak or stupid to win power in the world [....] but Marcos Ribeira wasn't one of them. Think a moment. Did you ever hear of him striking his children? Ever? You who worked with him--did he ever try to force his will on you? [....] Marcão was not a weak and evil man. He was a strong man. He didn't want power. He wanted love. Not control. Loyalty."It seems redundant, but:
Clearly, Ender argues, if Marcos only beat his wife, it wasn't proof of a failure of character, because he'd have tried to subjugate and hurt everyone else around him, too. He must have a strong man who wanted love, and had some other reason for constantly abusing Novinha! I'm struggling to find the words. Is it inconceivable to everyone present that Marcos was a thoughtful abuser who beat his wife because it made him feel strong and he knew that she was the one victim no one would care enough about to save? Because that's literally what happened: no one intervened, because it was only Novinha, not their sweet innocent children. Abusers aren't uniformly compelled to try to dominate everyone they meet. Ender is one step away from saying "But look at all the people the defendant didn't murder! Clearly killing that one person would have been out of character for him and so we mustn't jump to conclusions!"
There's a reason that vulnerable populations have higher rates of every kind of abuse: because if the victim is old, or not white, or queer, or disabled, or especially a woman, and god forbid you're more than one of those things, you have a lot less power to fight back, because most people won't care that much. It's easier for abusers to get away with it, and people are so busy talking about how abusers must be these 'out of control' monsters that they don't dare imagine that they could be cautious, contemplative folks who pick their victims carefully, until they find the right vulnerable target. They create a situation where people are more willing to say that there must be extenuating circumstances, that we need the whole story. Which is exactly what Ender is supposedly giving us. Real abuse, he assures us, would be the act of a senseless monster, and Marcos isn't a monster, so this must be something else.
Ender recounts the full story of how bullies ganged up on twelve-year-old Marcos one day, and when he struck back, they claimed he had attacked unprovoked, and young Novinha, the sole witness, gave the testimony that acquitted him (I don't know how Ender got this story; he doesn't seem to have asked anyone for the details and Jane isn't at his beck anymore.) Grego, in the audience, cheers at the story of his mother saving his father. Ender explains that in Novinha's mind, she wasn't helping Marcos, but undermining the other children she disliked; in Marcos' mind, she had been kind to him, and he worshipped her for six years before marrying her. He pauses to regroup before his second volley of victim-blaming:
"And why did she endure it, this strong-willed, brilliant woman? She could have stopped the marriage at any moment. The Church may not allow divorce, but there's always desquite, and she wouldn't be the first person in Milagre to quit her husband. She could have taken her suffering children and left him. But she stayed."Why does she stay? Why does she stay? Why does she stay? Why does she stay? There are a lot of answers to that question, because people won't stop asking it, because they don't want any answer except the one they've already got, which is that if she stays, it's her own fault. And that's basically what Ender is going to say, but first he explains why it's her fault: she needed a cover, Marcos was dying, and after the Descolada ended Novinha was the only one left who knew.
"I saw the genetic scans. Marcos Maria Ribeira never fathered a child. His wife had children, but they were not his, and he knew it, and she knew he knew it. It was part of the bargain that they made when they got married."Quim leaps up and threatens Ender for calling his mother a whore, and then for some reason falters when he realises that he said 'whore' and Ender didn't. He demands that Novinha refute this, but she doesn't, and he thinks about how adulterers are tortured in hell for mocking creation. He swears at her in Portuguese that Google Translate isn't quite equipped to handle (or Card's grammar is patchy) but the essence of it is 'Who'd you fuck to make me?' Novinha holds Olhado back from attacking his brother, and the crowd gasps but stays in fascination--the narration assures us that if she denied Ender's accusation, they would have mobbed him on the spot, but since she didn't, they just want the rest of the tabloid details.
Ender explains what he knows about why Novinha blamed herself for Pipo's death (her mysterious files on the Descolada), and how cartoonish galactic law would give her husband access to those files, meaning she could never marry her true love Libo, but she cut a deal with Marcos that Libo would father all her children. (No evidence given that they actually hashed this deal out; it appears to be another of Ender's magical intuitions.) Bruxinha curses Ender and three of her daughters help her away from the praça, including Ouanda. Ender, again with no evidence that I'm aware of, explains that Libo tried to resist, as did Novinha, and they might spend years shunning each other before they were overwhelmed with the need to bang again.
"They never pretended there was anything good about what they were doing. They just couldn't live for long without it."THE BISHOP silently observes that Ender is "giving her a gift", telling her not to blame herself for Libo's failures of fidelity. Much of the crowd is now weeping, because as much as they already disliked Novinha, they don't like finding out that Libo had a twenty-year affair. This might be the least-terrible bit of the speech, acknowledging to some minor degree that men are actually responsible for their commitments and not purely at the mercy of relentless Other Women.
Ender asserts that Marcos married Novinha partly for the social acceptance of having a proper family but mostly out of love:
"He never really hoped that she would love him the way he loved her, because he worshipped her, she was a goddess, and he knew that he was diseased, filth, an animal to be despised. He knew she could not worship him, or even love him. He hoped that she might someday feel some affection. That she might feel some--loyalty. [....] He never broke his promise to Novinha. Didn't he deserve something from her? At times it was more than he could bear. She was no goddess. Her children were all bastards."I really hope we're not supposed to take this as an unusual situation, instead of the painfully common situation (both at the general level and in more targeted arrangements) that boils down to one of the best-known psychological phenomena in the world.
We cut to Miro, who's barely paying attention anymore because he's reeling from learning that Ouanda is his sister, and taking the opportunity to tragically-fanboy at Ender. We get a summary of what this book wants to be and should have been, where Ender is the antagonist instead of Our Hero:
How could he have known that instead of a benevolent priest of a humanist religion he would get the original Speaker himself, with his penetrating mind and far too perfect understanding? He could not have known that beneath that empathic mask would be hiding Ender the destroyer, the mythic Lucifer of mankind's greatest crime, determined to live up to his name, making a mockery of the life work of Pipo, Libo, Ouanda, and Miro himself by seeing in a single hour with the piggies what all the others had failed in almost fifty years to see, and then riving Ouanda from him with a single, merciless stroke from the blade of truth; that was the voice that Miro heard, the only certainty left to him, that relentless terrible voice. Miro clung to the sound of it, trying to hate it, yet failing because he knew, could not deceive himself, he knew that 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.There's something tragic about Orson Scott Card, to have skill enough to turn phrases like that, and to use that gift for evil.
Ender goes on to say that Novinha knew "what she was", knew she was hurting all the people around her, and so she "endured, even invited" abuse from her husband, because "no matter how much Marcão might hate her, she hated herself much more". The Bishop nods sagely and thinks that while these are secrets that he thinks should have been spoken in private, he can see how it's affected the whole community to finally understand the story that they have been half-involved in for decades. (Note that we will literally never hear about any beneficial consequences of this enlightenment; we don't even get that thing from Ender's Game where we're told that it 'makes them wise' and causes them to re-evaluate their own relationships. That's not the point of this story. They're here to glorify Ender, not to gain from him.)
Ender finishes by saying that everyone in the story suffered and sacrificed, that everyone in Milagre is culpable for causing some part of the pain.
"But remember this: Marcão's life was tragic and cruel, but he could have ended his bargain with Novinha at any time. He chose to stay. He must have found some joy in it."No, Ender, that is stupid and wrong and I can't actually be bothered to dignify something so blatantly foolish with a comprehensive response.
"And Novinha [...] has also borne her punishment. [...] If you're inclined to think she might deserve some petty cruelty at your hands, keep this in mind: she suffered everything, did all this for one purpose: to keep the piggies from killing Libo."
The words left ashes in their hearts.
*Unless it's electronic and vaguely homophobic.**
**Or committed against a girl who disrespected her commander.***
***Or he needs to put a smart brat in his place on the first day after singling him out unprovoked as an exercise in team spirit and hostile mentorship.****
****Actually, screw it, Ender is blatantly in favour of bullying as long as he likes the perpetrator.