This summer, with my research position taking a more consistent 10-to-6 schedule, I’ve had more opportunities to read. Last week, I stayed up until 4:30 reading Orson Scott Card’s novel Speaker for the Dead. The book’s development of the concept of truth-telling really stood out to me from the other literature I’ve read recently.
After the war that was the subject of Ender’s Game, the protagonist Ender Wiggin has now become the Speaker for the Dead, a detective of sorts who discovers the truth behind the life of one recently deceased. Usually called in to “speak the death” of notable or notorious people, the Speaker for the Dead speaks on behalf of the dead, telling the truth to help others understand the deceased’s motivations and how he affected those around him. Ender is called to speak the death of Marcos Ribeira (Marçao), whose children called for his services to speak and expose the life of their abusive father. Presented as a very perceptive person with almost superhuman empathy and understanding of psychology, immediately Ender enters into the dysfunctional Ribeira household and begins to heal the hearts of the neglected children. By carefully listening, the novel exposits how Ender’s masterful grasp of psychology enables him to love each child the way he or she desires to be loved, achieving a father-like relationship to each of them. With this deep love for the family, Ender easily sees through all that the family has hidden for years.
In the process of performing his role as the Speaker for the Dead, Ender reveals the painful sins that have been committed in it – adultery, shattered love, and deception – and brings them all to light. But by thus loving the family so dearly, the way Ender as the Speaker for the Dead reveals the truth heals and builds mutual understanding, rather than resulting in judgment and gossip. In the novel John 8:32 is quoted: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. So often in today’s relativistic culture the truth is either not respected or each person is “free to choose their own truth”. It is refreshing to finally read (although Speaker for the Dead was published in 1984) an award-winning popular novel tout the importance of the truth rather than advocate for relativism. The beautiful way in which the carefully, tactfully spoken truth is needed to enable true reconciliation is something the world needs to hear in the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world where truth and certainty have been thrown aside, in favor of every individual choosing his or her own truths based on convenience and pride. This prepares the reader for the heart of the book, in which the same empathy and understanding Ender shows to the human colonists is applied to understanding the incomprehensible aliens on the planet that killed humans before Ender’s arrival. Definitely worth reading (although maybe read Ender’s Game first; Ender’s Shadow is also very good)!
Another concept is that truth and love are necessarily interconnected, and the idea is referred to as a circular paradox. At the end of the novel, Ender and one of the Ribeira sons reflect on understanding:
‘ “When you really know someone, you can’t hate them.”
“Or maybe it’s that you can’t really know them until you stop hating them … Once you understand what people 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 heart.” ’ (370).
I think that this is really necessary in a book that so values the necessity of truth. Without truly coming to love the family and understand the place that truth has in their lives, Ender could not have so poignantly healed the rifts that existed in that broken family and community. With understanding, there is no hate; I John goes further and says that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (I Jn 4:18; ESV). Hence the moment we cease to listen, we open the door for hate. This is why it is so dangerous for people to say that they refuse to listen to people who believe X or do Y.
My favorite literary work of all time (aside from the Bible), a Japanese visual novel called When the Seagulls Cry, explores the idea that “without love, the truth cannot be seen.” Indeed, without love and mutual understanding, the truth cannot be seen or understood to be the truth. Hence, Speaker for the Dead rightfully shows an important point: that although we can say as Christians that knowing and obeying the truth is more important than anything (Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jn 14:6), without having a relationship with others in which it is possible to convey the truth, the truth cannot be understood and lacks its power. So let us endeavor to make better and intentional friendships with those we encounter in every walk of life, because Christ said that, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40; ESV). Only then it is possible to speak about our Savior The Truth to them, the greatest and truest gift anyone of us and give to another.
Allen Lai ’20 is a Chemistry and Physics concentrator in Quincy.