Candide And The Enlightenment Essay Research Paper

Candide And The Enlightenment Essay, Research Paper

Many of the ideals of “The Enlightenment” can be read and seen in Voltaire’s Candide. The

Enlightenment was a new view of investigation that tried to improve the conditions of humanity

by applying rational thought to natural happenings. Voltaire depicted these ideas and his personal

thoughts on the Enlightenment within the pages of his most famous novel Candide. Candide is

the story of a man who lives life under all possible conditions and learns that not everything is the

best of all possible worlds as he was once told. Candide’s teacher, Pangloss, stood firm that

everything that happened was for the best of all worlds. The Christian church was against the

Enlightenment and therefore Voltaire, along with other “philosophes” of the Enlightenment, were

against the church because of its beliefs. Unlike the European beliefs, the people of Eldorado had

a different view of God.

The author of Candide and supporter of the Enlightenment was Francois Marie Arouet, or

more commonly known as Voltaire. Francois was born to a middle class family in Paris on

November 21, 1694. During this time period, the king of France was Louis the XIV and most of

the population lived in poverty. Francois was educated at the College Louis-le-Grand. His witty

intelligence many times infuriated his teachers thus setting the stage for his controversial writing


The witty epigrams written by Francois became famous in France. With this fame also

came trouble and Francois was exiled to Sully. Using his people skills, Francois was able to

convince those in power to end his exile. He returned to Paris but was accused of writing an

article that attacked the government and shortly thereafter was sent to the Bastille. This is when

Francois took the pen name Voltaire. Voltaire continued to write during his prison term and he

was finally released in 1718.

Oedipe was Voltaire’s first play and shortly after he left the Bastille, this play was produced in

Paris. The success was overwhelming and Voltaire was only twenty-four.

Traveling in the circles of the rich and powerful, Voltaire still continued to flatter and criticize

those around him. This criticism eventually sent him back to prison in the Bastille in 1726. After

agreeing to move to England, he was released from prison. Upon arriving in England, he was

received with open arms by a group of English literati. He became fluent in English after staying

in England a few months. All through his life English philosophy and society continued to interest

him. After three years, Voltaire was permitted to return to France. Throughout his lifetime any

witty writings that attacked the church or the state were credited to Voltaire whether he wrote

them or not. He spent most of his life dodging punishment for his writings.

In 1759, Candide was published and was looked at as Voltaire’s signature work. In this book

Voltaire aimed the strongest criticism against philosophy, nobility, the church, and inhumane

cruelty. The book also challenged different Enlightenment philosophies and showed that the

Enlightenment was far from a monolithic movement. When Voltaire was eighty-three he returned

to Paris, but the trip was too much for him and he died in May of 1778. Shortly after his burial at

Romilly-on-Seine, the church circulated a mandate prohibiting an honorable burial. The National

Assembly ordered that Voltaire’s body be entombed at the Pantheon in Paris beside other French

greats in 1791. However, his remains were stolen by religious fundamentalists in 1814 and

dumped into a pit of quicklime. This type of burial was for individuals who were condemned and

hated by the church.

“The Enlightenment” was a phrase given to a wide variety of ideas and developments in the

fields of philosophy, science, and medicine. One of the main features of the Enlightenment

philosophy was faith in the power of reason and rationale which many felt led human beings to a

better social structure. Voltaire, like many other Enlightenment intellectuals, believed that society

could and should be changed for the better. He felt that absurd prejudice and hatred should be

eliminated. However, Voltaire did not anguish from a naive optimism regarding human nature.

Instead, he observed his fellow beings with deep pessimism. The villains in Candide certainly

showed this pessimism. This book was also heavily distinguished with the primary concerns of

the Enlightenment, however, it also criticized many aspects of the movement. Voltaire did not

believe in the power of reason to overcome contemporary social conditions.

The supporters of the Enlightenment called for rebellion against superstition, fear, and

prejudice. However, the Enlightenment did not bring a halt to the ravages of fear and

superstition. This fact was illustrated in Candide when the figure of the Grand Inquisitor ordered

an auto-da-fe to ward off an earthquake.

Even though most of the philosophes who participated in the Enlightenment were men, there

were some women who also participated. Mary Wollstonecraft of England was an early spokes-

person for women’s rights. She believed that the Enlightenment ideals should be offered to

women as well as men. Wollstonecraft knew, after educating herself, that women needed more

education to make them more serious, charitable, and moral.

France was the first to believe that women were really gaining power and influence. However,

many thinkers still believed that the role of a woman was to be a wife and mother and many

refused to believe that men and women were equals.

The story of Candide begins in the castle of the powerful Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh,

located in Westphalia. There Candide lives with the Baron and his family and Dr. Pangloss, who

is tutor to Candide and the Baron’s daughter and son. One day Lady Cunegonde was walking

through the castle gardens and sees Dr. Pangloss in the bushes with a chambermaid conducting a

lesson in “experimental physics”. Intrigued by the experiment, Lady Cunegonde goes and finds

Candide to experiment herself. While “experimenting”, the Baron catches Lady Cunegonde and

Candide in the act. As punishment Lady Cunegonde is slapped and Candide is literally kicked out

of the castle. With nowhere to go, Candide wanders around until he is found by two uniformed

men. They give him food and money and tell him to be merry because he is now a soldier in the

Bulgarian army. Candide was then chained and taken to camp where everyday he was put

through endless drills and beatings. One day Candide decided to take a walk but is caught and

severely beaten for his actions. After being beaten to the point of lifelessness, Candide requests to

be executed, but just before he is shot, the Bulgarian King strolls by and pardons Candide of his

punishment. After being healed, Candide joins his fellow soldiers in war. During the fighting,

Candide manages to escape and ends up in Holland. In Holland Candide expects charity but ends

up getting none until an Anabaptist takes him in and shelters him. While in Holland Candide runs

into Dr. Pangloss and learns that the Baron’s castle and his entire family were destroyed by

Bulgarian soldiers. Candide takes Dr. Pangloss to the Anabaptists where he stays and becomes a


Candide, the Anabaptist, and Pangloss take a ship to Lisbon and while sailing encounter a

violent storm off the coast of Lisbon. The Anabaptist is lost in the storm, but Candide and

Pangloss make it to shore safely. Upon arriving, Lisbon suffers an earthquake and most of the

population is lost. Candide and Pangloss did what they could to help the survivors and clean up

the mess. The wise men of Lisbon thought that another earthquake could occur so they hung

Pangloss and flogged Candide as sacrifices. Candide was saved by an old women and she took

him to a little house where she gave him food and a place to rest. A couple days later the old

woman led Candide to a small house where he was reunited with his love, Lady Cunegonde. Lady Cunegonde had survived the Bulgarians and was now property of the Grand Inquisitor and a

Jew. As Lady Cunegonde was telling her story, the Grand Inquisitor and the Jew came in and

Candide killed them both. They would be punished for the deaths of the two men so Candide,

Lady Cunegonde, and the old woman fled on three horses. The three traveled to Cadiz where a

military unit was about to leave for South America. Since Candide had superior military training

he was given command of a military unit. Together they all traveled to South America.

When the ship arrived in Buenos Aires, the trio visited the governor, who had a very clear

passion for women. The governor developed a liking for Cunegonde immediately, but

Cunegonde was unsure about what to do. While in Buenos Aires, the Spanish police came

looking for them. The old women encouraged Cunegonde to stay with the governor for

protection and Candide to flee for his life. So, Candide and his servant, Cacambo. fled Buenos

Aires and joined The Jesuits, whom they were originally suppose to fight. Candide and Cacambo

were welcomed and it was to Candide’s surprise that the Baron of the Jesuits was the son of the

Baron whom he originally lived with. Candide told the Jesuit Baron that his sister was alive and

well and that she was staying with the governor of Buenos Aires. Candide told the Baron of his

plans to marry Cunegonde. This enraged the Baron and the two got into a fight which Candide

won. Cacambo saw the entire incident and suggested they leave before something bad happened

to them. Candide and Cacambo retired to some near by woods where they fell asleep. When they

awoke they found themselves bound by ropes with many native Oreillons around them. Candide

and Cacambo convinced the Oreillons that they were allies and the Oreillons released them and

escorted them to their country. On the outskirts of the Oreillons country, Cacambo suggested

going to Cayenne where they might find a charitable Frenchmen that would help them. Along

their way they came across a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and precipices. They enter the city and find a world that Candide considered to be the best of all things. Upon entering the

city they are treated very hospitable and soon learn that the name of the city was Eldorado. After

a few months, Candide begins to miss Cunegonde and wishes to leave Eldorado. The King of

Eldorado grants Candide’s wish and supplies him and Cacambo with the necessary equipment to

cross the mountains. The duo ended up in Surinam and from there they went their separate ways.

Cacambo was to go to Buenos Aires and retrieve Lady Cunegonde. Candide was going to go to

the free state of Venice where he would not be wanted for crimes. After being tricked by a

captain, Candide found another ship going to Bordeaux. Candide selected the most misfortunate

man in Surinam to travel with him. When arriving in France, Candide and Martin, the old man,

traveled to Paris to see the city. In Paris Candide became ill but fortunately recovered. Candide

then met up with an abbe who showed him the city and all of its aspects. After many mishaps,

Candide and Martin make it to Venice. In Venice, Candide was not able to find Cacambo for

many weeks. However, he did meet Senator Pococurante whom he had a very deep conversation.

One evening at dinner, Cacambo came and informed Candide that Cunegonde awaited him

in Constantinople. Hearing this excited Candide and he, Cacambo, and Martin made

arrangements to go and get Cunegonde. She was staying with the Prince of Transylvania as a

kitchen maid. While traveling, Candide was reunited with Pangloss and the Jesuit Baron. Both

Pangloss and the Baron told their stories of survival. When the ship docked, they all went

together to go and retrieve Cunegonde from the castle where she was staying at. Upon arriving

the group sees Cunegonde and sees that she has grown ugly. Cunegonde reminded Candide that

he had promised to marry her as soon as they were reunited. Hearing this alarmed the Baron and

he stated that “You can kill me again , but you will never marry my sister while I’m still alive”

(Voltaire 116). After getting rid of the Baron, Candide, Cunegonde, Marvin, Pangloss, Cacambo,

and Cunegonde’s servant all lived together in one house. However, they lived in misery and

boredom. To help their situation, they went to the greatest philosopher in Turkey. However, the

philosopher slammed the door in their faces and they went back to the house where they lived.

On the way home Candide, Pangloss, and Martin came across an old man sitting under an orange

tree. The man invited the trio in and served them drinks. The three men were impressed my the

old man’s estate. The man said that he cultivated the land with his children and “Work keeps

away three great evils: boredom, vice, and need” (Voltaire 119). After staying some time

Candide, Pangloss, and Martin leave and decide to live their lives as the old man did, plain and


Eldorado would have been the ideal place for Candide to stay. All of Eldorado’s law and the

inhabitants reflect the ideas and teachings of the Enlightenment. Eldorado’s religion is a direct

example of the religious ways of the Enlightenment. In this passage, a sage tells Candide how the

people of Eldorado worship God. “We have nothing to ask of God: He’s given us everything we

need. We constantly thank him” (Voltaire 67). The Christian Church believed that God was

always interfering with the lives of people, and that anything that happened was a direct result of

God’s will. In Eldorado the people believed that God had already given them everything they

needed and it was their responsibility to use it in effective ways. After reading that Eldorado was

a beautiful, prosperous city, it was obvious to see the inhabitants used what God gave them well.

These ideas pertained to the Enlightenment because it encouraged people to look away from the

church and more to the physical world around them.

Even though majority of the novel was for the Enlightenment, there were certain aspects that

contradicted the ideas that supported the Enlightenment. Pangloss was the main person whose

ideas challenged those of the Enlightenment. The following quotes are both said by Dr. Pangloss

and even though they make sense to him, Candide comes to learn that they are in fact false.

“They should have maintained that all is for the best” (Voltaire 18). This quote goes directly

against the Enlightenment. Ideas of the Enlightenment stated that things happened by forces of

nature and not everything that happened had to have a good consequence. Some natural

occurrences do have a good, beneficial outcome, but a lot of natural occurrences have bad

outcomes that sometimes hurt people. People makes the best of all worlds with how they live

their lives, not nature. Nature just affects the lives of people sometimes.

This second quote is very similar to the one before this in a sense that they both go against

the Enlightenment and they both involve nature. “All is for the best. For if there’s a volcano at

Lisbon, it couldn’t be anywhere else. For it’s impossible for things not to be where they are. For

all is well” (Voltaire 30). This quote states that if a volcano goes off in one part of the world it

cannot go off in any other part of the world. This is partially true because if a volcano affects one

part of the world, it cannot affect any other parts. But there are many volcanos all over the

world. In this quote Pangloss seems to state that the volcano went off and killed lots of people

for a reason. The Enlightenment states that everything has a cause and affect and this is true, but

natural things do not occur for a reason. They occur because something in the natural world

might be unbalanced. Occurrences in nature happen because that is the way nature is. Nature has

no limits or guidelines to follow. Things that involve nature and people happen just because, not

because nature is trying to wipe out the human race.

During the time period when the ideas of the Enlightenment were first introduced into society,

they were not very widely accepted. People were to afraid to go against the church and open

their minds to new ideas. During this day and time, ideas of the Enlightenment are accepted

throughout the world. Today scientists have technology that can give people answers to many of

the world’s natural occurrences. Being an educated man, Voltaire supported the Enlightenment

and wanted what would be best for the world around him. Voltaire showed readers within the

pages of Candide, that people influence their own lives and make the world a place where they

want to live. Every once in a while nature will affect the way people live because the effects of

nature cannot be changed or prevented. People just have to take what they have and make the

best out of it. That is the best of all worlds, living life with what you have and being happy with

it. Ultimately, in the end, the pursuit of Enlightenment is also the pursuit of happiness.


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