Personal Response on Candide

Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ is a story based in the 1700s that follows a boy named Candide as he goes through one misfortune after the other, traveling the world just so he can be with his love, Cunegonde. Voltaire, the author, uses this book as a way to criticize or poke fun at different situations going on at the time.

Something I found interesting is the way Voltaire challenges opinions. In the book, the philosopher, Pangloss, believes that everything happens for the best, good will always prevail and we are in the best of all possible worlds. This is otherwise referred to as the belief called Optimism. This is what he teaches Candide and it is funny to me how Voltaire uses the entire book to try and prove that such an opinion is not accurate by putting Candide through a series of unfortunate events. Whatever he didn’t go through, someone close to him went through it and sometimes quite literally rose from the dead just to tell it. He travels the world and gets beaten, watches his friends die, loses some of his friends, kills a few people, gets rich only to lose everything, becomes wanted in some countries, and finds his lost ones just to be with Cunegonde and even after he finds her, she is ugly and he doesn’t want her anymore. Even after all this, Pangloss still insists that it is all for the best while we as readers strongly disagree.

Voltaire introduces a new character named Martin who is a pessimist and Candide is an optimist. Martin has only ever seen the evil of the world and therefore does not expect anything better or different, highlighting that the world was only created to infuriate us. He is a Manichaean and they believe purely in common sense and are taught that the world is unbearably painful and radically evil and should not expect anything less. Martin’s beliefs contradict Candide’s but are proven multiple times throughout the book. This doesn’t affirm that Martin’s way of thinking is correct. Martin believes that men are only capable of doing evil because it is his nature, comparing it to how it’s in a hawk’s nature to always eat pigeons wherever they are but Candide argues:

“oh, but there is quite a difference, for, after all, free will…”

Candide, pg 74

Christianity was not spared from Voltaire’s general mockery. In the third chapter, Candide had run away from the Bulgars and Agars war that he was forcefully recruited for to holland where he ran out of provisions. He wasn’t worried because he had heard that Holland was a rich Christian country and expected to be accepted with kindness as Christianity is supposed to be. Candide asked for bread from an orator who was preaching about charity but as soon as the orator asked if he believed what he believed and Candide didn’t care, the orator rebuked him and his wife poured nasty things on him. This is contrary to everything Christianity stands for, as was most of what went on in the early decades. Another example was in El Dorado, where Candide asked if they had priests who argued and never agreed on anything and the old man with him was quite shocked at such barbarism.

The book still goes on to shed some light on other themes like greed, the extent to which man would go for what he wants, good or bad, immortality, and philosophy, amongst others. Many questions are raised and left unanswered at the end of the book. Particularly why Candide is so insistent on “cultivating our garden” ‘pg 119’. What does that mean? In conclusion, regardless of how intense the events in this book become, it is almost admirable how Voltaire manages to keep to a certain level of lighthearted throughout the story. At the end of the day, t is about a boy who simply cannot catch a break.

Leave a Reply