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Speaker for the Dead - Study/Discussion Questions
by Becci McDaniel
John F. Kennedy School, Berlin, Germany
January 2004

Chapter 1, "Pipo"

1. What does the excerpt from Demosthenes' letter say about how we look at other cultures?

2. What are the effects on Pipo and Libo's study of the pequeninos of Starways Congress' imposition of "minimal intervention"? What does this doctrine/law mean in real terms?

3. What was the Descolada?

4. How did the death of her parents affect Novinha? What's her true motive for taking the xenobiologist exam early?

5. "Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn't belong to" (15). How does this concept relate to human psychology?

6. Novinha says The Hive Queen and the Hegemon is the only true story she ever heard. What is a true story? How does Novinha relate to this story?

7. What is the significance of the drums Pipo and Libo heard the night after Rooter wanted to know why Pipo was still alive?

Chapters 2, "Trondheim"; 3, "Libo"; & 4, "Ender"

1. Consider the restrictions placed on the xenologers. What can you learn about a culture/race with such restrictions in place?

2. Explain Card's four orders of foreignness.

3. Styrka says, "Xenocide is xenocide. Just because Ender didn't know they were ramen doesn't make them any less dead." How does this Calvinist doctrine contrast with the "Speaker" doctrine that "good or evil exist entirely in human nature, and not at all in the act"?

4. Are we "afraid of the stranger, whether he's utlanning or framling"? If so, why?

5. What is the philosophical method known as "Ockham's razor"?

6. How do the contrasting reactions of Libo and the villagers to Pipo's death reveal opposite interpretations of the 4 orders of foreignness? How do the reactions reveal Libo's depth of understanding of the situation?

7. Novinha realizes that "her action in defending Marcão meant one thing to him and something quite different to her; it was so different that it was not even the same event" (46). How might this reflect the piggies' actions?

8. What motivates Novinha's dilemma in reaction to Pipo's death?

9. What have the Lusitanians learned about the organization of the Pequeninos culture?

10. Explain Jane. Why do humans fear her?

11. When Jane manipulates the hologram of the piggie, Ender says, "Well done, Jane. The metamorphosis from ramen to varelse" (59). What is Card saying about human perceptions of other "species"?

12. Why does Ender decide to go to Lusitania?

13. How would you characterize the Hive Queen?

Chapters 5, "Valentine", & 6, "Olhado"

1. If the Pequeninos Pipo and Libo met were the outcast males of the tribe, then how is their intelligence ironic?

2. How would you characterize the relationship between Ender and Valentine?

3. How did Plikt find out the truth about Ender?

4. Ender contemplates the destruction of the universe by considering the relationship between human actions, such as starflight, and the "price" to be paid for this action. Compare this to human actions here on Earth today.

5. Why is Ela upset about Ender's arrival?

6. What is the attitude of the Bishop toward the arrival of the speaker for the dead? What kind of person does the Bishop expect the speaker to be? Why is it "no accident that all three calls for a speaker had come from [Novinha] and her children"?

7. Why must Ender stay on Lusitania (and become part of the community) if it is to be the home for the Hive Queen?

8. Jane says that the "most charming thing about humans" is that we are "all so sure that the lesser animals are bleeding with envy because they didn't have the good fortune to be born homo sapiens" (99-100). How is this idea reflected in the agendas of our own political leaders?

9. What's the relationship between the origins of rituals and myths and the survival of the community that gives rise to a ritual/myth?

Chapter 7, "The Ribeira House"

1. How do Miro's siblings regard him?

2. What was life like in the Ribeira household while Marcão was alive?

3. How has Grego's grief over his father's death been worse than the suffering of the other children?

4. What does Ender mean when he says to himself, "I'm in the family now, whether you like it or not. Whether I like it or not" (121)?

Chapters 8, "Dona Ivanova"; 9, "Congenital Defect"; & 10, "Children of the Mind"

1. The memo at the beginning of Ch. 8 refers to an event at some point in the future in the story. (The xenologers are being tried for treason.) Why has the author introduced this evidence, without comment or explanation, at this point of the story?

2. What need does Ender fill for Novinha?

3. Ender: "No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one's life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins" (131). Do you think this is true?

4. What does Novinha's dream about Libo reveal about her?

5. Navio, the physician who autopsied Marcão's body, tells Ender that Marcão had a very unusual case of a very rare disease, a disease that is transmitted genetically and yet Novinha married him anyway. He says, "No woman in her right mind would deliberately bear the children of a man with a genetic defect like that" (139). How is Navio like many people in our society?

6. Why have Miro and Ouanda decided to actively intervene in the piggies' way of life? What books have they given to the piggies, and how have these books affected the piggy culture?

7. Libo said, "To them our sophisticated theology sounds like superstition. Dwells in our hearts indeed! What kind of religion is that, compared to one with gods you can see and feel?" (147). Is the author here being critical of people who claim their own brand of religion is "the only true one"?

8. Card has used dramatic irony in how he tells us about the relationship between Miro and Ouanda. How does this affect our sympathies for the characters?

9. In what way(s) are the Filhos rebels? How successful is their form of rebellion? Have there been similar rebellions in our world in recent memory? Were they successful?

10. If you, like the Filhos, were to name yourself "with the invocation against [your] most potent sin" (154), what would your name be?

11. Dom Cristão says, "...the telling of truth is such a powerful act" (156). How? Why?

12. "Here is the world of the Church, thought Ender, everything in its place and no weeds allowed" (158). How does this thought comment on the nature of organized religion? Does it also describe many people who devoutly practice a religion?

13. What are the effects of Ender switching off his jewel connection to Jane?

Chapters 11, "Jane" & 12, "Files"

1. "What few people understand is the fragility of our power. It does not come from great armies or irresistible armadas. It comes from our control of the network of ansibles that carry information instantly from world to world" (172). What is our modern equivalent of Card's ansible network?

2. How is Jane "human"? How does she see her relationship to Ender? How does she define "being alive"? How does she react to Ender's switching off the jewel in his ear?

3. Why is Jane's silence in Ender's best interest?

4. Does the need to keep Ender from being slaughtered by the piggies really justify Jane's ensuring that Starways Congress will terminate Lusitania Colony?

5. Why does Quim goad Novinha until she slaps him?

6. Quim says, "This is a serious confrontation between good and evil."

"Everything is," said Novinha. "It's figuring out which is which that takes so much work" (194).

Is Ender's presence on Lusitania good or evil? (Consider his effects on Novinha and each of her children. Can Jane's actions concerning Lusitania be connected to Ender's "good" or "evil"?)

Chapter 13, "Ela"

1. Novinha won't allow Ela to study the Descolada, she won't allow any kind of theoretical research, and she refuses to exchange any information with the Zenadors. How is this "professional blindness" similar to our own society's attitudes toward research in fields such as cloning?

2. Card says that when a person tells the truth, s/he becomes a different person because making a mistake and admitting it has changed him/her. Is telling the truth a healing experience? When we know the truth, do we always believe it's less painful than the secrets were?

Chapters 14, "Renegades" & 15, "Speaking"

1. What's the difference between learning about someone and learning from someone? How is this distinction important in terms of the xenologers' work? Ender's work? How does Miro and Ouanda's attitude reflect the real purpose of the Congressional rules concerning human contact with the piggies?

2. Do we love those different from ourselves only when we believe they are dead?

3. How does Card develop his theme of people being responsible for all their actions?

4. What is truth? Use examples from the text to develop a working definition.

Chapter16, "The Fence"

1. The excerpt from San Angelo at the beginning of this chapter describes a corrupt community and a rigidly moral community. How does the community of Milagre fit on the continuum between these 2 extremes? How do you know this from Miro and Ouanda's actions?

2. What does the fence symbolize to the different groups?

--Starways Congress

--Bishop Peregrino

--the xenologers


--the piggies

3. Discuss the irony of the human attitude toward the fence.

Chapter 17, "The Wives"

1. Explain the piggies' social class hierarchy.

2. Discuss the symbolism of the third life.

Chapter 18, "The Hive Queen"

1. Why is Miro a good choice to be Jane's friend?

2. Ender says, ...when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart" (370). Apply this philosophy to the humans' relations with the piggies and the buggers.

Wrap-up questions

1. Is it possible for us, as humans, to accept the idea of another species (culture?) which is our equal? Find examples from the book to support your position.

2. What roles do rebels serve in a society? How have we seen this in the three works we read this semester?

3. Speaker for the Dead includes characters/situation that were extreme in some way. How do extremes (viewpoints, actions, etc.) affect a society? Can extremes exist for any significant length of time?

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