Voltaire’s Candide is a novel which contains conceptual ideas and at thesame time is also exaggerated. Voltaire offers sad themes disguised byjokes and witticism, and the story itself presents a distinctive outlookon life. The crucial contrast in the story deals with irrational ideasas taught to Candide about being optimistic, versus reality as viewed bythe rest of the world.
The main theme which is presented throughout the novel is optimism. Out of every unfortunate situation in the story, Candide, the maincharacter, has been advised by his philosopher-teacher that everythingin the world happens for the better, because “Private misfortunescontribute to the general good, so that the more private misfortunesthere are, the more we find that all is well” (Voltaire, p. 31). Pangloss, the philosopher, tries to defend his theories by determiningthe positive from the negative situations and by showing thatmisfortunes bring some privileges. As Candide grows up, wheneversomething unfortunate happens, Pangloss would turn the situation around,bringing out the good in it.
Candide learns that optimism is “Thepassion for maintaining that all is right when all goes wrong “(Voltaire, p. 86). According to Rene Pomeau, “Voltaire-Candide. . . have made him Candideacquainted with the bad and the good side of human existence.
The moralof Candide is born out of its style; it is the art of extractinghappiness from the desolate hopping-about of the human insect” (Adams;Pomeau p. 137). Pomeau explains that Candide shows both sides ofhumanity; how both great and terrible events are standard in a humanlife. Also according to Pomeau, the whole point of the story is todebate between good and bad; for example, as Candide becomes moreindependent, he starts to doubt that only good comes out of life.
Pangloss is a very hopeful character in the story because he refuses toaccept bad. He is also somewhat naive and believes that he could makethe world a better place by spreading his theories on optimism. WhenCandide had met up with Pangloss after a long period of time, Panglosssaid that he was almost hanged, then dissected, then beaten. Candideasked the philosopher if he still thought that everything was for thebetter, and Pangloss replied that he still held his original views. Nomatter how little Pangloss believed in the fact that somehow everythingwould turn out well, he still maintained his original views.
Voltaireexaggerates his point on optimism; there is nobody in reality who ispositive about everything all the time, especially about something sohorrible. One could conclude that Pangloss is an irrational and inanefigure, and Voltaire tries to expose how incomprehensible his beliefsare which do not measure up to reality. According to Linguet, “Candide offers us the saddest of themesdisguised under the merriest of jokes” (Adams; Wade p. 144). It seemsas if Candide was written as a comedy; not because of humor, but becauseevery time something bad occurs, a quick turn of events happens whichbring everything back to normal. One moment Candide murders the brotherof the woman he loves, the next moment he travels to a land where hesees women mating with monkeys.
In instances like these, it doesn’tseem like Voltaire is serious about tragic events. During the course of Candide’s journey, an earthquake strikes,murdering thirty thousand men, women, and children. In reality, this isa horrible predicament to be involved with. In Pangloss’ world, ” It isimpossible for things not to be where they are, because everything isfor the best” (Voltaire, p. 35), meaning that the earthquake wasnecessary in the course of nature, and so there was definitely arationale for the situation.
To show contrast in the story, Voltaire introduces a character whosebeliefs are completely opposite than the beliefs of Pangloss. Thischaracter is Martin, a friend and advisor of Candide who he meets on hisjourney. Martin is also a scholar, and a spokesman for pessimism. Martin continuously tries to prove to Candide that there is littlevirtue, morality, and happiness in the world.
When a cheerful coupleare seen walking and singing, Candide tells Martin “At least you mustadmit that these people are happy. Until now, I have not found in thewhole inhabited earth. . .
anything but miserable people. But this girland this monk, I’d be willing to bet, are very happy creatures”(Voltaire, p. 58). “I’ll bet they aren’t” (Voltaire p.
58), repliesMartin, and he bets Candide that the couple are, in fact, depressed,and are disguising their unhappiness. Upon talking to the couple,Martin, ironically, proved correct, strengthening his pessimisticviews. Martin claims to be a pessimist because he “knows what life is “(Voltaire, p. 117) which is why Martin concludes that man was born tosuffer.
Candide becomes affected by optimism in different ways throughout hislife. The name Candide comes from the Latin word candidus, which meanswhite, and symbolizes innocence. Perhaps Candide very readily believedin optimism at first because of his innocence. Candide grew up as anaive and vulnerable child in his own Eden and was only exposed to thebrighter side of life and the idea that everything in the world happensfor the better.
He did not know what to expect in the real world andwhy things happened. As Candide progressed in life, though, his eyesopened and he became exposed to bad without goodness coming out of it,like when the people he cared for were harmed. Candide became moreindependent and learned to form his own opinions. He would look at theworld and say exactly what he saw, and in every situation where Panglossis absent, Candide would refer to Pangloss’ spirit: “What would Panglossthink?” Over time Candide realized that “Pangloss cruelly deceivedhim when he told him that all is for the best in this world “(Voltaire p. 43). For a long time throughout Candide’s life, he believed strongly inoptimism, not because he was forced to, but because he was raised inthat manner.
It is possible, however, that all along, deep down inside,Candide doubted the philosophies of his teacher because of his exposureto immorality in the real world. For example, Candide witnessed thepublic hanging of two Portuguese Jews simply because they refused to eatbacon for dinner. It was occurrences like these which demonstrated theinhumanity that one person can do to another, leading Candide todisbelieve Pangloss’ philosophies. Voltaire himself does not necessarily agree with the views of thephilosopher Pangloss, that optimism is always the best way of lookingat life.
Many people in the story who were presumed to be dead werefound to be alive and well. Cunegonde, the object of Candide’saffections, was thought dead by Candide but she had really been rapedand sold into slavery. Pangloss was also presumed dead but hereappeared in Candide’s life. Although it is good that these people didnot die, this is not an example of good coming from bad, since bad(their deaths) never even happened in the first place. This does not atall prove Pangloss’ ideas. It is debatable whether Candide is a novel whose purpose is to teach amoral and be analyzed, or if it was written for entertainment purposesonly.
According to I. O. Wade, in the Journal Encyclopedique, the storywas written for entertainment purposes and the author should have dealtmore with important matters such as religion instead of focusing onstory line. Most of the story is about the journeys of Candide, andVoltaire did not include significant morals upon writing the novel.
InGrimm’s review, it is also thought that Candide was not meant to be ahigh quality piece of work, but rather as something enjoyable. It iswritten in bad taste, yet filled with gaiety, and the amusing parts makeit entertaining. According to Georges Ascoli, “Nothing could be more lively, more witty,or more instructive than this story. .
. Too often Voltaire, delighted withhis own artistic flair. . . gives us amusing stories.
. . Let us take them forwhat they are, not giving too much historical credit. .
. but tastingfreely of the delights of well told stories” (Adams; Ascoli p. 129). Ascoli takes Candide to be a witty and lively story despite themisfortune in the characters’ lives. He, too, thinks the story waswritten for entertainment in which Voltaire did a good job.
The readersshould accept the story for its zest, and not try to find a deep hiddenmeaning. Candide’s learnings and the events that happened to him affected hischaracter in many ways. He had learned to become his own person, toaccept life for what it had to offer, and that not everything had to beanalyzed to decide whether it was good or bad. In this way Candide canbe an example for all those who read his story.