On the first day of class, Mr. Macknight handed every student a copy of the course syllabus, which comprised of every text we would read throughout the Diploma Programme. Upon glancing over this extensive list, I noticed the name “Voltaire”. I googled his name, and came to the conclusion that this would be the driest, the most mind numbing, and the most drawn-out text of the entire two-year course. However, after reading Candide, I can say with certainty my mind has been changed.
The aspect of the book I thought I would detest the most, turned out to be my favorite feature of the entire book. This of course being that the book is a philosophical argument. I loved this component of the text because of the unique way in which it is presented. The argument was presented in the two characters of Martin and Pangloss, which is accompanied by the plot. Martin, who is more pessimistic and argues that everyone everywhere is miserable, speaks for Voltaire. Whereas Pangloss speaks for Leibniz, Voltaire’s vocal opponent. The plot also has an effect on this debate. Throughout Candide, shocking yet honest depictions of human suffering are common. The debate between Voltaire and Leibniz is placed on display in this way. The contrasting reactions of Martin and Pangloss are allegories of the philosophical argument being made. An example of this is on page 74, where Pangloss’ pupil, Candide, and Martin debate the nature of man,
“Do you believe that hawks have every eaten pigeons wherever they had found them?” Martin asked.
“Yes, definitely” Candide replied.
“Very well,” Martin said. “If hawks have always had the same character, why would you expect men to change theirs?”
“Oh but there is quite a difference,” Candide said, “for, after all, free will…”(pg. 74)
Martin, the pessimist, argues that man is incapable of changing his nature. Whereas Candide, the optimist, argues for man’s ability to adapt and grow. The key element of this dialogue is Candide’s argument of men possessing free will, and thus have the ability to change their nature. This quotation raises a pair of interesting questions, which are; if man has the ability to change his nature, why doesn’t he? And, to what extent do have have control over our own lives, and what role does fate play?
An additional example of Pangloss’ allegory worldview presents itself on page 112,
“I am still of my former opinion,” Pangloss replied, “for I am a philosopher, after all, and it would be improper for me to recant, as Leibnitz cannot be wrong. Preestablished harmony is the most beautiful thing in the world, as are the plenum and subtle matter.”(pg. 112)
This quotation works as a critique of Leibniz. Voltaire’s critique presents itself through Pangloss’ inability recant or re-evaluate Leibniz’s philosophy. Further, the quotation suggests that Leibniz’s beliefs are outdated. Moreover, the unwillingness to evaluate Leibniz’s philosophy inhibits change or growth of the idea of optimism.
Lastly, I especially love the quotation, “we must cultivate our garden”(pg. 119). The quotation emphasizes free will and personal responsibility. This final critique of Leibniz is my favorite. The ideas of preestablished harmony and fate are debated throughout the novel. In my interpretation, this quotation symbolizes Candide’s abandonment of Pangloss’ optimism. Candide leaves behind fate and embraces free will. Candide’s recognition that he cannot control or prevent greater suffering, but instead can determine his own suffering. Candide and his companions can determine their own suffering through the cultivation of their garden.