Thursday, September 1, 2011


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Candide is an adventure tale by Voltaire that satirizes the optimism supported by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. It is the story of a young man’s adventures throughout the world, where he witnesses much evil and disaster. Throughout his travels, he clings to the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss, believing that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Candide is Voltaire’s answer to what he saw as an absurd belief proposed by the Optimists - an easy way to rationalize evil and suffering. Though he was by no means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens is always for the best.

The primary feature of Enlightenment philosophy is the belief that people can actively work to create a better world. A spirit of social reform characterized the political ideology of Enlightenment philosophers. Heavily characterized by the primary concerns of the Enlightenment, Voltaire also criticizes certain aspects of the movement. It attacks the idea that optimism can inhibit the evils perpetrated by human beings. Voltaire did not believe in the power of reason to overcome contemporary social conditions.

Voltaire uses Pangloss and his ramblings to represent a humorous characterization of the typical optimist. Of Pangloss, Voltaire writes, He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in the best of all possible worlds the Baron’s castle was the best of all castles and his wife the best of all possible Baronesses.

The attack on the idea that “this is the best of all possible worlds” is powerful. Throughout the story, satirical references to this theme contrast with natural catastrophes and human wrongdoing. When reunited with the diseased and dying Pangloss, who had contracted syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault. Pangloss simply responds 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.

The multitudes of disasters, which Candide endures, culminate in his eventual, if temporary, abandonment of optimism. Candide finally begins to recognize the futility of his dear Pangloss’ philosophy. Voltaire concludes Candide by having Candide discover the Turk’s truth to life - …the work keeps us from three great evils, boredom, vice and poverty. Candide and his band of followers consider these words and decide that they must cultivate their garden. When the entire group has accepted the pastoral lifestyle, finding contentment, Pangloss the Optimist attempts to prove how all their prior misfortunes were parts of the necessary chain of events for them to reach happiness. Voltaire paints Pangloss as the true idiot of optimism, never realizing the errors of his own logic.

Voltaire uses Candide as a platform to criticize the unconditional optimism of his colleagues. His use of satire throughout the story has a serious purpose. Voltaire uses satire as a means of pointing out injustice, the cruelty of war, aristocratic snobbery and bigotry, and makes each seem intolerable to the reader.

Voltaires Candide is the story of an innocent mans experiences in a mad and evil world, his struggle to survive in that world and his need to come to terms with it. All people experience the turmoil of life and must overcome obstacles; both natural and manufactured, in order to eventually achieve happiness. In life, man must find a medium between what Martin (the pessimist) believes and what Pangloss (the optimist) has taught him. 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.

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