The novel Candide by François-Marie Arouet, who is also well known as Voltaire, written in 1759, is a satirical and philosophical tale that debunks the popular belief of “the best in the best of all possible worlds.” The story was told from Candide’s perspective and initially targeted Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a German mathematician and philosopher. The content is repetitive, and some of the themes frequently occurring are optimism and disillusion, social criticism, the hypocrisy of religion and philosophy, politics and power of justice, and love and women.
A global issue brought up in Candide is politics, justice, and the corrupting power of money. There has been a hierarchy of powers; with money comes power, and thus, without money, the characters ought to be slaves. Candide being rich is a great irony in the novel; not only does his money help him along his journey, but it also holds him back. His riches make him a target for attentiveness and thievery. He was referred to as an ‘English lord’ because he was unbothered by his fortune loss. “Among those who did him the honours of the town was a little Abbé of Perigord.”(XX 156). His money regularly attracts false friends and helpers and is robbed several times during the novel. He listens to countless stories of miseries along his journey and awards money to the most despairing person. His behavior resembles the old woman’s to some extent, as they compare misfortunes. When we talk about how his riches helped him, it is referred to as bribery, “If the Governor makes any difficulty, give him a million.” (XIX 136). The power of money helps him rescue the love of his life, Cunegonde, from the Governor. Having money includes its benefits; for example, the noble Signor Pococurante owned a beautiful palace and lived his best life, although it did not buy him happiness. Candide was not always rich; during his poverty, he saw and caused bloodshed. After gaining wealth, the audience watches his optimism slowly turn more into pessimism. He was involved in the killings of the Baron and the Inquisitor, even though he caused bloodshed; it seemed as if he was sorrier to see his money disappear than witness bloodshed.
The global issue of politics also includes human rights and justice. People must be allowed the basic rights of freedom and speech. However, these often are neglected in the novel. Certain ethnic groups are tortured for the most stupid reasons, this occurs to a point where the audience is unable to distinguish between the reality and the comical side of the events. “The burning of a few people alive by a slow fire…is an infallible secret to hinder the earth from quaking.” (VI 47). These are incredibly bizarre superstitions followed by the Portuguese. They established ways to torture visitors and their people for “speaking their mind” and “refusing to eat bacon.” Individuals are forbidden to speak their thoughts and tortured for refusing to eat something that could perhaps be against their religion. This point has been re-established in chapter 25, during Candide’s visit to Italy. “In all our Italy we write only what we do not think…the Antoninuses dare not acquire a single idea without the permission of a Dominican friar.” (197). Citizens are barred from having a different opinion than that of others, and if they must ⏤ they shall face the consequences.
A difference of opinions is shown throughout the novel, “Thou does not deserve to eat.” (III 32). This quotation was used by the orator while asking Candide about the Pope. As Candide was unbothered and had a different opinion than the orator, he was declared not to be served food. Our opinions are shaped through previous experiences and concrete evidence; although Candide’s was mostly constructed by Pangloss’ philosophy, it is unjust to criticise someone’s beliefs. This leads to Candide trying to classify himself as ‘just.’ “Candide asked to see the court of justice, the parliament.” (XVIII 127). There has been no previous information for the existence of a ‘law court’ in the book. The entire world is shown to be in chaos, yet no reference has been made to a court of justice. An aspect that is confusing is, if the government refused to take action in other countries/cities, why would a parliament exist in a paradise such as El Dorado? Candide tries to initiate a just environment and tries to make amends after killing a significant number of people. “I have made ample amends by saving the lives of these girls.” (XVI 106). Candide is the type of character who would understand the consequences of his actions once he has caused the conflict. The killing of any sort has no relation with making amends of any kind. Cacambo, on the other hand, describes the chaos as “a masterpiece of reason and justice.” (XIV 93). The privileged becoming wealthier and the unprivileged becoming poorer is not a masterpiece. Individuals being tortured daily does not spark as justice to anyone. People are said to get what they deserve, but in the 18th century, this does not seem to be fair. “Why should the passengers be doomed also to destruction?” (XX 148). This represents inequality; individuals must not suffer due to someone else’s actions. Voltaire indicates this as God’s justice but the ‘devil’s mischief.’
A philosophical question raised by the novel was, is an optimistic view a practical perspective of the world? And to that my answer would be no. Not every event can be the best of all possible worlds. An individual’s life can never be the best or the worst of all possible worlds; there is always a neutral. Candide could be referred to as a ‘sympathetic hero.’ There are circumstances in the novel that impose a particular standard of power. For example, in chapter 26, six dethroned kings enjoyed supper together at an inn. It is a surprising coincidence for six dethroned kings to have a dinner together at an inn in Venice. This also proves the answer to the philosophical question. The kings were rich and powerful, but not for too long; once they were dethroned, they would live an ordinary life.