Candide – A Literary Analysis
First published in 1759, Candide, ou l’Optimisme by Voltaire is a French satire where the story revolves around the life of a naïve and innocent young man whose life was suddenly catapulted into chaos and misfortunes, challenging everything that he has believed in. As the story progressed, as trouble after trouble followed him, he eventually questioned what his Professor Pangloss had instilled in him that everything happens for the best. Rich in humor, sarcasm, metaphor, and symbolism, the author was able to drive his point to the readers his strong standpoint against optimism, religion, politics, and aristocracy.
PESSIMISM VS. OPTIMISM
Candide grew up in a comfortable home and was brought up with an optimistic view in life thanks to Professor Pangloss. Voltaire, though, was keen on squashing this philosophy as, throughout the story, the author’s pessimism was very predominant. On numerous instances, just as the boy would find redemption from a catastrophe, another misfortune would happen. The point where he was starting to question his belief’ is evident in the scene after the earthquake in Lisbon where he was flogged and the professor was hanged. He had said to himself that it it’s already best of all possible worlds, how then about the other? Also, as you can see in the story, Candide had encountered different people, different characters, all who experienced different types of hard luck in their lives. The old woman said when they were aboard the ship. She dared them to ask the other men in the ship if they too had once in their life cursed their existence. The author somewhat emphasizes here that everyone experiences trial of some kind and some even fared worse than the others. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they cause it to themselves, some injustices happen without any justifiable reason at all (like the Earthquake of Lisbon). Again it somewhat shows how the author here highlights how he thinks of Leibniz’s and the Enlightenment thinkers’ philosophies on optimism as utter foolishness.
RELIGION and POLITICS
This story dates back to the 18th century and yet it seems the strong views in religion and politics is just the same as it is today. If you would read the first few chapters closely, you would see how certain characters and situations depict the author’s view on the hypocrisy of certain religions. There was the Pope, the Inquisition and the Abbe who represented Christianity, Don Issachar was a Jew and all across Morocco, they represented Islam. All of them were supposed to have a strong belief and faith in a higher being yet they were also the ones depicted as the most barbaric and inhumane when it comes to dealing with the common people (most especially women who were considered the lesser sex during these times) and those who don’t share the same ideas or beliefs as them. This might be seen as stereotyping however one couldn’t blame the author for thinking this way because it really does happen even today. There are religious leaders and certain religions who instead of showing compassion to others, would rather fight to death for what they believe in and impose judgment to those who are of different beliefs. Same with politics, the leaders who are supposed to be working for the people are sometimes the cause of injustices in the society yet there are still people who blindly follow the absurd laws they make because of tradition and customs.
It would seem that this is the place that symbolizes everything that the author wishes the world to be. Here, the people had no care for riches or wealth, everyone is of the same thinking. They are all content with what they’ve been blessed with and only worship one God whom they give thanks to every day. It somehow shows that this is the ideal society he dreams of and that everyone should aim at having.
Voltaire was able to show in this masterpiece human nature at its finest. How it reacts to adversities, how greed is a universal vice, how age-old tradition and customs continue to blind people into following ridiculous laws and how people of power take advantage of it. The garden in the last part of the story that a person would have less to think and worry about if he chooses to cultivate his own garden (his own personal matters) instead of chasing the grander things of the world. These are hard to discuss which may be the reason why the author had chosen to write it with such humor and entertainment that leaves the readers in laughter and mirth instead of the usual dread and stress that these topics bring. All in all, he was successful in stressing out that optimism can only be up to a certain point because tests and trials are all part of one’s life.