Voltaire Essay, Research Paper
The building blocks of the Enlightenment were formed out of a desire for truth, reason, and freedom ? virtually contingent upon the last. An examination of Voltaire?s Candide and La Feyette?s Princess of Cleves, both well recognized pieces of the period, exemplify two views of freedom, the first based on its use in moderation and the latter making it a relative term. Relative freedom meaning it is correspondent to one?s social, economic, and religious place with in society.
In Candide, the main character?s own freedom and ability to make decisions is rather dangerous too not only himself but to others as well. Freedom to choose to dedicate his life to a relentless pursuit of his dear Cunegonde led to not only her enslavement as well as that of his agent Cacambo, the old woman, and his own. After ?a lot of fearful calamities linked to one another,? Cunegonde and the old woman were both enslaved by a ?onetime king named Ragotski? (372). Voltaire strongly conveys the concept that freedom is extremely desirable as long as it is not carried to illogical extremes. This satire certainly shows a man whom acts purely upon his own idealist views. The quest to be with his love leads to the slaughter of Cunegonde?s brother, when Candide ?immediately drew his own sword and thrust it up to the hilt in the Baron?s belly? (342). Though out of self-protection, he goes to great lengths to accomplish his final goal and is completely capable of doing it all because he has complete freedom. At this point one may infer that Voltaire is mocking human kind and our natural tendency to abuse freedom.
La Feyette?s work shows, through the princess and the consequences of her actions, that freedom is desirable when it works in one?s best interest. Outside sources are in control of the Princess of Cleves? independence; therefore, making a mockery of what is supposed to be her full independence. Her way of life is according to the virginal, puritan values of her mother. The princess?s gender, along with the time period addressed in this novella, limit her freedom. The few liberties she is left with only lead to her unhappiness and that of the two men in her life. The princess makes a free decision to confess ?such as no woman has ever made to her husband? of her forbidden passions for another man (125). Her freedoms only haunt her and leave her alone in the end. It causes the death of her beloved husband and the solitude of both her and the Duke.
Accompanying the negative outcomes, there are many restraints place on the degree to which the freedom extends. When feeling overwhelmed with her surrounding society Madame de Cleves must ask her husband if she may remain where they live as the court continues onward. Her one effort to temporarily escape from the ?bustle of the court? is questioned by another person, pure evidence of the circumstantial freedom she is allowed. Along with her husband?s powers, while her mother was alive, she held on to a portion of Madame de Cleves? freedom. Her mother and society built the rules and morals she lived by, none of which were her own. When confronted with the affliction between her husband and the man she truly loves, her mother merely reminds her to think of ?what [she] owes [her] husband? and to ?remember that [she] is in danger of losing that reputation which [she] has acquired? (93). This is the same reputation that her mother had ?so ardently desired for [her].? The decision of whether or not to become an infidel, as many other married men and women of her era, is not even left to be her own. Her mother?s constant instructions of love and life control these types of decisions thus limiting her freedom. La Feyette shows how relative freedom is not sufficient enough.
Freedom, as everything in life, is imperative in moderate amounts. La Feyette?s main character?s exercises of freedom seem to lead to great unhappiness. One should keep in mind that this is a female writer as is her subject. Since the freedom has been determined to be a relative matter, its value will be less than it would if the subject were male. Voltaire seems to put a higher value upon freedom, though he still stresses the dangers of which possession of too much can lead to. He holds true to the Enlightenment theme of reason. When making decisions and acting upon them one must remain responsible for consequences. According to Voltaire, people always have a right to choose.