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Candide: the Satirical Piece on Society

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Candide is a satire that was first published in 1759 by French writer, philosopher, and historian Voltaire, who lived during the Age of Enlightenment. This book satirizes the Utopianism, and other philosophical revelations that had spread among some of the movements truest believers. (Denis Diderot, Montesquieu, and Thomas Hobbes to name a few), (Backman, Clifford R. Cultures of the West: a History. Oxford University Press, 2019) Voltaire (1694–1778), was a well-established author, known for his satirical wit. He was a deist, a strong advocate of religious freedom, and a detractor of Absolutism/Tyrannical governments. Embracing Enlightenment philosophers and discoverers such as Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton, Voltaire found inspiration in their ideals of a free and liberal society, along with freedom of religion. (Backman, Clifford R. Cultures of the West: a History. Oxford University Press, 2019). Voltaire was also a proponent for the conception of natural science and futile philosophical investigation. (Shank, J.B. “Voltaire.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 30 July 2015).

Candide begins with an introduction of the main character of the novel: Candide. Candide lives in the Castle of Westphalia which belongs to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, his German uncle. The Baron was one of the most powerful lords in Westphalia and his castle was home to Candide, the Baron’s wife, Lady Cunégonde-his daughter, and Pangloss-a tutor to Candide. Candide grew up in the baron’s castle under the teachings of Pangloss, who tells him time and time again that the world is “the best of all possible worlds.” (Candide, Voltaire. The Dover Edition ed., Dover Publications, 1991). Candide makes the mistake of falling in love with the baron’s daughter, Lady Cunégonde and the baron catches the two kissing and literally kicks Candide out of his castle.. On his own for the first time, Candide leaves and comes across a Bulgarian town-Waldberghofftrarbk-dikdorff. Luckily, two soldiers of the Bulgarian army find Candide wandering around and take him in, giving him food, and some money. He tells the soldiers about Pangloss and his philosophy of life, and Candide is soon recruited into the army of the Bulgars. Candide meanders away from camp one afternoon and is brutally beaten as it was thought that he was trying to desert the army. After witnessing a horrific battle, he does manage to escape Bulgaria and makes his way to Holland. In Holland, an Anabaptist named Jacques takes Candide in. There, Candide runs into a beggar and by his surprise it it Pangloss. Pangloss explains that he has contracted syphilis and that Cunégonde and her family have all been murdered by the Bulgar army. Candide is heartbroken and distraught, and Jacques takes Pangloss in to his home.

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Optimism and Pessimism were very prominent topics of the time of Enlightenment, many people were optimistic as they thought that all that happens in the world is for good, that knowledge can bring good, and that we can develop ourselves to live our “Dream lives.” On the other side of the coin, was pessimism, Voltaire himself was very pessimistic. He had the tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future. In his book, he is poking fun at people who have that optimistic outlook. Candide and Pangloss, for example, are very optimistic and they go through terrible trials. Voltaire however was was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, pessimism, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, as well as his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. He was a renowned writer and historian and therefore makes him qualified to write a novel like Candide. (Barfield. Pessimism in Candide), ( “Voltaire.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Sept. 2019). I believe that Voltaire is a trustworthy source of information specifically for the Enlightenment because he lived in the midst of it, he saw what optimism looked liked, and how people (specifically philosophers) were thinking about the world, he probably also saw the misfortunes people went through when they voiced their ideas about knowledge, optimism, and challenging the church. These things make him a trusted primary source, because he had direct connections with the enlightenment in France.

Transitioning back into Candide, The three (Candide, Jaques, and Pangloss), travel to Lisbon together, but before they arrive at their ship is caught in a storm and Jacques is drowned. Candide and Pangloss arrive in Lisbon to find it destroyed by an earthquake and under the control of the Inquisition. The earthquake is an important aspect of this story as the earthquake in Lisbon is based on the true earthquake that happened on November 1st 1755 in Lisbon. At the time the third largest port in Europe, where Pangloss and Candide were sailing too, was hit by a terrible earthquake and tsunami. Much of the city was destroyed. Over 100,000 deaths were counted in Geneva, where Voltaire was living (Simonrkemp. Adventures on the Bookshelf, 29 Mar. 2017), Sadly, during this journey to Lisbon, Pangloss is hanged as a heretic by the Inquisition, who were out to get heretics specifically, and Candide is beaten once again for listening with approval to Pangloss’s philosophy. After his beating, an older woman attends to Candide’s wounds and then, to his astonishment, takes him to Lady Cunégonde.

Cunégonde explains that the Bulgars killed her family members, but she was raped and then captured by a captain, who sold her to a Jew named Don Isaachar. Now, she explains, she is a sex slave owned by both Don Isaachar and the Grand Inquisitor of Lisbon. Each of her two owners arrive to take her away and by astonishment, Candide kills them both. Terrified, Candide, the old woman, and Cunégonde flee and board a ship bound for South America. As soon as they arrive in Buenos Aires, the governor, Don Fernando, proposes to Cunégonde, and thinking of her own financial welfare, she accepts, rejecting Candide’s love. Defeated, Candide flees to territory controlled by the Jesuits who are revolting against the Spanish government. Candide kills the commander and Candide goes to Eldorado, where gold and jewels litter the streets. This utopian country has advanced scientific knowledge, no religious conflict, no court system, and places no value on its plentiful gold and jewels. This society is what philosophers of the enlightenment dreamed of. They wanted nothing more than to have perfect peace, and be surrounded by gold and jewels.

They believed that knowledge was the only way to rid humankind of its darkness, and that knowledge in and of itself produces light. One philosopher in particular, Denis Diderot, believed that insight of knowledge could save the world from impending doom. He wrote an encyclopedia about how everything in the world is based on knowledge, once you learn you open your eyes, and once you stop believing that you must be under the rule of a king or a religion, you are saved from doom, darkness and death. (Lecture 9/26 The Age of Enlightenment & the challenge of Absolutism) During this time period, there were a lot of people, kings, and nobles, as well as a lot of white men, were very wealthy. Many got together for a “book club” discussing works of different philosophers, like Diderot’s encyclopedia. This era was governed by absolutism in France, and Constitutional monarchy in England, and many people didn’t want to keep living the same old life that they have been.

People knew there was more to be understood about the world, and they desperately wanted to know the truth, the secret to life, and all it had to offer. Moving back into Candide, Candide takes a lot of loot, and after a month leaves. As he is leaving however a merchant named Vanderdendur steals much of Candide’s fortune. Frustrated, Candide sails off to France with a specially chosen companion, an unrepentantly pessimistic scholar named Martin. On the way there, he recovers part of his fortune when a Spanish captain sinks Vanderdendur’s ship. Candide takes this as proof that there is justice in the world, but Martin staunchly disagrees. In Paris, Candide and Martin mingle with the social elite. Candide soon discovers Pangloss and the baron in a Turkish chain gang. Both have actually survived their apparent deaths and, after suffering various misfortunes, arrived in Turkey. Despite everything, Pangloss remains an optimist. An overjoyed Candide purchases their freedom. Finally, in conclusion of the novel, Candide encounters a farmer who lives a simple life, works hard, and avoids vice and leisure. Inspired, Candide and his friends take to making a garden in earnest. At last everyone is fulfilled and happy.

This book recalls the misfortunes that Candide and his friends face during the enlightenment era, a time where knowledge and development of the human self was prominent. The pessimistic view of Voltaire makes this novel that much better in the sense that Candide starts off as an optimist, but through numerous beatings, losing the love of his life to another man, seeing his friends killed, being lied to, having his jewels and gold stolen, he becomes more of a pessimist like Voltaire. He learns from the scholar Martin, who acts as a counterpart to Pangloss, that life is brutal, and bad things happen because life is brutal. Martin is more believable, and more helpful than the other major characters in the novel, not because he is more complex, but because he is more intelligent and offers better wisdom.

Martin lives by ideas that discourage any active efforts to change the world for the better. If, as Martin asserts, “man is bound to live either in convulsions of misery or in the lethargy of boredom, why should anyone try to rescue anyone else from “convulsions of misery?” (Candide, Voltaire. The Dover Edition ed., Dover Publications, 1991). Martin is able to provide insight into events far beyond Pangloss’s ability to do so, and his ideas resonate with Candide in the end. Voltaire is trying to make the point that Martin makes, that life is meaningless, that misery happens, and we can’t do anything to change that. This text compares to what we have been learning throughout the last couple lectures in class as it pertains specifically to the Enlightenment, to religious clashes, to ideas of government in France, (Absolutism and wanting to get away from that, and separate church and state, like England)-England successfully got rid of absolutism when the parliament published the English Bill of Rights in 1689, which speaks about the separation of powers, limits the powers of the king and queen, enhances the democratic election and bolsters freedom of speech, and more (9.19 Lecture on Absolutism).

This book overall did not change my viewpoints on the enlightenment, on optimism, pessimism, philosophers, etc.. but it did give me insights as to what France, South America, and other parts of Europe were like during this period of enlightenment, of knowledge, and wanting to develop self, and find out the absolute truth to anything and everything, Voltaire’s satirical writing did show me that there were philosophers, historians, and people in general who thought differently about the enlightenment and learning, and it’s interesting to see the difference between an optimistic and pessimistic viewpoint. It also helped me understand more about this period of time where there was a lot of political and religious turmoil, and helped connect what we’ve been learning in class to this book, particular about absolutism, and politics, the enlightenment, and philosophical thinking in general during this time.


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