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Candide Essay

candide essay

Example #1

Voltaire’s Candide is the story of an innocent man’s experiences in a mad and evil world, his struggle to survive in that world, and his need to ultimately come to terms with it. All people experience the turmoil of life and must overcome obstacles, both natural and man-made, in order to eventually achieve happiness. In life, “man must find a medium between what Martin (scholar and companion to Candide) calls the “convulsions of anxiety” and the “lethargy of boredom” (Richter 137). After a long and difficult struggle in which Candide is forced to overcome misfortune to find happiness, he concludes that all is not well (as he has previously been taught by his tutor, Dr. Pangloss) and that he must work in order to find even a small amount of pleasure in life.

Candide grows up in the Castle of Westphalia and is taught by the learned philosopher, Dr. Pangloss. Candide is abruptly exiled from the castle when found kissing the Baron’s daughter, Cunegonde. Devastated by the separation from Cunegonde, his true love, Candide sets out to different places in the hope of finding her and achieving total happiness. On his journey, he faces a number of misfortunes, among them being tortured during army training, yet he continues to believe that there is a “cause and effect” for everything. Candide is reunited with Cunegonde and regains a life of prosperity, but soon all is taken away, including his beloved Cunegonde. He travels on, and years later he finds her again, but she is now fat and ugly.

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His wealth is all gone and so is his love for the Baron’s daughter. Throughout Candide, we see how accepting situations and not trying to change or overcome obstacles can be damaging. Life is full of struggles, but it would be nonproductive if people passively accepted whatever fate had in store for them, shrugging off their personal responsibility. Voltaire believes that people should not allow themselves to be victims. He sneers at naive, accepting types, informing us that people must work to reach their utopia (Bottiglia 93). In Candide, reality and “the real world” are portrayed as being disappointing. Within the Baron’s castle, Candide is able to lead a Utopian life. After his banishment, though, he recognizes the evil of the world, seeing man’s sufferings. The only thing that keeps Candide alive is his hope that things will get better. Even though the world is filled with disaster, Candide has an optimistic attitude that he adopted from Dr. Pangloss’s teachings.

In spite of his many trials, Candide believes that all is well and everything is for the best. Only once, in frustration, does he admit that he sometimes feels that optimism is “the mania of maintaining that all is well when we are miserable” (Voltaire 41). Candide’s enthusiastic view of life is contrasted with and challenged by the suffering which he endures throughout the book. Voltaire wrote this book in a mocking and satirical manner in order to express his opinion that passive optimism is foolish (Richter 134). Candide eventually learns how to achieve happiness in the face of misadventure. He learns that in order to attain a state of contentment, one must be part of a society where there are a collective effort and work. Labor, Candide learns, eliminates the three curses of mankind: want, boredom, and vice.

In order to create such a society, man must do the following: love his fellow man, be just, be vigilant, know how to make the best of a bad situation, and keep from theorizing. Martin expresses this last requirement for such a society succinctly when he says, “Let’s work without speculating; it’s the only way of rendering life bearable” (Voltaire 77). One of the last people that Candide meets in his travels is an old, poor Turkish farmer who teaches Candide a lesson that allows him to come to terms with the world and to settle down happily. The revelation occurs when Candide and his friends hear of the killing of two intimate advisors of the sultan, and they ask the Turkish farmer if he could give them more details about the situation. “I know nothing of it, said the good man, and I have never cared to know the name of a single mufti [advisor] or vizier [sultan]…

I presume that in general those who meddle in public business sometimes perish miserably and that they deserve their fate; but I am satisfied with sending the fruits of my garden there.” (Voltaire 76) Upon learning that this man did not own “an enormous and splendid property” (Voltaire 76), but rather a mere twenty acres that he cultivates with his children, Candide is startled. He sees that the man is happy with his life, and at that point, Candide decides to build his own life around the principle of being productive. He decides that all he needs to be happy is a garden to cultivate so that he, too, can keep from the three great evils. Candide’s garden symbolizes his surrender to the world and his acceptance of it. He eventually realizes that his former ambitions of finding and achieving a perfect state of happiness were fulfilled, though his successes were not as great as he had wished. Instead, he has found happiness in a simple way of life. He also learns that everything in life is not evil, which he perceived to be the case while undergoing misfortunes. He also concludes that Dr. Pangloss was right all along, “everything is for the best.”

Throughout the entire book, we observe Candide searching for happiness, sustained by his dream of achieving that happiness. He believes, in his optimistic way, that he will find Cunegonde, his true love, and Dr. Pangloss, his mentor, and all will be well. When Candide is reunited with both he realizes that he was right not to lose hope. In essence, it was Candide’s optimism that keeps him from a state of total dejection, maintaining his sanity during troubled times. Candide eventually achieves happiness with his friends in their simple, yet full, lives. The book’s ending affirms Voltaire’s moral that one must work to attain satisfaction. Work helps Candide overcome his tragedies and enables him to live peacefully and in contentment. The message of Candide is: “Don’t rationalize, but work; Don’t utopianize, but improve. We must cultivate our own garden, for no one is going to do it for us” (Richter 161).


Example #2

According, to Candide by Voltaire, he describes the transformation of the protagonist Candide, throughout the story. Voltaire utilized satire, characterization, and techniques of exaggeration and contrast to represent Candide’s point of view in life. Basically, the protagonist endures human suffering to get his final destiny. Moreover, Voltaire demonstrates character development over the course starting with an innocent personality as a child who does not have a responsibility to know into a great man. In the text, the language shows Candide’s progress towards maturity. At the beginning of the novel the reader finds compact, colorful, and crisp sentences as Candide, the hero rushes through life. Later Voltaire adopts a calm and reflective style analogous to Candide’s mental development. Also, the author disproves the overly optimistic philosophy that Candide and Pangloss represent. While the experiences of Candide and Pangloss conflict dramatically with this philosophy, both choose to maintain their beliefs in this regard.

Candide to get his change goes through many adventures and gradually matures into an experienced and practical man. Some of his adventures were sad and some not. He was expulsed from the palace for his love for Cunegonde, but it helps him to faces the cruelty of life with the philosophical view that all things in life are necessary for some greater good. Candide is a simple person who has not had much real-life experience. He is banished from his home and unexpectedly introduced to the reality of the outside world. Throughout his travels, he develops a new philosophy of life. His eyes open to reality, He sees that everything does not happen for the best as the philosophers and metaphysician Pangloss had told him in the Baron’s castle. In Europe as well as in America, he encounters misery. He meets a number of people from various walks of life. He comes across many philosophers ranging from the extreme optimism of Pangloss to the pessimism of Martin. He experiences love with Ms. Cunegonde but it was not accepted for their different social classes.

One of the changes Candide was his philosophy really optimistic mind” everything is for the best”.It was a phrase of his teacher Pangloss He taught that everything was for the best and Candide, having never heard any other philosophies, agrees blindly. While at sea, Candide sees a man who saved his life by nursing him back to health thrown overboard. Candide is ready to jump into the raging waters after his “benefactor,” but Pangloss stops him. He demonstrates that “the Bay of Lisbon had been made… for the Anabaptist to be drowned,”(p.386). This begins to clash with Candide’s ideologies: if this is the best of all worlds, how was this man who was so kind and generous thrown to his death and Candide not to save him Candide begins to doubt this philosophy.

Candide eventually learns how to achieve happiness in the face of misadventure. He learns that in order to attain a state of contentment, one must be part of a society where there are collective effort and work. Candide spends a great deal of time traveling the world and learning of many different ideologies in “metaphysics.” Finally, he decides to settle down and live by farming his own garden-this symbolizes his surrender to simple self-preservation. After a long and difficult struggle in which Candide is forced to overcome misfortune to find happiness, he concludes that everything is not as good as it seems the way Dr. Pangloss, his tutor had taught him.

During his adventures he realizes that things do not always happen for the best, he understands that it just happen in his innocent mind. However, Candide always keeps in his heart goodness and love. Also, he knows that in the end, he is going to find the best for his life.” We are destined, in the end, for another universe, no doubt that is the one where everything is well.”(p.391). Also, Candide begins to experience human suffering in many different ways as love, loneliness, and disasters. He understands that no matter who are you, always going to experiment with both sides of happiness and sadness because is part of human life, “It’s true, and you see how people make mistakes who have not received a measure of education”(p.402). Make mistakes are of humans and those mistakes make the experience, that later help us to take decisions.

Furthermore, other important characters that contribute for Candide’s change are The Old Woman and Martin. Both of them help Candide to get more knowledge of the outside world and contrast Pangloss’s philosophy. The old woman, she was a suffered woman that had to survive of many obstacles.” My last post was as a servant to the Jew don Issachar; he attached me to your service, my lovely one; and I attached myself to your destiny, till I have become more concerned with your fate than with my own.”(p.396).On the other hand, Martin is a very pessimist man who had been experienced bad situations; he was really offended by life. It was another event that makes Candide changes his philosophy.

In his amazing journey, he finds that every event in the world has a reason and whether there are positive or negative moments you have to live them.” There is no effect without a cause, all events are linked by the chain of necessity and arranged for the best. I had to be driven away from Miss Cunegonde, I had to run the gauntlet, I have to beg my bread until I can earn it; none of this could have happened otherwise”(P.381). However, by the end of the story, the protagonist realized that to achieve happiness a lot of work, compromises, and sacrifices are necessary. Though life does not become any easier, at this point Candide begins to grow from a naive young person into a grown realist. Candide realizes he must take responsibility for his life.

He must accept situations and try to change obstacles that may be hindrances. Candide learns that labor will eliminate the three curses of mankind: want, boredom, and vice. Candide realizes he must build his own life, however simple it may be. Voltaire says through Candide’s ultimate discovery that happiness in many ways depends on a person’s attitude. When meeting a man that is happy with a simple garden to tend to and a family to love, Candide realizes life does not have to be full of wealth in order to be happy. In the end, he realizes that everything in life is not evil, especially when a person strives to make changes and not simply accept what comes their way.

Voltaire’s philosophy expressed through Candide’s final realization is that “We must cultivate our garden,”(p.4380, which is the key to happiness. By cultivating our garden, Voltaire means that we must make the best of our situation in the present moment. We accept what we are given in life and work to make the best of it. It all has to do with our perspective on life. Candide finally realizes that he must try to make his own happiness even while battling hardships. Candide’s happiness is finally realized when he too becomes a man of simple means with a garden to tend and a loved one at his side.


Example #3

Voltaire was the author of the novella Candide, also known as “Optimism”. In the novella, Voltaire portrays the idea of Optimism as being illogical and absurd. In Candide, Voltaire satirizes the doctrine of Optimism, an idea that was greatly used during the Enlightenment time period by philosophers. In this narrative, Candide is a young man who goes through a series of undertakings and ventures around the globe where he experiences evil and adversity. Throughout his journeys, Candide maintained the ideas of the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss. Candide and Pangloss believed in the idea that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds…” (Voltaire 4).

To Voltaire, this type of optimism was foolish. Even though many people practiced this doctrine Voltaire did not aside with it instead, he implanted doubts on the chances of achieving true happiness and real conformism. Voltaire’s opinion was that one could not achieve true happiness in the real world but only experience it in a utopia. The many hardships that Candide goes through ultimately lead him to abandon his attitude of optimism. Candide’s misfortunes and adversities often contrasted with his optimistic view of life. Noticeably, Voltaire uses this satirical piece as a way to criticize this exaggerated optimism.

This tale as stated by William Bottiglia, “ Has had a great effect on modern writers who confront mankind’s inhumanity to fellow human beings by presenting the human condition absurdly, ironically, and humorously…” (Bottiglia 112). The theme of criticism “the best of all possible worlds” is present throughout the whole story. Throughout the novel, Voltaire uses optimism satire to contrast with the catastrophes and human affliction in the story. When Candide finds a moribund and sick Pangloss, Candide asks who is at fault for his tragedy, and Pangloss replies that “ The disease was a necessity in this ‘the best of all possible worlds’, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus’ men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease,” (Voltaire 17).


Example #4

Candide, by Voltaire, is a story told through the adventure of Candide and the life lessons he learned. He learned that life isn’t always about happiness, love, and truthfulness he been through rough stuff that he wishes he never wanted to but had to find his love for Cunegonde. The book told us an adventure story about Candide going to places that had been terrible places and getting into fights and killing them. The places he went weren’t so much into happiness and glad that he was told by Cacambo by his side that he learns that he was living in a terrible world he felt when he went into theses adventures but he learns the lesson of being a good gentle than a terrible man he was now.

Candide has been through city and state to find people who had and run/escape from people who are trying to hurt him as he was trying to find the love he lost Cunegonde. Lisbon, Capital of Kingdom was the first place he went to get wiped and hurt from being captured as he saw his friend Pangloss had been head chop off but the guilty after he was whipped an old lady save him and took care of him as he took him to see Cunegonde. There was an earthquake that happened during his time after he found Cunegonde and stayed with her. He learned a lesson from this terrible attack on Lisbon after he found out as he saw dead people blood and limbs of people body part as he was scared nervous that the world isn’t happy that “God is either not entirely good or not all-powerful”.


Example #5

Put in print in 1759, Candide has been considered as one of the most Voltaire’s masterpiece. In Candide, Voltaire sharply criticized the corruptible power of the nobility, futile speculations of philosophy, religious hypocrisy, cruelty, and the folly of optimism. Even though Candide in many instances has been considered a representative manuscript of enlightenment, the book satirizes many philosophies of the enlightenment and makes it obvious that enlightenment was a far distance from the huge movement it purports to be.

The book is a reflection of Voltaire’s enduring dislike of the powerful religious regimes and the superciliousness of the French nobility. In contrast, Candide leveled Voltaire’s criticism against the enlightenment philosophical movement. Candid attacked the optimistic school of thought assertion that rational thinking was capable of ending the tribulations committed by humans. Voltaire examined in depth the folly of optimism and his attack can be seen in Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy. “Pangloss granted teaching in the metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He splendidly attested that there cannot perhaps be a consequence with no cause and that in this probably best world the castle that belonged to the baron was the most stunning amongst every castle and of all baronesses, his wife was ideally the best.

Pangloss alleged that ‘Most things might not appear beyond what they currently look like given that all things became into being to manifestly serve the preeminent end’. In fact, we have spectacles owing to the fact that noses were created to support the spectacles’ (Voltaire, 8). Pangloss’s philosophy as quoted is one of the most important targets of Voltaire’s sardonic poke. Pangloss and his student Candide believed that individuals subsist ‘in the best of every probable world’ (Voltaire, 8). However, the appalling life they were going through was in total contrast to the belief.

In fact, their belief was similar to the beliefs of most famous philosophers during Voltaire’s epoch. Basically, Leibniz affirmed that given that the caring Lord made the universe out of imagination, the universe ought to be the best possible. The human perception under such systems is that evils exist because people do not understand the underlying forces which control the world. Thus, they are not aware that evils exist for the larger betterment. In the excerpt, Voltaire (8) did not merely disparage the ensuing philosophical sanguinity but equally the philosophical eccentricity of Enlightenment. Many philosophers of enlightenment such as Leibniz emphasized more on the interactions of causal-effect.

The spectacle and breeches argument by Pangloss clearly shows a ridiculous incapacity in distinguishing causal-effect. According to Voltaire’s (8) assertions, the almighty Lord had no intentions of creating noses to suit spectacles but He planned for the reverse. Basically, Voltaire had the intention of clarifying eminent defects witnessed in the philosophy of enlightenment. It is apparent in Candide that uphill struggles serve as the supreme therapy for any kind of boredom. Nevertheless, just as Pangloss pointed out in the novel, the cure brings to mind the days of mankind in Eden’s Garden (Voltaire, 83), where a man was the controller of everything.

It similarly emerged that the character’s providence was ideally controlled in their respective petite plots, and this has not been amicably realized until this moment (Voltaire, 86). Indeed, their lives in the mercy of circumstances have now been literally replaced. They are now reaping what they had sowed. Surprisingly, the fictional argument in opposition to optimism can be given a happy ending and the reader might thus be left wondering whether Pangloss was right in claiming to be living ‘in the probably best worlds’. The allegations and the arguments against it are however confined by the way of life the characters have found out. In the concluding phrase, Candide asserted that there was no ample room in gardening that would permit rational speculation and this implied that human beings are bound to be fruitful and glad as a consequence.


Example #6

Voltaire’s Candide is a novel that contains conceptual ideas and at the same time is also exaggerated. Voltaire offers sad themes disguised by jokes and witticism, and the story itself presents a distinctive outlook on life. The crucial contrast in the story deals with irrational ideas as taught to Candide about being optimistic, versus reality as viewed by the rest of the world. The main theme which is presented throughout the novel is optimism. Out of every unfortunate situation in the story, Candide, the main character has been advised by his philosopher-teacher that everything in the world happens for the better, because “Private misfortunes contribute to the general good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more we find that all is well” (Voltaire, p. 31).

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Pangloss, the philosopher, tries to defend his theories by determining the positive from the negative situations and by showing that misfortunes bring some privileges. As Candide grows up, whenever something unfortunate happens, Pangloss would turn the situation around, bringing out the good in it. Candide learns that optimism is “The passion for maintaining that all is right when all goes wrong ” (Voltaire, p.86). According to Rene Pomeau, “Voltaire-Candide…have made him [Candide] acquainted with the bad and the good side of human existence. The moral of Candide is born out of its style; it is the art of extracting happiness from the desolate hopping-about of the human insect” (Adams; Pomeau p.137). Pomeau explains that Candide shows both sides of humanity; how both great and terrible events are standard in human life.

Also according to Pomeau, the whole point of the story is to the debate between good and bad; for example, as Candide becomes more independent, he starts to doubt that only good comes out of life. Pangloss is a very hopeful character in the story because he refuses to accept bad. He is also somewhat naive and believes that he could make the world a better place by spreading his theories on optimism. When Candide had met up with Pangloss after a long period of time, Pangloss said that he was almost hanged, then dissected, then beaten. Candide asked the philosopher if he still thought that everything was for the better, and Pangloss replied that he still held his original views. No matter how little Pangloss believed in the fact that somehow everything would turn out well, he still maintained his original views. Voltaire exaggerates his point on optimism; there is nobody in reality who is positive about everything all the time, especially about something so horrible.

One could conclude that Pangloss is an irrational and inane figure and Voltaire tries to expose how incomprehensible his beliefs are which do not measure up to reality. According to Linguet, “Candide offers us the saddest of themes disguised under the merriest of jokes” (Adams; Wade p. 144). It seems as if Candide was written as a comedy; not because of humor, but because every time something bad occurs, a quick turn of events happens which brings everything back to normal. One moment Candide murders the brother of the woman he loves, the next moment he travels to a land where he sees women mating with monkeys. In instances like these, it doesn’t seem like Voltaire is serious about tragic events.

During the course of Candide’s journey, an earthquake strikes, murdering thirty thousand men, women, and children. In reality, this is a horrible predicament to be involved with. In Pangloss’s world, ” It is impossible for things not to be where they are, because everything is for the best” (Voltaire, p. 35), meaning that the earthquake was necessary for the course of nature, and so there was definitely a rationale for the situation. To show contrast in the story, Voltaire introduces a character whose beliefs are completely opposite to the beliefs of Pangloss. This character is Martin, a friend, and advisor of Candide who he meets on his journey. Martin is also a scholar and a spokesman for pessimism.

Martin continuously tries to prove to Candide that there is little virtue, morality, and happiness in the world. When a cheerful couple is seen walking and singing, Candide tells Martin “At least you must admit that these people are happy. Until now, I have not found in the whole inhabited earth…anything but miserable people. But this girl and this monk, I’d be willing to bet, are very happy creatures” (Voltaire, p. 58). “I’ll bet they aren’t” (Voltaire p. 58), replies Martin, and he bets Candide that the couple is, in fact, depressed, and are disguising their unhappiness. Upon talking to the couple, Martin, ironically, proved correct, strengthening his pessimistic views. Martin claims to be a pessimist because he “knows what life is ” (Voltaire, p. 117) which is why Martin concludes that man was born to suffer.

Candide becomes affected by optimism in different ways throughout his life. The name Candide comes from the Latin word candidus, which means white, and symbolizes innocence. Perhaps Candide very readily believed in optimism at first because of his innocence. Candide grew up as a naive and vulnerable child in his own Eden and was only exposed to the brighter side of life and the idea that everything in the world happens for the better. He did not know what to expect in the real world and why things happened. As Candide progressed in life, though, his eyes opened and he became exposed to bad without goodness coming out of it, like when the people he cared for were harmed. Candide became more independent and learned to form his own opinions.

He would look at the world and say exactly what he saw, and in every situation where Pangloss is absent, Candide would refer to Pangloss’s spirit: “What would Pangloss think?” Over time Candide realized that “Pangloss cruelly deceived when he told that all is for the best in this world ” (Voltaire p.43). For a long time throughout Candide’s life, he believed strongly in optimism, not because he was forced to, but because he was raised in that manner. It is possible, however, that all along, deep down inside, Candide doubted the philosophies of his teacher because of his exposure to immorality in the real world. For example, Candide witnessed the public hanging of two Portuguese Jews simply because they refused to eat bacon for dinner. It was occurrences like these that demonstrated the inhumanity that one person can do to another, leading Candide to disbelieve Pangloss’s philosophies.

Voltaire himself does not necessarily agree with the views of the philosopher Pangloss, that optimism is always the best way of looking at life. Many people in the story who were presumed to be dead were found to be alive and well. Cunegonde, the object of Candide’s affections, was thought dead by Candide but she had really been raped and sold into slavery. Pangloss was also presumed dead but he reappeared in Candide’s life. Although it is good that these people did not die, this is not an example of good coming from bad, since bad (their deaths) never even happened in the first place. This does not at all prove Pangloss’s ideas. It is debatable whether Candide is a novel whose purpose is to teach a moral and be analyzed, or if it was written for entertainment purposes only. According to I.O. Wade, in the Journal Encyclopedique, the story was written for entertainment purposes and the author should have dealt more with important matters such as religion instead of focusing on the storyline.

Most of the story is about the journeys of Candide, and Voltaire did not include significant morals upon writing the novel. In Grimm’s review, it is also thought that Candide was not meant to be a high-quality piece of work, but rather as something enjoyable. It is written in bad taste, yet filled with gaiety, and the amusing parts make it entertaining. According to Georges Ascoli, “Nothing could be more lively, wittier, or more instructive than this story…Too often Voltaire, delighted with his own artistic flair…gives us amusing stories…Let us take them for what they are, not giving too much historical credit…but tasting free of the delights of well-told stories” (Adams; Ascoli p.129).

Ascoli takes Candide to be a witty and lively story despite the misfortune in the characters’ lives. He, too, thinks the story was written for entertainment in which Voltaire did a good job.  The readers should accept the story for its zest, and not try to find the deep hidden meaning. Candide’s learnings and the events that happened to him affected his character in many ways. He had learned to become his own person, to accept life for what it had to offer, and that not everything had to be analyzed to decide whether it was good or bad. In this way, Candide can be an example for all those who read his story.


Example #7

Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire was the French author of the novella Candide, also known as “Optimism”(Durant and Durant 724). In Candide, Voltaire sought to point out the fallacy of Gottfried William von Leibniz’s theory of optimism and the hardships brought on by the resulting inaction toward the evils of the world. Voltaire’s use of satire and its techniques of exaggeration and contrast highlight the evil and brutality of war and the world in general when men are meekly accepting of their fate. Leibniz, a German philosopher and mathematician of Voltaire’s time, developed the idea that the world they were living in at that time was “the best of all possible worlds.” This systematic optimism shown by Leibniz is the philosophical system that believed everything already was for the best, no matter how terrible it seemed.

In this satire, Voltaire showed the world full of natural disasters and brutality. Voltaire also used contrast in the personalities of the characters to convey the message that Leibniz’s philosophy should not be dealt with any seriousness. Leibniz, sometimes regarded as a Stoic or Fatalist because his philosophies were based on the idea that everything in the world was determined by fate, theorized that God, having the ability to pick from an infinite number of worlds, chose this world, “the best of all possible worlds.” Although Voltaire chose that simple quality of Leibniz’s philosophy to satirize, Leibniz meant a little more than just that. Even though his philosophy stated that God chose “the best of all possible worlds,” he also meant that God, being the perfection he chose the best world available to him, unfortunately, it was a world containing evil.

It seems as though Voltaire wanted to ridicule Leibniz’s philosophy so much that he chose to satirize only the literal meaning and fatal acceptance of evil of Leibniz’s philosophy. To get his point across in Candide, Voltaire created the character Dr. Pangloss, an unconditional follower of Leibniz’s philosophy. Voltaire shows this early in the novella by stating, “He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause and that, in this best of all possible worlds….” Pangloss goes on to say that everything had its purpose and things were made for the best. For example, the nose was created for the purpose of wearing spectacles. Because of his “great knowledge,” Candide, at this point, a very naive and impressionable youth, regards Pangloss as the greatest philosopher in the world, a reverence that will soon be contradicted by contact with reality (Frautschi 75).

The name Pangloss is translated as “all tongue” and “windbag.” The colloquialism “windbag” implies that a person is all talk, and he takes no action. In this case, Leibniz’s philosophy is Stoic acceptance of the evil of the world. As the story progresses, though, Pangloss loses faith in the Leibnizian philosophy. Although Pangloss suffered many hardships, he still sticks to the philosophy to avoid contradicting himself (Frautschi 69). Voltaire uses Pangloss and a contrasting character, Martin, to point out the shortcomings in Leibniz’s philosophy. A contrast to the views of Pangloss is the character, Martin. Martin, a pessimist, is a friend and advisor to Candide whom he meets on his journey. Martin continuously tries to prove to Candide that there is little virtue, morality, and happiness in the world. When a cheerful couple is seen walking and singing, Candide tells Martin, “At least you must admit that these people are happy.”

Martin answers Candide’s comment with the reply, “I wager they are not.” Martin suggests that Candide invite the couple to dine at his hotel. As the young girl, now found to be Paquette, tells her story, Martin takes pleasure in knowing he has won the wager. Another contrast to this “best of all possible worlds” is Eldorado. Voltaire describes Eldorado as an extremely peaceful and serene country. Eldorado, a place that is “impossible” to find, has no laws, jails, war, or need for material goods. Voltaire uses Eldorado as an epitome of the “best of all possible worlds.” It contrasts the real outside world in which war and suffering are everyday occurrences. Another example of how Voltaire ridicules Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy is the mention of the Lisbon earthquake and fire. Even though the disastrous earthquake took over 30,000 lives, Pangloss still upheld his philosophical optimism by stating, “For all this is for the very best…

For it is impossible that things should not be where they are.” The disaster in Lisbon affected Voltaire’s life so much that he wrote the Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, but Pangloss’ philosophy said that the Lisbon earthquake was necessary for the course of nature, and there was definitely a rationale for the situation. War is another evil, which Voltaire satirizes in Candide. Voltaire used the Bulgarians and their brutality as a basis for his satire on war. Voltaire writes how Candide was captured by the Bulgarians and is given a choice “to be beaten thirty-six times by the whole regiment, or receive twelve lead bullets at once in his brain” Being the “hero” he is, Candide chooses to run the gauntlet.

Instead of the thirty-six times, he was to run the gauntlet, our “hero” made it only two until he pleaded to the Bulgarians to smash in his head. Another satire of war included in Candide is the Bulgarians’ burning of the Abarian village “in accordance with the rules of international law.” Voltaire also shows his satire on the war in that the Bulgarian soldiers do not just kill other people, they rape disembowel, and dismember innocent women and children. In fact, Candide’s training as a soldier involved being brutalized and beaten. Voltaire uses this example to demonstrate the inhuman vulgarity of many belligerent groups. He thought that this torture was cruel and unjustified. If this were the “best of all possible worlds,” innocent people would not be harmed, and violent peoples such as the Bulgarians would not exist. Upon arrival in England, Candide witnesses another instance of brutality, the execution of an admiral because of his failure to win a battle.

A reply to Candide’s questioning of the act is, “…it is a good thing to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.” This is an obvious allusion to an incident Voltaire himself witnessed. Admiral Byng of England was court-martialed for the same outrageous reason, and although Voltaire tried to stop the execution, Byng was still killed (Durant and Durant 725). Although the novella Candide was partially written for entertainment purposes, it was written primarily to satirize the views of Leibniz’s philosophy. Voltaire looked at the world with the idea that there could be something done about all of the evil in the world. He achieved his goal of satirizing Leibniz by tearing apart Pangloss’ philosophy, using Martin as a contrast to Pangloss, showing the destruction caused by natural disasters, and the brutality of war.


Example #8

Would the attention brought to the horrors of rape and the oppression of women by Voltaire be considered a progressive form of literature, or a form of shock value? In Candide, Voltaire brings light to the ugly nature of rape culture and the unfortunate normalization of sexual assault as witnessed by several characters. Not only does Voltaire write about horrendous scenes of rape as experienced by Cunegonde, The old woman, and the Baron’s son/ Cunegonde’s brother, but also enslavement, pedophilia, and the overall unacceptable day to day treatment of the women as in Candide and also deeply embedded into modern society that is paired with such normalization.

The normalization of rape is justified as the price to pay for being desired and is the evidence is the attitude through a speech by the women directly affected. Through no fault other than being young and beautiful, Cunegonde is raped and stabbed by an enemy soldier. Cunegonde shares her terrible experience with Candide but “puts to rest” any worries of multiple attacks by her current oppressors by stating “For though a person of honor may be raped once, her virtue is only strengthened by the experiences.”(14). In other translations “a person of honor” is instead “a modest woman” leading to the belief that in some cases rape is to be expected while also treating previous sexual attacks as experience that carries with it strength.

Cunegonde is making a drastic understatement that lessens the severity of a life-changing event. The nonchalant perspective of the old woman after sharing her similar experiences of rape and enslavement further normalizes the frequent ravishing of women in the 1700s through her nonchalant tone and use of understatement. “As for myself, I was ravishing, I was loveliness and grace supreme, and I was a virgin. I did not remain so for long; the flower which had been kept for the handsome prince of Messa-Carrara was plucked by the corsair captain; he was an abominable negro, who thought he was doing me a favor. […] But on with my story; these are such common matters that they are not worth describing.”(20). Although the old woman briefly describes a horrible life-changing event that happened to her, she treats the detail as insignificant to her overall story because it is so common and almost boring to talk about.

Undoubtedly, the rape in this story is unacceptably normalized while these two female characters are forced to be defined by their assaults when it comes to their depth of person in the story, however, Voltaire gives these women the bravery and strength to reject theses horrors as what defines them although his approach was through understatements and the use of rape as a shock factor. While it seems that rape is the price to pay for being desired and lusted after, the true nature of the culture behind rape is mostly a lust for power and dominance. The old woman, continuing to share her story revisits the reunion of a past caretaker, “. I opened my eyes, and saw a pretty fair-faced man, who sighed and muttered these words between his teeth, ‘O che sciagura d’essere senza coglioni!”’(33).

The man was a eunuch who had cared for the woman when she was a child, however the concerning phrase ‘O che sciagura d’essere senza coglioni!’ meaning ‘oh what a shame to have no testicles’ serves as evidence that the true nature of rape is not sexual desire, but a lust for domination over someone who is vulnerable. This being because a eunuch who has no testicles would therefore have no sexual urges, however still expressing a desire to violate a vulnerable person must be a lust for power. This then brings one’s attention to the sodomy of the baron/cunegonde’s brother, “her body was ripped open by the Bulgarian soldiers after they had subjected her to as much cruelty as a damsel could survive; […] my poor pupil was served just in the same manner as his sister;” (14).

While he is a young boy and not an attractive young woman such as his sister, he is still sodomized by numerous soldiers. While there is a possibility of pedophiles among the soldiers, I believe that the sexual abuse of the baron is also an example of exertion of sexual domination as opposed to sexual lust. The fate that is once again shared among the female characters in the story is enslavement. In the case of the old woman, she is handled like property as she was sold by the eunuch who had once cared for her as a child, “‘I am going to take ship at Ceuta, and I’ll take you along with me to Italy. Ma che sciagura d’essere senza coglioni!’ “I thanked him with tears of joy, but, notwithstanding, instead of taking me with him to Italy, he carried me to Algiers, and sold me to the Dey of that province”(29).

One would assume the presence of an emotional connection between a person and someone who once cared for that person, but the perception of women is identical to that of property and is easily sold off. Cunegonde becomes enslaved by the captain who had rescued her as a prisoner of war after her assault and the murders of her family, but similar to a plaything, “ In three months, having gambled away all his money, and having grown tired of me, he sold me to a Jew, named Don Issachar,”(18). Another example of women being treated as an object to be sold, traded, or in cunegonde’s case, shared. “The Grand Inquisitor saw me one day at Mass, ogled me all the time of service, and when it was over, sent to let me know he wanted to speak with me about some private business. […] He caused a proposal to be made to Don Issachar, that he should resign me to His Lordship.

Don Issachar, being the court banker and a man of credit, was not easy to be prevailed upon. His Lordship threatened him with an auto–da–fe; in short, my Jew was frightened into a compromise, and it was agreed between them, that the house and myself should belong to both in common; that the Jew should have Monday, Wednesday, and the Sabbath to himself; and the Inquisitor the other four days of the week”(19). Despite cunegonde’s free spirit and refusal of the advances of the jew and the inquisitor, similar to the past of the old woman, is treated as nothing more than property to be fought over, which for the time is a normal occurrence.

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Although Candide is the hero who rescues Cunegonde and claimed to have nothing but good intentions along with the desire to marry her, he also holds a perception of women that is that of an object. “Reverend Father, all the quarterings in the world are of no signification. I have delivered your sister from a Jew and an Inquisitor; she is under many obligations to me, and she is resolved to give me her hand.”(39). Paired with the attitude of ownership of his sister by the baron, Candide is at this moment just as selfish as every other man who has fancied Cunegonde by exclaiming that decent human treatment warrants repayment in the form of marriage. Unfortunately, this is how society has brought up Candide, and this is tragically accepted as the norm not only by the men who hold these beliefs but by the women who must suffer this treatment.

One could take comfort in the fact that the events taking place in Candide are worries of the past as the book was written in 1759, however, the normalization and shaming of victims of sexual assault is still currently alive and thriving. In the summer of 2016 a Stanford student was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman, a crime so horrid that the men who had stopped him, “ became very upset, to the point where he began crying while recounting the incident.”(Kingkade) Though the crime is clear, the reality that the world similar to that of 1759 Candide does not differ much from the current time. The normalization is seen in a statement by the rapist’s father in response to his sentence, “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”(Miller).

To rip bandages off of the fresh wounds of the victim, Turner received only 3 months in prison and is at this day in time a free man. Another case in which someone of power (wealth in this case) took advantage of someone who was vulnerable and unable to protect herself. While Voltaire may have unintentionally written strong female characters no matter how tragic their back story is for the sake of satirical and shock value, the attention brought to these horrendous crimes has not stopped such acts against vulnerable individuals. However, the awareness brought to the normalization of rape culture provides steps in the direction to completely alienate any and all forms of sexual assault to all people.


Example #9 – Military Satire in Candide

Voltaire’s Candide bears the mark of a piece written during a time of reform. It is heavy with satire, poking fun at whatever issues become tangled in its storyline. The subjects tackled range from the political to the religious, and each receives its share of criticism. In many ways, it is what should be expected from an Enlightenment-era work: a criticism of the old ways. In a time of changing political, religious, and scientific beliefs, the literature produced should be often intended to reflect this flux in attitudes. Candide easily accomplishes this by criticizing class boundaries, religion, slavery, and, most importantly, the military. Through Candide, Voltaire is able to criticize numerous topics. The story’s premise is set around Candide being thrown out of the Baron’s household for having ignored class rules and fallen in love with Miss Cunégonde (Gordon 43).

This incident sets the story in motion and makes it fairly obvious that Voltaire did not believe in the legitimacy of such class boundaries. Religion is another topic that comes under attack by Voltaire – albeit in perhaps a slightly less brutal manner. A utopia is found in which religion is delegated to the people and, subsequently, there are no priests or other clergy (79); Voltaire, it seems, shunned the idea that clergymen were liaisons to God. Even the issue of slavery is mentioned when Candide stumbles upon a slave who has lost his hand and leg (82). Although the slave seems to think it is normal behavior for a master to treat a slave in such a way, Candide recoils in horror, much as Voltaire himself would likely have done (83). In addition, the military is attacked numerous times by Voltaire as being pointless or convoluted.

Voltaire first criticizes the military by having Candide recruited on the sole basis of his height. Upon seeing him, a man of the military remarks, “Comrade…there is a well-built lad, and he is the right height too” (Gordon 43). Candide is invited to dinner and asked to drink to the health of the King of the Bulgars (44). Once he does so, the men declare “That’s enough…you are now the pillar, the upholder, the defender, the hero of the Bulgars: your fortune is made and your glory assured” (44). By having Candide recruited after such a menial action and chosen on such a pointless basis, Voltaire criticizes the aims of the military. Because height is not generally a factor that can inspire or deter a successful military career, Voltaire seems to be saying that the military is primarily concerned with petty, superficial matters.

Further, by only asking that Candide drink to their king, the military men are accepting him without knowing his true intentions. They could care less whether he really means to be true to the king or country. By portraying the recruiters in this light, Voltaire makes the military seem more concerned with numbers and appearances than with actual causes. Voltaire continues his attack on the military by describing a battle between the Bulgars and the Avars. He begins by focusing on contradictory notions; the battle is first described as “splendid…brisk…[and] brilliant,” but contains mention of how the “cannons laid low about six thousand men on each side; then the musketry removed from the best of worlds around nine or ten thousand…” (Gordon 45).

Voltaire inspires readers to consider how the deaths of thousands of men can be both splendid and brilliant, and in doing so, to conclude that the military must truly be an awful thing. For mass death to be associated with such glorious superlatives there must be something askew, and that thing is the military. After the battle, “each king his forces celebrate victory with a Te Deum” (46). Obviously, the battle is pointless if each side celebrates victory despite such heavy casualties. Later in the story, Voltaire criticizes the Pope’s army in the story of the old woman. She tells of being attacked by pirates and how “ soldiers defended themselves like true soldiers of the Pope: they all kneeled down, threw aside their arms, and begged the pirates for absolution” (Gordon 61).

Here, Voltaire depicts the soldiers as cowards or, at the very least, useless. When danger is apparent, they drop their weapons instead of fighting for those whom they are supposed to protect. It is possible, too, that Voltaire is criticizing the Pope in addition to the military. The soldiers seem to exemplify an attitude of placing religion before practicality. In such a situation, it would be practical to at least keep a weapon nearby instead of casting it aside. Voltaire further argues against current military practices in Candide’s visit to England. Upon arriving at Portsmouth, Candide observes “a large crowd of people covered the shore, looking out intently at a rather stout man who was on his knees, blindfolded, on the deck of a naval ship” (Gordon 98).

Soon, “four soldiers stationed in front of this man peacefully [fire] three bullets each into his brain; and the entire crowd [goes] away extremely satisfied” (98). Candide learns that the man was an admiral who “didn’t kill enough people” and “engaged in a battle with a French Admiral and was later judged to have kept too great a distance from the enemy” (99). Candide argues that it makes no difference because “the French Admiral was as far from the English Admiral as the latter was from the former” (99). He then receives the response that “it’s good to kill an Admiral from time to time” (99). In this episode, Voltaire portrays military justice as being misguided and unjust. The comment that “it’s good to kill an Admiral from time to time” especially betrays Voltaire’s feelings on the subject: there’s no reasoning behind it except to say that it’s “good,” which is hardly a reason at all.

Candide refuses to set foot on the land of a country that would do such a thing, which makes it fairly obvious just how strongly Voltaire’s feelings were on the subject. Voltaire’s criticisms were not without basis, nor was he alone in his resistance. Candide was published in 1759, in the midst of the Seven Years’ War (Hunt 634). It was this war that “prompted the French crown to introduce far-reaching reforms that provoked violent resistance and helped pave the way for the French Revolution of 1789” (634). During this time, hostilities between England and France were seen everywhere, including North America, the West Indies, India, and central Europe (636). The use of military force was so widespread that it “permeated every aspect of rural society, fusing army and agrarian organization” (638).

Because the Enlightenment was largely an urban phenomenon, it would follow that the military, which was tied to rural areas, would seem unenlightened. One of Voltaire’s criticisms was directed at the Prussian army. He notes in Candide how easy it was to join the Bulgar army. Between the years 1740 and 1789, “the Prussian army…nearly tripled in size” (Hunt 634). It makes sense that in order for such a major expansion to take place, the military would have to relax its standards. Also, Candide’s recruitment due to his height seems to be aimed at the Prussian army, too. In a footnote, it is revealed that “Frederick the Great took pride in the height of his soldiers” (Gordon 44). Here, Voltaire is directly criticizing the Prussian army and their pride over such a petty matter as height.

In Candide, Voltaire criticizes many aspects of Enlightenment-era French society. He touches on colonialization, the cruelty of slavery, institutionalized religion, and the military, among other subjects. In the case of the military, armies are described as being flippant; they’re easy to join and just as easy to leave. Battles are declared victories despite major losses of life. Things such as height and proximity to the opposing army are held in high esteem, regardless of what should be important. Voltaire saw these flaws and, through the use of his satirical piece Candide, attempted to draw the public’s attention to them.


Example #10 – The Ironical Tone of Voltaire in Candide

Voltaire wrote Candide in 1759 during an “era… in which the conventions and inequities of European society were being questioned and attacked on all sides” (v). It is apparent from the text that his ultimate goal in writing the novel was to point out flaws in French society, such as the importance placed on money, unquestioning following of religion, and foolish philosophical speculation. The reader is bound to find Candide, the main character, and his adventures amusing and humorous, but the underlying messages of this seemingly light story are evident. One of the devices Voltaire uses is an ironic tone, which aids in exposing his feelings about the class system in France at the time, in which Candide represents the elite. Voltaire particularly achieves irony by making fun of his characters, placing them in ridiculous situations, and exposing them under the light of humor.

Candide maintains an overly optimistic view of the world throughout the story, even though he witnesses and experiences numerous disasters. His love for Cunegonde is challenged so many times it seems impossible that anything could ever come of it. He journeys the world, as he has been banished from his home for being seen kissing her, and struggles to survive. But Candide believes he lives in “the best of worlds” (7), an idea uttered so many times he and Pangloss appear idiotic since they seem to live in the worst of worlds, plagued by tumultuous situations. Candide maintains a sunny outlook on the world because he relies on blind luck to save him. His perpetual good fortune is much like that of the aristocracy at the time, who Voltaire despised for their inherently unfair privileges.

Voltaire’s choice of diction also lambasts Candide and the blissful ignorance of the people he represents. Every incident is described as affecting Candide greatly, though nothing has any lasting effect on him. After being chased away from the castle in which he lived, Candide “walked a long while without knowing where, weeping, raising his eyes to heaven” (3). Candide suffers immensely, but Voltaire’s choice of words gives the impression of how a child would act after he is sent to his room. A child would think of his punishment as catastrophic until he is distracted by something else, just as Candide is by the dinner he soon attends.

Candide’s unrealistic array of adventures begins to seem never-ending after awhile. He sees a bloody battle take place, hears that Cunegonde and her entire family have been killed, and witnesses the man who took him in, Jacques, drown in a horrific storm. The reader is then made to think things might settle down or become easier for Candide. But he continues his journey, finding Lisbon destroyed by an earthquake when he arrives. Pangloss has been hanged for being a heretic, and Candide is beaten for believing Pangloss’s philosophies after being hit with the news of his death. There is bittersweet news for Candide when he finds Cunegonde is not dead, but, rather, that she has been raped and made a sex slave. The two plan to get married; however, Candide’s bad luck is far from over. He loses Cunegonde to a wealthier man who proposes to her. He resumes his tumultuous adventuring, which includes almost getting eaten by a Biglug tribe, and has the fortune he finds in El Dorado stolen from him.

Candide is not a nobleman nor an intelligent one, so the fact that he has lived through all of this, let alone remained optimistic, is outrageous; such experiences would send others into anger or despair. Even more ironic is the fact that everything turns out perfectly for Candide in the end; Cunegonde leaves her husband and marries him. Ironically, he “had no wish to marry Cunegonde” (84), the love of his life. But he does so because Cunegonde begs her brother, the Baron of the castle Candide resided in, to allow them to wed. Candide finds out Pangloss was not actually killed and bands with him once again. He takes up gardening and lives a very good life, reunited with several characters in a sudden and seemingly impossible fashion.

To add to the irony of Candide, the characters are placed in humorous situations and use language that intensifies the comedic effect. Candide’s optimism is an exaggerated trait that parallels the attitude of many people. Voltaire’s point is, perhaps, that such an outlook is not the best policy. Maybe people should not go through life passively accepting what happens to them, hoping things will improve, but instead by being proactive. Candide’s good luck is unrealistic and cannot be attributed to his manner of seeing the world. He loses his fortune as quickly as he comes across it, reflecting Voltaire’s opinion that money should be earned; people who are born with it or randomly stumble upon it deserve to lose it quickly.

He also is not fond of unnecessary formalities, revealed when he describes Pangloss as “professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” (1). Pangloss wants his title to be admired, but Voltaire incites the reader to find it laughably excessive. Thus, through its potent use of irony, Candide is a classic example of satire. The situations and attitudes in the story humorously parallel those existing in real life at the time. Voltaire uses irony in his descriptions to point out that the conditions in the story and, consequently, reality are ridiculous. It is hardly surprising that today, therefore, Candide is a prominent novel of historical importance.


Example #11 – The Purpose of Man in Candide

One of the primary objectives of the Enlightenment was to promote reason and rationalism as a method of achieving social and political reform. However, Voltaire, a powerful and renowned philosopher, and writer during the period, often criticized particular aspects of Enlightenment philosophy. In his short novel Candide, Voltaire rather sharply attacks the optimism that was so popular among philosophers such as Leibnitz, choosing instead not to ignore the pervasive presence of natural and human evil. In this work, the main character, Candide, undergoes drastic changes in thought and maturity. By the conclusion of Candide’s geographical and philosophical journey, it is apparent that Voltaire wished to stress that man’s purpose is not to idly speculate about philosophy. Rather, a man should become an active member of a more realistic world that is better suited to his natural oscillation within physical and psychological states.

It becomes evident early in the work that Voltaire wishes to promote both material and mental independence within the individual: a task that can usually be achieved through travel. The novel itself is based entirely on a dynamic and complex journey undertaken by Candide, as well as portions of the paths taken by others close to him. In fact, the point of view continuously shifts throughout the thirty chapters of the work, alternating narrators to encourage accessibility of travel to all men and women. As the plot develops, the events that take place at each location begin to speak to the universality of human suffering. This universality is a reality that Candide – and any other individual – must acknowledge to eventually reduce the amount of suffering they experience themselves.

An old woman much more experienced in worldly affairs than Candide offers him insight on this concept, telling him that were he on a ship: “make each passenger tell you his story; and if there is one who has not often cursed his life, who has not often said to himself that he was the most unfortunate of men, throw me head-first into the sea” (260). Indeed, virtually every chapter contains horrific tales of violence and misery that extends to members of every social and political class. Two other more experienced acquaintances, Cacambo and Martin, offer slightly different perspectives on the nature of human suffering. When Candide is shocked to learn that in a foreign country women have relationships with monkeys, Cacambo asks him: “why should you think it so strange that in some countries there should be monkeys who obtain ladies’ favors? They are quarter men, as I am a quarter Spaniard” (269).

As Candide experiences diverse forms of suffering, he begins to realize how travel promotes independence and acceptance, and himself states: “certainly, a man should travel” (277). Later, Martin contributes some of his own observations, telling Candide: “it is beyond my poor capacity to tell you whether there are more madmen in one country than in the other” (301). Thus, it appears that travel is a useful method of gaining exposure to and insight about similarities among diverse cultures, and particularly the invasive nature of human suffering within each population. Closely related to the acknowledgment of universal suffering is Candide’s need to either accept or change certain evils in the world. Several Enlightenment philosophers promoted rational thought as a way to help ease the effects of evil, but Voltaire encourages Candide and his reader to concede that evil exists, and instead of embracing it, urges them to attempt to alleviate some of its effects by promoting change.

There are two forms of evil – one that can not be changed by man (e.g. natural disasters), and one that can (e.g. warfare). Rather than speculating on the ultimate reason for these evils, Voltaire believes that man should cope with them to the best of his abilities. He satirizes metaphysicians known for spending their time considering the reason for evil; at the beginning of the novel, when Candide is about to be brutally killed, the narrator says: “at that moment the King of the Bulgarians came by and inquired the victim’s crime…he perceived from what he learned about Candide that he was a young metaphysician very ignorant in worldly affairs” (233). It is also clear that Voltaire highlights the cruelty of men that appears to perpetrate evil. For example, a certain learned character, Jacques, comments: “men…must have corrupted nature a little, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves.

God did not give them twenty-four-pounder cannons or bayonets, and they have made bayonets and cannons to destroy each other” (239). While this metaphor obviously criticizes men for their savage violence, it also helps make the distinction between natural evils and those created by men. Throughout the rest of the novel, evil is commented on as Candide’s journey allows him to evolve to a higher state of independence and maturity. The evil practiced by man is finally questioned by Candide, when he asks Martin: “Do you think…that men have always massacred each other…been liars, cheats, traitors, brigands, weak, flighty, cowardly, envious, gluttonous, drunken, grasping, and vicious, bloody, backbiting, debauched, fanatical, hypocritical, and silly?” Martin replies: “Do you think…that sparrow-hawks have always eaten the pigeons they came across?… well…if sparrow-hawks have always possessed the same nature, why should you expect men to change theirs?” (290).

Observing this surplus of disagreeable traits recognized by Candide, it is obvious that he has already been exposed to evil in a wide variety of forms. In addition, Martin’s logical response expresses a pessimistic view of human nature that often resulted from experiencing various forms of wrongdoing. Another character, Cunegonde, expresses similar disappointment in her experiences, referring to her old optimistic philosopher: “Pangloss deceived me cruelly when he said that all is for the best in the world” (248). However, a wise man, Dervish, reminds the reader that it is futile to simply consider the origin of evil. When Pangloss attempts to discuss philosophy with him, Dervish asks: “what does it matter…whether it is evil or good?” and tells Pangloss that he should simply “hold [his] tongue” (326).

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Thus, it appears that Voltaire encourages man to acknowledge the existence of evil, but not to attempt to reason about it. Instead, he guides the reader to follow the message found in the rest of Candide’s journey, which suggests that humans should respond to evil by trying to bring about change. As Candide’s experience continues, a particularly important motif in human behavior emerges: it appears that humans do not plainly desire a pure state of happiness, but rather are accustomed to fluctuating between states of boredom, indifference, and suffering. This idea is presented most unexpectedly when Candide and Cacambo decide to leave Eldorado, an oasis filled with riches and free of violence and persecution. Candide reasons: “if we remain here, we shall only be like everyone else; but if we return to our own world with only twelve sheep laden with Eldorado pebbles, we shall be richer than all the kinds put together,” to which the narrator comments: “Cacambo agreed with this; it is so pleasant to be on the move, to show off before friends, to make a parade of the things seen on one’s travels, that these two happy men resolved to be so no longer” (279).

The men radically go against what most would expect, particularly the King of Eldorado, who says that “when we are comfortable anywhere we should stay there” (279). Departure from the oasis may be Voltaire’s way of suggesting a reason why humans continue to suffer at the hands of one another. It may also be a commentary on the need for competition and variation among individuals since Candide’s primary reason for leaving is to escape uniformity in exchange for a new status among his peers. An experienced old woman encountered soon afterward suggests that the behavior is developed in the novel to emphasize a peculiar weakness in human nature. After telling a horrendous story involving a lifetime of suffering, the woman states: “a hundred times I wanted to kill myself but I still loved life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps the most disastrous of our inclinations; for is there anything sillier than to desire…to caress the serpent which devours us until he has eaten our heart?” (259) The Biblical allusion to the serpent may even suggest that this flaw in human nature was initiated by original sin.

In either case, it is clear that this curious human behavior is reiterated in the rest of the novel. A conversation with a Venetian lord later in the novel provokes an interesting observation from Candide, who asks Martin: “is there no pleasure in criticizing, in finding faults where other men think they see beauty?” to which Martin agrees: “that is to say…that there is pleasure in not being pleased” (312). This behavior persists throughout the remainder of the novel. In the conclusion, the main characters have settled on a small piece of land where they live free from the majority of the evils encountered earlier in the novel. However, the narrator still describes a continuation of the trait seen in both the old woman and Martin. Voltaire may be attempting to strengthen the validity of the behavior by manifesting it in the two characters who have proven to be particularly learned and mature.

The narrator states: “when they were not arguing, the boredom was so excessive that one day the old woman dared to say…‘I should like to know which is worse…to endure all the miseries through which we have passed, or to remain here doing nothing?’” and “Martin especially concluded that man was born to live in the convulsions of distress or in the lethargy of boredom” (324-325). It is clear that Voltaire believes that humans are naturally inclined to exist in a state that oscillates between boredom and suffering. An interesting conclusion may be drawn by combining the aforementioned aspects of Voltaire’s work. An individual must first achieve maturity by experiencing different cultures and making inferences about human behavior. These experiences, in turn, help an individual make decisions about the presence of evil, allowing one to acknowledge the existence of evil without having to philosophically speculate about it. In addition, individuals often come to realize that, by nature, they constantly fluctuate between boredom and distress.

Based on these premises, individuals may conclude that to avoid some of the evils perpetrated solely by humans (but without wasting time on speculation), one may perform useful labor. Practical work can keep individuals away from some evils, and help them to avoid extremes of boredom or anguish. This idea is subtly hinted at early in the novel when Cacambo departs from Candide. The narrator says: “Cacambo…was in despair at leaving a good master who had become his intimate friend, but the pleasure of being useful to him overcame the grief of leaving him” (283). In this case, useful work allows Cacambo to avoid the undesirable feeling of despair. By the end of the novel, this idea is fully evolved, and stated bluntly by a Turk farmer nearby Candide’s farm: “I have only twenty acres…I cultivate them with my children; and work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need” (327).

Candide, Pangloss, and Martin make similar conclusions about their own lives. Candide states: “we should cultivate our gardens”; Pangloss says: “when a man was placed in the Garden of Eden, he was placed there…to dress it and to keep it; which proves that man was not born for idleness”; and finally, Martin agrees: “’tis the only way to make like endurable” (327). Another Biblical allusion strengthens this argument by indirectly proposing that God created humans to follow this particular path and lifestyle. In addition, useful work is the first step towards bringing about change that may prevent the perpetuation of evil by human beings. Thus, constructive physical labor offers an alternative to lifestyles involving philosophical debates or ignorant attempts to reason about the origin of evil and human behavior. Voltaire suggests that this conclusion may be reached through a personal physical and psychological journey by demonstrating how Candide has achieved it in precisely that manner.


Example #12 – interesting ideas

Candide is characterized by its sarcastic tone and its erratic, fantastical, and fast-moving plot. A picaresque novel with a story similar to that of a more serious bildungsroman, it parodies many adventure and romance clichés, the struggles of which are caricatured in a tone that is mordantly matter-of-fact. Still, the events discussed are often based on historical happenings, such as the Seven Years’ War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. As philosophers of Voltaire’s day contended with the problem of evil, so too does Candide in this short novel, albeit more directly and humorously. Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers through allegory; most conspicuously, he assaults Leibniz and his optimism.

As expected by Voltaire, Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition, and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté.[7] However, with its sharp wit and insightful portrayal of the human condition, the novel has since inspired much time with a monk, Brother Giroflée. Although both appear happy on the surface, they reveal their despair: Paquette has led a miserable existence as a sexual object, and the monk detests the religious order in which he was indoctrinated.

Later, while Candide and Martin are eating supper, Cacambo returns to Candide and informs him that Cunégonde is in Constantinople and that she has been enslaved. She is now washing dishes for a prince of Transylvania and has become ugly. On the way to rescue her, Candide finds Pangloss and Cunégonde’s brother rowing in the galley. Candide buys their freedom and further passage at steep prices.[46] The baron and Pangloss relate how they survived, but despite the horrors he has been through, Pangloss’s optimism remains unshaken: “I still hold to my original opinions, because, after all, I’m a philosopher, and it wouldn’t be proper for me to recant, since Leibniz cannot be wrong, and since preestablished harmony is the most beautiful thing in the world, along with the plenum and subtle matter.”[50]

The travelers arrive in Transylvania where they rejoin Cunégonde and the old woman. Cunégonde has indeed become hideously ugly but Candide nevertheless buys their freedom and marries Cunégonde to spite her brother. Paquette and Brother Giroflée, too, are reconciled with Candide on a farm which he just bought with the last of his finances. One day, the protagonists seek out a dervish known as a great philosopher of the land. Pangloss asks him why Man is made to suffer so, and what they all ought to do. The dervish responds by asking rhetorically why Pangloss is concerned about the existence of evil and good. The dervish describes human beings as mice on a ship sent by a king to Egypt; their comfort does not matter to the king.

The dervish then slams his door on the group. Returning to their farm, Candide, Pangloss, and Martin meet a Turk whose philosophy is to devote his life only to simple work and not concern himself with external affairs. He and his four children work a small farm to keep “free of three great evils: boredom, vice, and necessity”. Candide, Pangloss, Martin, Cunégonde, Paquette, the old woman, and Brother Giroflée all set to work (on this “louable dessein”, or “commendable plan”, as the narrator calls it), each to one specific task. Candide ignores Pangloss’s insistence that all turned out for the best by necessity, instead of telling him “we must cultivate our garden”.

As Voltaire himself described it, the purpose of Candide was to “bring amusement to a small number of men of wit”.[4] The author achieves this goal by combining his sharp wit with a fun parody of the classic adventure-romance plot. Candide is confronted with horrible events described in painstaking detail so often that it becomes humorous. Literary theorist Frances K. Barasch described Voltaire’s matter-of-fact narrative as treating topics such as mass death “as coolly as a weather report”.[52] The fast-paced and improbable plot—in which characters narrowly escape death repeatedly, for instance—allows for compounding tragedies to befall the same characters over and over again.[53]

In the end, Candide is primarily, as described by Voltaire’s biographer Ian Davidson, “short, light, rapid and humorous”. Behind the playful façade of Candide which has amused so many, there lies very harsh criticism of contemporary European civilization which angered many others. European governments such as France, Prussia, Portugal, and England are each attacked ruthlessly by the author: the French and Prussians for the Seven Years’ War, the Portuguese for their Inquisition, and the British for the execution of John Byng. Organized religion, too, is harshly treated in Candide. For example, Voltaire mocks the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholi.

The main method of Candide’s satire is to contrast ironically great tragedy and comedy. The story does not invent or exaggerate evils of the world—it displays real ones starkly, allowing Voltaire to simplify subtle philosophies and cultural traditions, highlighting their flaws. Thus Candide derides optimism, for instance, with a deluge of horrible, historical (or at least plausible) events with no apparent redeeming qualities. A simple example of the satire of Candide is seen in the treatment of the historical event witnessed by Candide and Martin in Portsmouth harbour. There, the duo spy an anonymous admiral, supposed to represent John Byng, being executed for failing to properly engage a French fleet. The admiral is blindfolded and shot on the deck of his own ship, merely “to encourage the others” (Fr. “Pour encourager les autres”).

This depiction of military punishment trivializes Byng’s death. The dry, pithy explanation “to encourage the others” thus satirizes a serious historical event in characteristically Voltairian fashion. For its classic wit, this phrase has become one of the more often quoted from Candide. Voltaire depicts the worst of the world and his pathetic hero’s desperate effort to fit it into an optimistic outlook. Almost all of Candide is a discussion of various forms of evil: its characters rarely find even temporary respite. There is at least one notable exception: the episode of El Dorado, a fantastic village in which the inhabitants are simply rational, and their society are just and reasonable. The positivity of El Dorado may be contrasted with the pessimistic attitude of most of the book. Even in this case, the bliss of El Dorado is fleeting: Candide soon leaves the village to seek Cunégonde, whom he eventually marries only out of spite.

Another element of the satire focuses on what William F. Bottiglia, author of many published works on Candide, calls the “sentimental foibles of the age” and Voltaire’s attack on them. Flaws in European culture are highlighted as Candide parodies adventure and romance clichés, mimicking the style of a picaresque novel. A number of archetypal characters thus have recognizable manifestations in Voltaire’s work: Candide is supposed to be the drifting rogue of low social class, Cunégonde the sex interest, Pangloss the knowledgeable mentor, and Cacambo the skillful valet. As the plot unfolds, readers find that Candide is no rogue, Cunégonde becomes ugly and Pangloss is a stubborn fool. The characters of Candide are unrealistic, two-dimensional, mechanical, and even marionette-like; they are simplistic and stereotypical. As the initially naïve protagonist eventually comes to a mature conclusion—however noncommittal—the novella is a bildungsroman, if not a very serious one.

Analysis of Major Characters Candide. Candide is the protagonist of the novel, but he is bland, naïve, and highly susceptible to the influence of stronger characters. Like the other characters, Candide is less a realistic individual than the embodiment of a particular idea or folly that Voltaire wishes to illustrate.

Candide’s name is derived from the Latin word candidus, which means “white” and connotes fair-mindedness or a lack of corruption. As that name suggests, Candide begins the novel as a perfect innocent—wide-eyed in his worship of his tutor Pangloss’s wrongheaded optimistic philosophy, and completely unfamiliar with the ways of the world. Over the course of the novel, Candide acquires wealth and even some knowledge about the world and begins to question his faith in optimism. Yet that faith remains and is frequently reactivated by any event that pleases him, from the kindness of the stranger Jacques to the death of Vanderdendur, the merchant who cheats him. At the end of the novel, Candide rejects Pangloss’s philosophizing in favor of the practical labor that is introduced to him by the old farmer.

While this shift in philosophy appears on the surface to be real progress, Candide’s personality remains essentially unchanged. He is still incapable of forming his own opinions and has simply exchanged blind faith in Pangloss’s opinions for blind faith in the opinions of the farmer. Despite his simplicity, Candide is an effective, sympathetic hero. He is fundamentally honest and good-hearted. He readily gives money to strangers like Brother Giroflée and the poorest deposed king, and he honors his commitment to marry Cunégonde even after his love for her has faded. His naïveté, though incredible, makes Candide sympathetic to readers; the world of the novel is exaggerated and fantastic, and we are likely to find the events described as unsettling and confusing as he does.

Pangloss. As Candide’s mentor and a philosopher, Pangloss is responsible for the novel’s most famous idea: that all is for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” This optimistic sentiment is the main target of Voltaire’s satire. Pangloss’s philosophy parodies the ideas of the Enlightenment thinker G. W. von Leibniz.

Martin. Martin acts as both foil and counterpart to Pangloss. He is more believable than the other major characters in the novel, not because he is more complex, but because he is more intelligent and more likely to draw conclusions with which we can identify. A scholar who has suffered personal and financial setbacks, Martin is as extreme a pessimist as Pangloss is an optimist. He even takes issue with Candide’s statement that “there is some good” in the world. Direct experience plays a greater part in Martin’s estimation of the world than it does in Pangloss’s. As a result, he is able to provide insight into events far beyond Pangloss’s ability to do so.

SETTING. Since Candide is the story of a fantastic journey, the setting of the tale is constantly changing. Candide opens in Westphalia, in Germany. The scene shifts to Holland, to Portugal, then to the New World and back. Several chapters take place on shipboard.

Candide is full of place names, most of them real, a few imaginary. In general, however, the hero, Candide travels across a landscape that is familiar, if only by reputation, to his readers. The South American locations and the setting of the conclusion in Turkey add an exotic flair to the story. So, too, does the list of place names in Africa recited by the old woman when she tells her story. This list, and others that are scattered in the narrative, serve a second purpose. They contribute, by exaggeration, to Voltaire’s parody of the popular adventure travel stories of his time.

As Voltaire himself described it, the purpose of Candide was to “bring amusement to a small number of men of wit”.[13] The author achieves this goal, according to literary analysts, by combining his sharp wit with a fun parody of the classic adventure-romance plot. As the initially naïve protagonist eventually comes to a mature conclusion – however noncommittal – the novella is bildungsroman or at least a parody of one.[11] Candide is confronted with horrible events described in painstaking detail so often that it becomes humorous. Frances K. Barasch, the literary analyst, described Voltaire’s matter-of-fact narrative as treating topics such as mass death “as coolly as a weather report”.

The fast-paced and improbable plot – in which characters repeatedly narrowly escape death and otherwise defy traditional reason – allows for compounding tragedies to befall the same characters over and over again.[50] In the end, Candide is primarily, as described by Voltaire’s biographer Ian Davidson, “short, light, rapid and humorous”. The main method of Candide’s satire is to ironically contrast great tragedy and comedy by juxtaposing them.[6] The book does not invent or exaggerate evils of the world; it only displays real ones starkly, allowing Voltaire to simplify subtle philosophies and cultural traditions, highlighting their flaws.[50] Thus Candide derides Optimism, for instance, with a deluge of horrible, historical (or at least plausible) events with no apparent redeeming qualities.[13][52]

A simple example of the satire of Candide is seen in the treatment of the historical event witnessed by Candide and Martin in Portsmouth harbor. There, the duo spy an admiral being executed for failing to properly engage a French fleet. The admiral is blindfolded and shot in the head on the deck of his own boat, merely “to encourage the others.” This depiction of military punishment trivializes Byng’s death. The dry, pithy explanation thus satirizes a serious historical event in a characteristic fashion.

Voltaire depicts the worst of the world and his pathetic hero’s desperate effort to fit it into his Optimistic outlook. Much of the work is a treatment of evil. Rarely does Voltaire diverge from this technique, but there is at least one notable exception: his description of El Dorado, a fantastic village in which the inhabitants are simply rational, and their society is just and reasonable. The positivity of El Dorado may be contrasted with the pessimistic attitude of the majority of the book.

In “Candide”, Voltaire satirizes the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers, notably Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz on whom the character of Pangloss is largely based, To put it simply, Leibniz and the others were Deists; they had an unquestioning belief in a perfect God and that all the creations and works of such a God were also necessarily perfect. Humans, they postulated, did not have the capacity to see God’s master plan and for them, it was not always possible to see that all things, no matter how bad or tragic they may appear, were for the best eventual outcome. Such a rigidly optimistic view is founded on assumptions and therefore all arguments that proceed from it can have no foundation and totally founder in real-world experience. Horror upon horror dog Candide’s journey, eventually causing him to question the sense of Pangloss’s unwavering optimism and his absurd postulations in support of it.

French society in the 18th century became known as the ancien regime* for while the monarchy had absolute power with no accountability, the reigning kings lacked the ability to apply that power to effective government. It was a time of great social inequality and injustice in France. Most of the aristocracy and clergy enjoyed great power and privilege and exemption from taxation ─ yet the nation was in huge debt due to waging expensive wars in pursuit of power and glory — including the support of the American rebels against the British — as well as domestic excesses. The aristocracy and clergy became pitted against Louis XVI and his Austrian queen Marie Antoinette and the oppressed common people against both monarchy and aristocracy. In 1879, harsh winter and bad harvest triggered insurrection.

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