Candid Analysis Essay, Research Paper
As the title of the book suggests, Candide is synonymous with optimism. Pure and unbelievably naive, Candide follows the philosophy taught him by Pangloss that this is the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire uses Candide as a tool to show the absolute ludicracy of complete optimism. At points Candide calls into doubt the credibility of Pangloss’ philosophy, but is sure to return to it when even the slightest bit of hope rears its head. This undying optimism, however foolish it is portrayed throughout the book, does provide for Candide that which is nearly impossible for the other characters in the novel to find; happiness. Though it may be out of naivet or ignorance, Candide is happy at many points in the book, especially any point where he has a chance to see his darling Cunegonde again. He seldom dwells on his misfortunes, and looks to the future for hope while many of the other characters mull over what a horrid existence they lead. The Venetian Nobleman, Lord Pococurante relates to Candide in a manner slightly different than most of the other characters. While most other characters differ from Candide by their pessimism (most notable Martin, who seems to be the antitheses of Candide’s optimism), Lord Pococurante is unhappy with life because he is supremely jaded with what the world has to offer. He is thus Candide’s opposite as much as Martin, though the opposition is based upon the noble’s jaded state versus Candide’s naive one. By the book’s conclusion Candide is no longer convinced of Pangloss’ philosophy, throwing out systematic optimism. Voltaire has thus used Candide to show the effects of optimism in practice on one’s life, and also to reject the theory, effectively showing Voltaire’s opinion on this philosophy popularized by Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man.
Candide’s esteemed teacher of metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology is portrayed from start to finish as something of a fool. He represents in the book exactly that which he is; a philosopher. Pangloss often gives long speeches full of large words and faulty logic. These speeches most often have little or no value to anyone, including Pangloss, but simply state the obvious, or are invalid and full of logistic holes. An overriding trait Pangloss seems to have is that he never actually does anything other than talk. Similar to nobility, he lives off of the toil of others while accomplishing nothing. An important difference between the philosopher and the nobility is that the philosopher is not actively extorting and oppressing the common people. It is possible that Voltaire views the philosopher as necessary despite their unproductive nature, as Pangloss remains unchanged throughout the book, even when it is shown his philosophy is flawed. This consistency of character and the fact that Pangloss is thought to have been killed multiple times and kept coming back possibly shows another point Voltaire is attempting to make. That philosophers will always be around, and that while they may be at most times useless, you can’t really get rid of them anyway. Pangloss represents optimism to as great a degree as Candide, although he lacks the naivet of his student.
Martin represents pessimism and worldliness more than any other character in the novel. He refutes Candide’s idea that this is the best of all possible worlds, speaking instead of the harsh realities of the world, one in which men war, rape, pillage, envy, lust, are miserable and just don’t seem to get along with each other. In face of the happenings within the novel, Martin is somewhat justified in being a pessimist, and could perhaps be classified as more of a realist. Martin often seems to represent the sentiments of Voltaire, as he is constantly being proven right, as when he predicted the misery of Paquette and Friar Giroflee, and also when he predicted their increased misery by Candide’s donation. Similar to Lord Pococurante, Martin was jaded with the world, though not to such an extreme degree. Martin may also represent reason, and it is through this reason he realizes so much about the world, and is disgusted by it.
Candide’s idolized lover, Cunegonde’s character is much less developed than the other main characters. Cunegonde is treated more as an object than a person. She is what Candide is searching for. Candide believes that when he finds his beloved Cunegonde, he will find satisfaction. Cunegonde’s position as a possession is strengthened by her constant change of masters as she is shipped around the world being a slave and/or mistress. Cunegonde’s object status is similar to that which the old woman speaks of when recounting her difficult life to Candide and Cunegonde. The old woman was an object passed from man to man for sexual purposes in her youth. Following the teachings of Pangloss closely, Cunegonde seems to have little preference for her fate. Perhaps Voltaire is simply portraying the treatment of women at the time, but it is also possible that Cunegonde is extremely manipulative when dealing with men. To be so desired by various men and held in high regard as a mistress, that Cunegonde was likely not as naive as she appeared to be when around Candide. In one of the only parts where she appears in the novel outside the direct perception of Candide, she heeds the old woman and decides to marry My Lord the Governor instead of staying faithful to Candide. Perhaps Cunegonde represents the female manipulative power also represented by the Marquise, but in a more secretive manner. Like other aged females in the book, Cunegonde becomes ugly and shrewish in old age. Even in her age, however, she is shrewd enough to hold Candide to his promise of marriage, using him to escape slavery and become economically sound, whereas in her youth and beauty he could offer her nothing by marriage.