Voltaire’s Candide

Candide written by Voltaire was written in a very unique way and raised many philosophical questions.  This satirical book revolves around Voltaire’s philosophical beliefs and is primarily him taking stabs at different groups of people. How he writes this however, is through an innocent story following a character and his ridiculous life full of misfortunes. As well as presenting his own philosophical beliefs in this story Voltaire also raises many philosophical questions that resonated with me and had me questioning my own life. 

The plot of Candide is presented through bite size adventures in which Voltaire has an opportunity to showcase his philosophical argument. In each chapter Candide and his friends experience new places that  progress the plot. Voltaire does this by using Candide as a pawn, strategically placing him in situations to his advantage. A prominent example of this is how Voltaire criticises religion in the story. In chapter eight the reader is informed that the grand inquisitor (an important person of the catholic church) is using Cunegonde for sexual desires which is usually frowned upon in the christian religion. Similarly, in chapter twenty-eight Pangloss enters a mosque where an imam has

“ a very pretty young worshipper saying her paternosters. Her bosom was completely uncovered”(p.111). 

Both these examples are Voltaire slipping in insulting remarks of religion and how the preachers of religions are hypocrites. Another one of Voltaire’s arguments that Candide presents is that money cannot buy happiness. Candide acquires many riches in El Dorado but this only brings corruption into his life. For example in Paris he is cheated out of his money by many people including doctors and the Marchioness of Paroglinac. In Venice Candide gives money to Paquette  in hopes that “ they will be happy”( p.93) but later Paquette returns broke and unhappy, proving Voltaire’s point. Voltaire even goes as far as to endlessly revive characters from the dead just to use them to prove a point. Pangloss, Cunegonde and Paquette all previously mentioned were thought to be dead but came back and helped further Voltaire’s argument.  Yet I still found myself enjoying the book and wondering what Candide’s next adventure was going to be. This tactic of using what seems to be innocent adventures is a clever way to write about heavy, philosophical issues and write a persuasive argument in a way that is light and enjoyable for the reader. Because the plot was written like this a question that came about was how would the book end?  

Although the plot was everything but the kitchen sink the conclusion brought everything to a close while posing many philosophical questions. The conclusion was my favourite part because it had me thinking about many intriguing ideas. The first quote that had  me rereading was a question posed by the old women,

“ I would like to know what is worse; being violated a hundred times by pirates, having a buttock cut off, running the gauntlet in the bulgar army, being whipped and hanged in an auto-da-fé, being dissected, rowing in a galley, suffering all the miseries we have been through or simply sitting around here without doing anything?”(p.115).

Here, I believe her to be questioning whether adventures filled with misery or boredom is worse. I don’t know the answer to this difficult question but it gives light to a new perspective on tragic situations. For example when in an undesirable situation I will ponder the philosophical thought on whether it would be worse to be bored or suffer.  Secondly,  when the group encounters the Young Turk he states

“I only have twenty five acres, I cultivate it with my children. Work keeps the three great evils at bay; boredom, vice and want”  (p. 118). 

This quote resonated with Candide as well as myself. The deeper meaning behind these words is questionable but the way I interpreted this quote is that to live a happy life free of boredom, crime, and poverty one needs to work hard and stop searching for the meaning of life. After hearing this quote Candide decides to stop debating philosophy with his scholars but instead he decides

“we must cultivate our garden” (p.119).

The literal meaning of this is to plant a garden with lots of luscious crops. Beyond the literal meaning there is a figurative meaning which I simply think is too indulge in life full of work. I too want to cultivate my garden.