Candide, by Voltaire, explores the everpresent global issue of happiness; specifically the facades we put up to simulate it. Throughout this novel, we observe a differentiation between optimistic and pessimistic characters; ones who believe happiness is easily achievable, and ones who scrutinize the lack of it. We witness Candide conforming to the philosophy he has been told to believe—that we’re living in the best of all possible worlds—then we see him branch away and truly question his own beliefs on Leibnizian optimism. Amidst that, Candide raises questions regarding our reliance on others to make us happy, and the deception of our appearances.
When Candide first sees Paquette and Brother Giroflée, he claims, “But as for this girl and her monk, I will wager that they are truly happy creatures,” (p. 90) to which Martin replies, “I will wager that they are not.” (p. 90) Brother Giroflée is described as having, “sparkling eyes, a confident air, a superior look, and a proud gait,” (p. 90) and Paquette as, “very pretty and was singing.” (p. 90). Later, after learning the stories of both people, Candide comes to realize that Martin was correct; their happy exteriors did not match their true, “unfortunate” feelings. Paquette tells Candide, “I have to seem in a good mood to please a monk,” (p. 92) which leads to a theory of why we mask our true feelings behind facades of happiness: to please others.
In a way, the satirical genre of the novel coincides with this global issue. On the surface, it’s lighthearted, humorous, and absurd. Yet underneath, it tackles issues of importance. There are a variety of levels at which we can process this story; as we dig deeper, we are exposed to more profundities. This is a parallel to the gradation of happiness we remark in different characters; we must search for their values and emotions, since we can’t necessarily trust what they originally display.
After forming the conclusion, with Martin’s help, that one without sorrows is a “rare specimen” (p. 94), Candide decides, “Well . . . no man can be happy, except for me when I see Cunegonde again.” (p. 100) Candide is tying his happiness to someone else, rather than finding it from within or from a healthy source. Relying on someone else for something as fundamental as happiness is toxic, because if that person lets you down, you’re risking your wellbeing. Throughout this novel, Candide continuously loses people dear to him. In fact, he repeatedly loses Cunegonde; it’s a cycle of being separated then reunited. When Candide is without these people, we see glimpses of unhappiness and pessimism. The first time he reunites with Cunegonde, he’s elated. When he realizes Pangloss and the baron are alive, he can’t believe his luck and joy. However, in the concluding chapter of Candide, he starts finding himself profoundly bored, and even points out, “there is a horrible amount of evil in the world.” (p. 117) The spark of that initial reunion has faded, and the happiness along with it. This is what happens when you tie your happiness to someone; this is why we must find alternative sources for it.
In the final chapter of Candide, he has a conversation with a Turk, who spends his days cultivating his estate with his children. He claims, “Work keeps three great evils at bay: boredom, vice, and want.” (p. 118) After profoundly contemplating this conversation, Candide makes his notable concluding quotation,
“That is well said,” Candide replied, “but we must cultivate our garden.” (p. 119)
We don’t see what Candide does after saying this. We don’t know whether he follows through longterm on this newfound philosophy; whether he combats boredom, vice, and want; whether he’s happy. Is cultivating his garden—himself— a way of finding happiness from an alternative source? This novel allows us to reflect upon our own lives; it allows us to question whether we’re hiding behind a facade of happiness. Beyond that, it prompts us to wonder what we can do to find happiness. If we were to ask ourselves this, and profoundly contemplate it like Candide does, would we reach the same conclusion? Would we find happiness through cultivating our garden?