Irony And Humor Essay, Research Paper
Two popular writing techniques used by many of the enlightenment’s great were irony and
humor. Great writers such as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere and Francois-Marie Arouet De
Voltaire made excellent use of these techniques. With humor, both writers wrote stories which
kept their audience involved in funny situations, while with irony the writers were able to explain
their underlying messages. Born seventy-two years apart, they are a superb example of how these
techniques were carried out over time. Moliere’s Tartuffe and Voltaire’s Candide are classic
texts, which unmask man and society through their clever dark comedy. After reading these two
works, one will undoubtedly see how similar the two author’s perceptions were during this great
Moliere’s Tartuffe is a great ironic story centered on one man’s family and the trials
and tribulations throughout their household. The protagonist in Tartuffe is Orgon. Orgon is
portrayed as an over-trusting fool. He is over concerned with his beloved guest to such great
extent that he becomes blind to the obvious fallacies that stand before him. As said in scene
two by Dorine, “. . . but he’s quite lost his senses since he fell beneath Tartuffe’s infatuating
spell. He calls him brother, and loves him as his life, preferring him to mother, child, or wife,”
Orgon has put his family and the truth aside from him and has lost his reason (21-22). It is
Orgon’s state of mind which this story actually thrives upon. Without the fool, there is no one to
take advantage of.
Similarly, Voltaire’s Candide is an ironic story centered on one man’s trials and tribulations
through life. The protagonist in the story is Candide. Candide is portrayed as a heartbroken
wanderer. Unlike Orgon, he is not an outright fool. He is over concerned with the loss of his
beloved to such great extent that he becomes easily mistreated and hopelessly lost. The reader
can feel a pity for Candide that he cannot equate with Orgon. Very early in chapter 2 it states,
“. . . [Candide] wandered for a long time without knowing where he was going, weeping, raising
his eyes to heaven,” which foreshadows how the rest of the story will unfold (338). Like in
Tartuffe, it is Candide’s state of mind in which this story also thrives upon. Without losing
something great, there can be no reward for finding something great.
Everyone has put faith in something while losing sight of the truth, but hopefully not to the
extent that Orgon did. Also everyone has chased a lost cause, or perhaps has lost more than
gained, but not to the extent that Candide did. Both Moliere and Voltaire set up their stories with
realistic protagonists, ones whom the reader can empathize with, but who are set to extreme
Every protagonist has to have an antagonist; David had Goliath, The People have The
Government, and Batman has The Joker. Of course, when you have a fool as great as Orgon, the
antagonists in the story will be near infinite. However, Orgon had three main antagonists to
look at. In Tartuffe, Orgon’s most important antagonist is himself. In order to believe the amount
of lies that he did, Orgon had to convince himself to throw away his own self reason and
common sense. In act three from scene five, Orgon’s son Damis catches Tartuffe in the act of
seducing Orgon’s wife (45). But of course, Orgon cannot believe what he does not want to
believe, so he dismisses Damis’ claim as slander. Tartuffe is Orgon’s most apparent antagonist.
He is the one who is held the highest by Orgon, but in actuality he is the one directly lying to
him. The last of the important antagonists to Orgon is his housemaid Dorine. She is constantly
trying to tell him how foolish he is being. Orgon actually has the most physical confrontation
with her than of all the rest. In act two from scene two, Orgon takes a swing at Dorine to shut her
mouth (32). He cannot stand her sarcastic way of speaking to him, but it is only in this manner
that she gets him to answer for his behavior.
Also so, when you have a setting as vast as Candide’s, the antagonists in the story will be
near infinite. However, Candide had three main antagonists as well. In Voltaire’s Candide,
Candide’s most important antagonist is also himself. Candide is cursed from the beginning of the
story until the end because he is determined to get back his true love. His true love, Cunegonde,
plays a very similar role to Tartuffe in robbing Candide of his senses. Candide becomes so
enraptured with the thought of finding Cunegonde again, he is taken advantage of and all his
fortune is stolen from him (372). Candide’s quest became a great antagonist for him; life itself
was against him. His story was almost epic and thus led him to encounter many obstacles.
everywhere he went seemed to become a challenge. Whether it was enduring shipwreck and
earthquake, being flogged for talking, or avoiding the cannibal Biglugs, things did not go his
way. Much like if Orgon had only listened to his family, Candide only needed to listen to reason
and settle somewhere comfortable such as in El Dorado. Candide’s “Tartuffe” would have to be
the reason for his irrationality and the cause for his idocracy, Cunegonde. Cunegonde was his
driving force from the beginning until the end of the story. Just as Moliere has Tartuffe appear to
be so flawless to Orgon at the beginning of his story, so does Voltaire have Cunegonde. And just
as Moliere has Tartuffe exposed and dethroned, so does Voltaire have Cunegonde. “The tender
lover Candide, seeing his lovely Cunegonde with her skin weathered, her eyes bloodshot, her
breasts fallen, her cheeks seamed, her arms red and scaly, recoiled three steps in horror, and then
advanced only out of politeness” (399). Just like Orgon, Candide is shocked to see what his ideal
The biggest conflict to arise in these two stories is individual versus self. This conflict leads
to many other minor conflicts though. Orgon has a struggle going on within himself whether he
realizes it or not. Orgon must fight his own reason and senses to make light of the truth. Even
after his son Damis confronts him with Tartuffe’s real intentions, and even after his entire family
warns him of putting so much trust into Tartuffe, it takes an entire story and a face to face
confrontation for Orgon to reach the truth. He finally reaches peace within himself when he
orders Tartuffe out of his house (57). Also Candide must struggle with his self-motives. He isn’t
fooled away from the truth as Orgon is, but rather jeopardizes himself with it. In one instance he
had, by chance, run across Cunegonde’s brother and befriended him. Now he had not had much
luck where he went so far but instead of taking advantage of his good fortune, he proclaimed his
love for Cunegonde, enraged her brother and ended up fighting and killing him (362).
The grand underlying theme to both of these stories can be put as, “don’t judge a book by its
cover.” Both Moliere and Voltaire do so well in laying down their irony. In Tartuffe, Orgon is so
concerned with Tartuffe’s well being, he simply skips over the news of his wife’s terrible fever
and recent illness (22). He also takes back his word of honor when he explains to his daughter
Mariane she will not marry her fiance Valere but rather Tartuffe (31). It is this behavior towards
his family that stings Orgon at the end of the story. Ironically, it was his pestering and
bothersome family who he should have concerned himself with; they were the truth speakers.
His own mother says, “Appearances can deceive, my son. Dear me, we cannot always judge by
what we see” (60). He learned that he should not have been so eager to accept Tartuffe as God.
In Candide, Candide is so concerned with being with Cunegonde again, he ignored the king of El
Dorado’s advice to stay there in the land of paradise (369). Choices like this that he made lead
him to his inevitable future. He would find Cunegonde, but she will be very different from whom
he was actually pursuing. His image of Cunegonde deceived him at the end of the story as well.
Both Moliere and Voltaire criticize mankind’s innate nature. They set forth two bumbling
men for the reader to laugh at. It seems that no matter of time can save man from what he will
always be. There seems to be a cyclical nature here. Man is either deceiving or deceived. As the
time period these two men lived has spanned over seventy years, and as this perception seems to
hold true today, it is safe to assume it will hold true for a long while to come. The authors must
have written these men in this fashion in order to criticize those men of their time. This nature
reflects on the society as a whole. Those who hold power are especially under examination here.
The authors are trying to criticize the society they live in through their humorous stories. Each
one consists of noblemen, middle class, and peasants. Someone in each story was lifted a little
too high in regard, also while someone from each story needed to regain his ability to reason.
Both of these faults are the causes of many of the stories’ problems. The people of their time
could see how the stories ran quite parallel to their reality. As well today’s reader can draw
certain parallels to his world.
Someone once said, “Great minds think alike.” Moliere and Voltaire prove this statement.
Works such as Tartuffe and Candide pushed forth the idea of reason and logic during the
enlightenment. A reader from any time period will see how close these two authors’ stories are.
The underlying themes and conflicts are universal and the characters easy to relate to. If the
authors were not known, it could be possible to mistake both works for a single writer.