Voltaire?S Candide Essay, Research Paper
Voltaire’s most classic work, Candide, is a satiric assault on most everything that was prevalent in society during the author’s lifetime. The entire novel can be regarded as a bleak story where every character compares life stories to see whose life is worse. Just when the novel cannot get anymore morbid or depressing, it does, to a much greater degree. While Candide is generally considered a universal denunciation, it is optimism that Voltaire is attacking to the greatest degree. However, there are numerous other satirical themes throughout the novel worth discussing. These other areas of mockery include aristocratic snobbery, religious bigotry, militarism, and human nature.
There is good reason that Voltaire was so fed up with optimism, or more specifically, Leibnizian optimism. During the decade in which Candide was originally composed, this brand of what Voltaire considered ludicrous optimism was in full swing. This branch of optimism gets its name from Gottfried Leibniz, one of the rationale leaders of the day springing off of Descartes. This optimism states that there is evil in the world, but that reason could explain evil. He believed that there were certain truths even God could not alter, such as two plus two equaling four. Since this has to be the case, there were limits when God created the universe, thus he was working with an already flawed system. Leibniz goes on to say that this being the case, a perfect world is impossible, but Earth is the best of all possible worlds. Now, while Voltaire was hearing that everything is for the best from his contemporaries, there were numerous drastic things going on in Europe and his life. There was a tremendous earthquake killing 100,000 people in Lisbon, the bloody and savage Seven Years War, and he was dealing with the death of his close companion and mistress of fifteen years. While all these terrible things were happening, it is no wonder Voltaire had a little problem swallowing the “all is for the best” pill. All the foolish optimism actually had the exactly opposite effect on him, and Candide was his way of expressing his views. His satire of optimism can be seen throughout the book, but most heavily through the character of Pangloss the philosopher. Pangloss and his ludicrous optimism make an impression on the reader immediately and are constantly reinforced throughout the satire. His logic is so flawed that he comes across as an utter imbecile. He suggests that noses are shaped the way they are so that glasses will fit them. He even goes so far as to suggest that the venereal disease he is infected with is a blessing because the disease also is associated with the discovery of chocolate and the New World. He also views himself being burnt at the stake and being chained in a boat good things. However, the real satire poking fun of the whole European fascination with Leibnizian optimism does not lie in Pangloss’ stupidity, but in all the other characters reaction to Pangloss. With such absurd reasoning, one would think his contemporaries would ridicule Pangloss. However, the exact opposite is true. Pangloss is referred to as “the most profound metaphysician in Germany,” and he is highly respected. This is very direct assault at Leibniz and his followers. Voltaire really makes sure he goes out of his way to rip apart every part of Leibniz’s rationale. The book is filled with morbidity and cruelty. There are numerous brutal murders, a mentioning of buttocks being sliced to be eaten, rape, greed, captivity, and savagery. Voltaire is daring optimists to explain how “everything is for the best” in the world he created.
Although the satire of optimism is the main focus of Candide, Voltaire did make sure he ridiculed aristocratic snobbery as well. He pokes fun of the aristocrats mainly through Cunegund’s family and Don Fernando. The beginning of all of Candide’s wild adventures is a result of being thrown out by Cunegund’s father. Her father, the baron, catches them kissing, and is so appalled that someone from a lower class would dare pursue his noble daughter. However, her father is then immediately killed by a bloody war that was going on. Later in the book, Cunegund’s brother, presumed to be dead, turns out to be alive and resumes his father’s position. Even after Candide saves Cunegund’s life, her brother still protests and states he will never allow the marriage because of his snobbery. Thus he faces the same fate as his father right after vowing to never allow the two to be together, this time at the hand of Candide’s sword. Even later in the book, it is discovered that he is once again still alive. This time Candide saves him from slavery, but the brother still will not allow the marriage after all Candide has done. Voltaire is emphasizing just how deeply rooted noble arrogance is rooted in the minds of the nobles. Even after the noble has turned to slave, and has his life to owe to a friend, the noble snobbery still persists, even though it seems so absurd. In the end, Candide throws the brother back to slavery since he will not budge his position. This event is very important in Candide, because with the brother back in the galleys, there are nobles left at the end of the novel on the farm. This is so key because it illustrates Voltaire’s belief that nobility is useless and unnecessary in proper society. Voltaire also uses the character Don Fernando to portray arrogance of nobles. His name itself is a mockery of nobles. His actual name is Don Fernando d’Ibaraa y Figueroro y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza. It is quite obvious all these excessive last names further show just how absurd nobility can be. Don Fernando, like the baron, also is a very pompous and self-important.
One of the other important satirical elements of the work is religious bigotry. There are numerous characters showing the hypocrisy of the church. The Grand Equisitor does just about everything the church is against. He is involved in much promiscuous activities, and is constantly having someone put to death. He is the one who orders Pangloss to be burnt and Candide to be whipped. However, Voltaire offs him by the hand of Candide’s sword, ending his mini reign of terror. Friar Giroflee is another excellent example of the problems of the church. First off, he is always with a prostitute. He also squanders money, and had no desire to be religious, his parents forced him into for financial reasons. He also squanders money and is utterly miserable. Then there is also the reference to the Anabaptist. This is very interesting, because he is the only real sympathetic character in the whole novel. The great satire of this is that the Anabaptists were the really hated group of the time, yet he is the only character that is honorable through the whole story. This very much was a slap in the face of Protestants and Catholics of the day, and is very important in showing religious intolerance.
As mentioned earlier, the bloody and bitter Seven Years War was taking place during this stage of Voltaire’s life. With most of the philosophes, war was considered the most terrible and ignorant of all mistakes. So of course in Candide there had to be a mockery of war, and the Seven Years War at that. More generally, he was mocking militarism as a whole, especially the war machines such as Prussia. The war at the beginning of the novel between the Avars and Bulgars is indeed a reference to the Seven Years war between France and Prussia. The battle that he is forced to flee from and that leaves so many dead is actually even based on a real battle. He uses this battle to show just how bloody and savage war is. A great stroke of brilliance is starting the novel in Westphalia, the “the earthly paradise.” This paradise that is in “the best of all possible worlds” quickly turns into a scene of massive death and rape. Then when Candide is forced to run the drills in the army, he becomes a skilled warrior. The torture and pain that he went through is a satire of what Voltaire himself witnessed while with Frederick of Prussia.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all that Voltaire makes fun of is humans ourselves. Humans are very selfish, very vane, and easily bored. Voltaire makes us very aware of this, perhaps best through the city of El Dorado. It is true that all the characters are not good role models, selfish, scheming, unscrupulous, violent, greedy, and other such unpleasant words, but it is not until the city of El Dorado that we see a great point about the human condition. Quite simply, humans want, and humans need, challenge. Without diversity and difficulty in each one of our lives, we are bored. This is further illustrated by Senator Seignor Pococurante, who has a seemingly ideal life, but is bored to death with all his possessions and is altogether unhappy. In the city of El Dorado, the city of dreams, the city so many have looked for, Candide refuses to stay. Why? To illustrate the vanity and desire be god like. In El Dorado, he is just like everyone else. However, taking with him El Dorado’s treasures, he becomes an ideal elsewhere. He is not content to be content; he wants more than that.
However, the main point Voltaire makes at the end of this novel with the garden is that to be content is to be happy. All the characters in the book were searching for happiness and yet always found discontent. It is at the end that finally Candide understands to be happy it is necessary to do something he is content in, and thus finds happiness. This is important to the satire of the whole, because it is Voltaire’s summation of all the criticisms, all that is wrong with society. This book is just an all out attack on society, and uses humor to illustrate his views. It is indeed a finally irony that in the end seriousness that the satirical journey of Candide comes to a close. “Let us cultivate our Garden.” Five short words, Voltaire’s final summation to the great comedy that is Candide.