Voltaire wrote Candide in 1759 during an “era… in which the conventions and inequities of European society were being questioned and attacked on all sides” (v). It is apparent from the text that his ultimate goal in writing the novel was to point out flaws in French society, such as the importance placed on money, unquestioning following of religion, and foolish philosophical speculation. The reader is bound to find Candide, the main character, and his adventures amusing and humorous, but the underlying messages of this seemingly light story are evident. One of the devices Voltaire uses is an ironic tone, which aids in exposing his feelings about the class system in France at the time, in which Candide represents the elite. Voltaire particularly achieves irony by making fun of his characters, placing them in ridiculous situations, and exposing them under the light of humor. Candide maintains an overly optimistic view of the world throughout the story, even though he witnesses and experiences numerous disasters. His love for Cunegonde is challenged so many times it seems impossible that anything could ever come of it. He journeys the world, as he has been banished from his home for being seen kissing her, and struggles to survive. But Candide believes he lives in “the best of worlds” (7), an idea uttered so many times he and Pangloss appear idiotic, since they seem to live in the worst of worlds, plagued by tumultuous situations. Candide maintains a sunny outlook on the world because he relies on blind luck to save him. His perpetual good fortune is much like that of the aristocracy at the time, who Voltaire despised for their inherently unfair privileges. Voltaire’s choice of diction also lambasts Candide and the blissful ignorance of the people he represents. Every incident is described as affecting Candide greatly, though nothing has any lasting effect on him. After being chased away from the castle in which he lived, Candide “walked a long while without knowing where, weeping, raising his eyes to heaven” (3). Candide suffers immensely, but Voltaire’s choice of words gives the impression of how a child would act after he is sent to his room. A child would think of his punishment as catastrophic, until he is distracted by something else, just as Candide is by the dinner he soon attends. Candide’s unrealistic array of adventures begins to seem never-ending after awhile. He sees a bloody battle take place, hears that Cunegonde and her entire family have been killed, and witnesses the man who took him in, Jacques, drown in a horrific storm. The reader is then made to think things might settle down or become easier for Candide. But he continues his journey, finding Lisbon destroyed by an earthquake when he arrives. Pangloss has been hanged for being a heretic, and Candide is beaten for believing Pangloss’s philosophies after being hit with the news of his death. There is bittersweet news for Candide when he finds Cunegonde is not dead, but, rather, that she has been raped and made a sex slave. The two plan to get married; however, Candide’s bad luck is far from over. He loses Cunegonde to a wealthier man who proposes to her. He resumes his tumultuous adventuring, which includes almost getting eaten by a Biglug tribe, and has the fortune he finds in El Dorado stolen from him. Candide is not a noble man nor an intelligent one, so the fact that he has lived through all of this, let alone remained optimistic, is outrageous; such experiences would send others into anger or despair. Even more ironic is the fact that everything turns out perfectly for Candide in the end; Cunegonde leaves her husband and marries him. Ironically, he “had no wish to marry Cunegonde” (84), the love of his life. But he does so because Cunegonde begs her brother, the Baron of the castle Candide resided in, to allow them to wed. Candide finds out Pangloss was not actually killed and bands with him once again. He takes up gardening and lives a very good life, reunited with several characters in a sudden and seemingly impossible fashion. To add to the irony of Candide, the characters are placed in humorous situations and use language that intensifies the comedic effect. Candide’s optimism is an exaggerated trait that parallels the attitude of many people. Voltaire’s point is, perhaps, that such an outlook is not the best policy. Maybe people should not go though life passively accepting what happens to them, hoping things will improve, but instead by being proactive. Candide’s good luck is unrealistic and cannot be attributed to his manner of seeing the world. He loses his fortune as quickly as he comes across it, reflecting Voltaire’s opinion that money should be earned; people who are born with it or randomly stumble upon it deserve to lose it quickly. He also is not fond of unnecessary formalities, revealed when he describes Pangloss as “professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” (1). Pangloss wants his title to be admired, but Voltaire incites the reader to find it laughably excessive. Thus, through its potent use of irony, Candide is a classic example of satire. The situations and attitudes in the story humorously parallel those existing in real life at the time. Voltaire uses irony in his descriptions to point out that the conditions in the story and, consequently, reality are ridiculous. It is hardly surprising that today, therefore, Candide is a prominent novel of historical importance.
In Voltaire’s Candide, the title character voyages from continent to continent in search of love and the meaning of life. On his journeys, his optimism–learned from his ever-present tutor, Pangloss–is slowly whittled away. Candide experiences corruption and deceit, particularly in the church. Most importantly, Candide realizes that one should cultivate one’s own life and not leave anything to chance. Through these lessons, Candide develops from an innocent student into a wise young man. Born in Westphalia, Candide is the illegitimate son of the sister of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh. He is therefore provided an education by the premiere philosopher in Westphalia: Pangloss. Pangloss’ main philosophy is optimism. Whenever Pangloss is presented with a bad experience from another character, he simply says that it is for the best. At one point, for example, he says, “[Syphilis] is indispensable in this best of all possible worlds…for if Columbus, when visiting the West Indies, had not caught this disease…we should have neither chocolate nor cochineal” (30). With similar optimism, Candide proceeds on his journey. However, as he develops as a character, he realizes that this is not how the world operates. Although optimism suffices as an explanation of the world to a young, naÃ¯ve Candide, it becomes less and less cogent as the story progresses. Candide is born into an ideal world where he is respected, educated, and provided for. Yet, when he departs, he is subject to a devastating natural disaster, a public humiliation, and the loss of the love of his life–among other difficulties. In chapter 26, for example, Candide dines with six dethroned kings. As Candide hears the sad accounts of the former rulers, he is forced to challenge whether, indeed, all things turn out for the best. The final blow to Candide’s optimism occurs at the end of the novel, when Pangloss and Candide visit the Dervish, allegedly the wisest man in all of Turkey. Pangloss tells the Dervish that “I had been looking forward to a little discussion with you about cause and effect, the best of all possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and pre-established harmony” (142). To this, the Dervish slams the door in their faces. That the wisest of men disregards Pangloss’ philosophy forces Candide to depart entirely from optimism. this action symbolizes Candide’s departure from optimism. The second lesson that Candide learns is that organized religion is vain and corrupt. Voltaire represents church figures as selfish, and organized religion as a sham. For example, Voltaire describes the origin of Pangloss’s sexually transmitted disease: “Paquette was given this present by a learned Franciscan…” (30). Candide learns that Pangloss received the disease from a monk, who is supposed to be celibate. Thus, Candide is exposed to the deceit of the church. In addition to the non-celibate monk, Candide encounters many other figures that disparage the church and organized religion in general. One such character is the Grand Inquisitor. He is introduced when he condemns Candide and Pangloss to an auto-da-fÃ©, in which Candide is tortured and Pangloss supposedly hanged. Later, Candide comes to know him as the forced lover of CunÃ©gonde, who blackmails her Jewish owner into sharing her. When the Inquisitor enters and sees the Jew dead, Candide quickly impales him. As the Grand Inquisitor, a very high level church official, the character is involved in blackmail, sexual promiscuity, and heartlessness. Another example of church corruption is the duplicitous AbbÃ© of PÃ©rigord. The AbbÃ© pretends to be friendly with the affluent Candide. He brings Candide into his social circle, introducing him to important people. Yet he is described as sniveling, snobby, and greedy. Thus, throughout his adventures, Candide encounters various negative representations of ecclesiastical figures. He learns that very few authority figures are entirely benevolent human beings. The final lesson for Candide is that to achieve a happy, purposeful life, he must cultivate his own character. In his soul-searching, Candide encounters three major “checkpoints” which chronicle his emotional and philosophical development. The first is Eldorado, a city in which the streets are paved with precious gems and everyone is cordial. All aspects of this city symbolize optimism–and yet its very existence proves to Candide that optimism cannot be. If everything is for the best, then there would be no need for Eldorado to be hidden. However, as it remains hidden, Candide realizes that he can not rely on fate to make him happy. The second checkpoint is the home of Count Pococurante, a wealthy Venetian. The count has a magnificent collection of material goods, yet he is scornful of all of his belongings. He explains, “there is a pleasure in not being pleased” (124). Candide is disgusted by this approach, and affirms that it is not material wealth that makes one happy. It is not until Candide’s experience with the third and final garden that he realizes the route to happiness and satisfaction. After speaking with the Dervish, the group comes across a Turkish farmer who invites them into his home. He then explains that he is happy being ignorant of scandals and negativity, and that he cultivates his garden with his family. On page 143, the farmer explains that the farm work “banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty.” It is at this final garden that Candide realizes what the goal of his life should be: self-cultivation. Candide says to Pangloss, “We must go and work in the garden.” Finally, he opposes Pangloss’ theory that things are for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Candide officially abandons his original notion of optimism and completely denies fatalism, or the approach which leaves everything to fate. He learns that to lead a successful life, he must cultivate himself, and work to make himself the best he can be. This is the most important lesson that Candide learns. Thus, in the course of Voltaire’s Candide, Candide learns three important lessons. First, he realizes that Pangloss’ doctrine of optimism is not concurrent with reality. Second, Candide encounters negatively portrayed church officials and formulates the idea that leaders, especially ecclesiastical ones, are vain and corrupt. Finally, Candide learns that he must “cultivate his life” as prescribed by the Turkish Dervish. To lead a successful life, Candide learns that he must take control of his own destiny, as things are not for the best in the best of all possible worlds. By the end of this journey, Candide has transformed from a malleable youth to an enlightened young man–and according to Voltaire, it is for the best.
Voltaire’s Candide bears the mark of a piece written during a time of reform. It is heavy with satire, poking fun at whatever issues become tangled in its storyline. The subjects tackled range from the political to the religious, and each receives its share of criticism. In many ways, it is what should be expected from an Enlightenment-era work: a criticism of the old ways. In a time of changing political, religious, and scientific beliefs, the literature produced should was often intended to reflect this flux in attitudes. Candide easily accomplishes this by criticizing class boundaries, religion, slavery, and, most importantly, the military. Through Candide, Voltaire is able to criticize numerous topics. The story’s premise is set around Candide being thrown out of the Baron’s household for having ignored class rules and fallen in love with Miss CunÃ©gonde (Gordon 43). This incident sets the story in motion and makes it fairly obvious that Voltaire did not believe in the legitimacy of such class boundaries. Religion is another topic that comes under attack by Voltaire – albeit in perhaps a slightly less brutally manner. A utopia is found in which religion is delegated to the people and, subsequently, there are no priests or other clergy (79); Voltaire, it seems, shunned the idea that clergymen were liaisons to God. Even the issue of slavery is mentioned when Candide stumbles upon a slave who has lost his hand and leg (82). Although the slave seems to think it is normal behavior for a master to treat a slave in such a way, Candide recoils in horror, much as Voltaire himself would likely have done (83). In addition, the military is attacked numerous times by Voltaire as being pointless or convoluted. Voltaire first criticizes the military by having Candide recruited on the sole basis of his height. Upon seeing him, a man of the military remarks, “Comrade…there is a well-built lad, and he is the right height too” (Gordon 43). Candide is invited to dinner and asked to drink to the health of the King of the Bulgars (44). Once he does so, the men declare “That’s enough…you are now the pillar, the upholder, the defender, the hero of the Bulgars: your fortune is made and your glory assured” (44). By having Candide recruited after such a menial action and chosen on such a pointless basis, Voltaire criticizes the aims of the military. Because height is not generally a factor that can inspire or deter a successful military career, Voltaire seems to be saying that the military is primarily concerned with petty, superficial matters. Further, by only asking that Candide drink to their king, the military men are accepting him without knowing his true intentions. They could care less whether he really means to be true to the king or country. By portraying the recruiters in this light, Voltaire makes the military seem more concerned with numbers and appearances than with actual causes. Voltaire continues his attack on the military by describing a battle between the Bulgars and the Abars. He begins by focusing on contradictory notions; the battle is first described as “splendid…brisk…[and] brilliant,” but contains mention of how the “cannons laid low about six thousand men on each side; then the musketry removed from the best of worlds around nine or ten thousand…” (Gordon 45). Voltaire inspires readers to consider how the deaths of thousands of men can be both splendid and brilliant, and in doing so, to conclude that the military must truly be an awful thing. For mass death to be associated with such glorious superlatives there must be something askew, and that thing is the military. After the battle, “each king [has] his forces celebrate victory with a Te Deum” (46). Obviously the battle is pointless if each side celebrates victory despite such heavy casualties. Later in the story, Voltaire criticizes the Pope’s army in the story of the old woman. She tells of being attacked by pirates and how “[their] soldiers defended themselves like true soldiers of the Pope: they all kneeled down, threw aside their arms, and begged the pirates for absolution [at the point of death]” (Gordon 61). Here, Voltaire depicts the soldiers as cowards or, at the very least, useless. When danger is apparent, they drop their weapons instead of fighting for those whom they are supposed to protect. It is possible, too, that Voltaire is criticizing the Pope in addition to the military. The soldiers seem to exemplify an attitude of placing religion before practicality. In such a situation, it would be practical to at least keep a weapon nearby instead of casting it aside. Voltaire further argues against current military practices in Candide’s visit to England. Upon arriving at Portsmouth, Candide observes “a large crowd of people covered the shore, looking out intently at a rather stout man who was on his knees, blindfolded, on the deck of a naval ship” (Gordon 98). Soon, “four soldiers stationed in front of this man peacefully [fire] three bullets each into his brain; and the entire crowd [goes] away extremely satisfied” (98). Candide learns that the man was an admiral who “didn’t kill enough people” and “engaged in a battle with a French Admiral and was later judged to have kept too great a distance from the enemy” (99). Candide argues that it makes no difference because “the French Admiral was as far from the English Admiral as the latter was from the former” (99). He then receives the response that “it’s good to kill an Admiral from time to time” (99). In this episode, Voltaire portrays military justice as being misguided and unjust. The comment that “it’s good to kill an Admiral from time to time” especially betrays Voltaire’s feelings on the subject: there’s no reasoning behind it except to say that it’s “good,” which is hardly a reason at all. Candide refuses to set foot on the land of a country that would do such a thing, which makes it fairly obvious just how strongly Voltaire’s feelings were on the subject. Voltaire’s criticisms were not without basis, nor was he alone in his resistance. Candide was published in 1759, in the midst of the Seven Years’ War (Hunt 634). It was this war that “prompted the French crown to introduce far-reaching reforms that provoked violent resistance and helped pave the way for the French Revolution of 1789” (634). During this time, hostilities between England and France were seen everywhere, including North America, the West Indies, India and central Europe (636). The use of military force was so widespread that it “permeated every aspect of rural society, fusing army and agrarian organization” (638). Because the Enlightenment was largely an urban phenomenon, it would follow that the military, which was tied to rural areas, would seem unenlightened. One of Voltaire’s criticisms was directed at the Prussian army. He notes in Candide how easy it was to join the Bulgar army. Between the years 1740 and 1789, “the Prussian army…nearly tripled in size” (Hunt 634). It makes sense that in order for such a major expansion to take place, the military would have to relax its standards. Also, Candide’s recruitment due to his height seems to be aimed at the Prussian army, too. In a footnote, it is revealed that “Frederick the Great took pride in the height of his soldiers” (Gordon 44). Here, Voltaire is directly criticizing the Prussian army and their pride over such a petty matter as height. In Candide, Voltaire criticizes many aspects of Enlightenment-era French society. He touches on colonialization, the cruelty of slavery, institutionalized religion, and the military, among other subjects. In the case of the military, armies are described as being flippant; they’re easy to join and just as easy to leave. Battles are declared victories despite major losses of life. Things such as height and proximity to the opposing army are held in high esteem, regardless of what should be important. Voltaire saw these flaws and, through use of his satirical piece Candide, attempted to draw the public’s attention to them.Works CitedGordon, Daniel, trans. Candide. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.Hunt, Lynn et al. The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures; Volume II: Since 1340. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Subjective novelists tend to use personal attitudes to shape their characters. Whether it be an interjection of opinion here, or an allusion to personal experience there, the beauty of a story lies in the clever disclosure of the author’s personality. Charlotte Bronte and Voltaire are no exceptions. Their most notable leading characters, Jane Eyre and Candide, represent direct expressions of the respective author’s emotions and impressions. In their stories, Bronte and Voltaire create fictional settings and imaginary scenes. However, through the psyche of their leading protagonists, Bronte and Voltaire genuinely portray their own inner world – they are their own subjects. While the novels Jane Eyre and Candide are in no manner outright autobiographies, they are extremely similar in that the experiences and beliefs of Bronte and Voltaire serve to characterize Jane and Candide. A careful examination of both works reveals that Jane and Candide evince the contrasting ideals of Bronte and Voltaire in various spheres. As individuals, Voltaire and Charlotte Bronte could not have been any more different. They lived in opposing eras, had unlike backgrounds, and espoused divergent philosophies. While Candide, which some consider the epitome of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, uses satire to achieve its goals, Jane Eyre uses extensive descriptions to take the reader on a psychological roller coaster through the mind of its leading character. Analysis shows that the two authors will seldom agree on many issues. However, by the end of both novels, Jane and Candide have become very much alike. Answering the question of how this transformation occurs necessitates a breakdown of the characters and their creators in specific areas. The opposing viewpoints of Bronte and Voltaire especially manifest themselves through the author’s examination of malevolence in the world. Their chief vehicles for pursuing this analysis, spirituality and personal will, underscore the contrasting values of Jane and Candide while ultimately supplying the connecting character bond. Through Candide, Voltaire analyzes the problem of evil in the world, and depicts the woes heaped upon it in the name of religion. “Let us crush the infamous one” was the rallying cry often used to summarize the flavor of the Voltarian movement. With this phrase, he referred to any form of religion that persecuted nonadherents or that constituted fanaticism. For Christianity, he would substitute deism, a purely rational religion which held God as a cosmic clockmaker who wound up the world, then left it to tick on its own. Candide had traveled throughout the world and encountered a tremendous amount of wrong (so much so that Voltaire made it unrealistic). Despite the advice of the optimistic Pangloss and the pessimistic Martin, Candide continued to search for answers – and Voltaire supplies them. The key passage in which he makes clear his point of view is the following:Pangloss said to the dervish, “Sir, we’ve come to ask you to tell us why such a strange animal as man was ever created.””Why are you concerned about that?” said the dervish. “Is that any of your business?””But, Reverend Father,” said Candide, “there is a terrible amount of evil in the world.””What does it matter, whether there’s evil or good?” said the dervish. “When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry about whether the mice in it are comfortable?””Then what ought we to do?” said Pangloss.”Keep quiet,” said the dervish. (118)Candide ascertains that the world was created imperfectly, yet he still should not blame God. The dervish hints at the remedy for unhappiness, but Candide must discover it for himself (the true cure will be explicated later). Using Candide as his instrument, Voltaire also attacks institutional religion to show that it is no cure for the world’s iniquity. While in Holland, Candide becomes aware of the hypocrisy of Christianity. After hearing a speech about the benefits of charity, Candide approaches the orator for such assistance. After a misunderstanding (the naive Candide did not deny that the pope was the anti-Christ), Candide is told by the Christian that he “doesn’t deserve to eat” and that he should “never, never come near [him] again”. Candide eventually finds aid solely from the Anabaptist, a man never baptized into organized religion. Voltaire’s anti-religious satire also jabs at religious figureheads, including the Pope (who has a daughter), Brother Giroflé¥ (the monk with a girlfriend), and the arrogant Jesuit Barron. Although Voltaire vehemently attacked religion, he still supported a system of spiritual toleration. Candide also becomes an advocate of toleration after visiting El Dorado. Initially shocked by the spiritual peace in this utopian society, Candide asked El Dorado’s king about his nation’s religion. “We have,” he replied, “the same religion as everyone else: we worship God, morning and night?We don’t pray. We have nothing to ask of God: He’s given us everything we need. We constantly thank him.” Here, Voltaire’s religious sentiments are manifested through other characters. Because of the lessons Candide learns, he takes his knowledge and attempts to find relief from the world’s wickedness. Likewise, Jane Eyre represents the religious aspirations of Charlotte Bronte. The childhood similarities of these two are striking. As the daughter of the Reverend Patrick Bronte, Charlotte was schooled in the Christian traditions. Bronte, like Jane, never felt a true sense of family love during her childhood ? her mother died at a very young age, leaving Bronte and her siblings to her father (Blom 14). While some researches have accused Mr. Bronte of a cold and harsh tyranny towards his children, others portray him as “a kind and loving husband and father, kind to all about him” (Gaskell qtd in Blom 15). “Whatever the case,” remarks researcher Margaret Blom, “he was clearly unfitted by grief and temperament to supply a fostering maternal love” (15). At the age of eight, Charlotte and her sisters were sent to The Clergy Daughter’s School, which would ultimately serve as the influence for the fictional Lowood School in Jane Eyre. The privations of charity school took hold on both Jane and Bronte, as both watched those around them perish due to epidemics. For Jane it was her friends, for Bronte it was her sisters. Both became isolated, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After difficult childhoods, both Jane and Bronte began to pose questions as to the cause of evil in the world. Just as Bronte had searched for answers through her sister Maria, Jane found solace in the fictional Helen Burns. “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs,” Helen explained to Jane, “?revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end” (82-83). Maria, like Helen, played a significant part in Bronte’s life by encouraging her to emulate Christ’s examples. When Maria died, her grieving father declared that “she exhibited during her illness many symptoms of a heart under divine influence” (Gé²©n qtd in Blom 17). The same can be said of Helen Burns; Jane’s spiritual growth was a direct result of her influence. If Helen Burns had tempered Jane’s restlessness over the world’s evil, the stoicism of St. John Rivers reaffirmed Helen’s creed. Ostensibly, St. John follows the precepts of Christianity ? that is, he rescues Jane from certain death, he shares his home with her, and he finds work suited for her talents. Although he dedicates his life to his religion, the reader can sense that Bronte does not consider him a whole person; he seems to possess a reluctant disposition towards interpersonal relationships. Even though Jane rejected his futile attempts at marriage, his impact upon her was noteworthy. “God has given us,” he once expressed, “the power to make our own fate; and when our energies seem to demand a sustenance they cannot get ? when our will strains after a path we may not follow ? we need neither starve from inanition, nor stand still in despair” (367). St. John gave Jane the courage to rise above the peril in the world, the audacity that Bronte herself lived with. He confirms for Jane what she had suspected as a child: “that denying the flesh does not necessarily elevate the soul” (Berg 96). And while throughout the story Jane comes across individuals who seek happiness in heaven, like Helen and St. John, Jane is determined to find hers here on earth.Similarly, Candide also strives to give meaning to his life, and to prevail over the evil in it. If his satire of religion in Candide ripped into his enemies, then his attack on unbridled optimism took it one step further. Since God did not intervene in worldly affairs, Voltaire concluded that the onus of blame for social evil should be cast upon man’s “irrationality, intolerance, cruelty, and avarice” (Bottiglia 88). Especially vexing to Voltaire was the Leibnitzian optimism that everything was for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. In the midst of worldly vice, Pangloss, the personification of this ideology, continually supports his beliefs; Candide, however, seriously begins to doubt them. He asks Pangloss, “When you had been hanged, dissected and beaten unmercifully, and while you were rowing at your bench, did you still think that everything was for the best?” (114). In challenging his teacher, Candide has clearly learned from his experiences. He was not totally pessimistic either, however. He disagreed with the negative outlooks of the philosopher Martin. Voltaire recognized that evil in the world could not exist without some amount of good (Bottiglia 90). In this way, Candide is not entirely optimistic or pessimistic, for its true message lies somewhere in between. It embraces the belief that the world can be made better by human effort. Or, as researcher William Bottiglia puts it, “a healthy, equilibrating meliorism”(103) which “lends no small degree of autobiographical distinctiveness and realism to [the book’s] content” (102). Voltaire continued his condemnation of affluent society with his theory of the Noble Savage. The idea held that nature itself was benign; man should be left alone in a state of pure nature where he would turn out virtuous. While in the land of the Orellions, Candide learned that the primitive people are no better or no worse than the civilized people ? both are capable of great cruelty. Thus, it is up to an individual to follow an admirable course in life. Throughout his journey, Candide searches to find this medium.Upon meeting an old Turk on the last leg of his voyage, Candide is amazed by the man’s happiness. The key to his contentment, he says, is that his “work keeps [him] free of the three great evils: boredom, vice, and poverty” (119). Suddenly, Candide stumbles upon what Voltaire has been leading him towards during the entire story ? that in order to find happiness in the world it is best to stop theorizing and cease complaining. He finally became convinced that man could not fully understand the evil in the world. Instead, he should use sound judgment and reason to guide his life; only then will he discover its true meaning. Overall, to find a fraction of happiness, he must cultivate his garden, both literally and symbolically. By tending to his work, he will find a greater satisfaction. On a social level, Candide’s garden involves more than just gardening ? each member of the group puts a particular talent to use. Like his companions, Candide becomes socially useful in accordance with deistic doctrine. In the end, Candide finds personal fulfillment. Nearly a half-century later, it would be up to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre to do the same. Bronte’s attitudes towards her heroine’s experiences come from “the fact that her heroine’s internal conflicts mirror her own” (Blom 94). On the one hand, like Bronte, who was determined to prevail over the evils thrust upon her by society (94), Jane wishes to thrive in the real world, to attain independence, and to achieve the respect of others by obeying “the law of God; sanctioned by man” (Bronte 232). But on the other hand, also like Bronte, Jane is determined to accomplish it all on her own terms. Jane confirms Bronte’s absolute confidence in her own inner drives and her total ability to assert her will (Blom 100).Bronte undoubtedly had artistic, as well as political, reasons for making her protagonist an orphan, a governess (which Bronte herself was at one time), and, finally, a writer (Berg 2). Jane Eyre rises above her terrible oppression through her own willpower, and she thus exemplifies Bronte’s theory of “Self-Help” (2). This popular Victorian and Romantic belief held that social advancement was possible through individual resolve. Some may argue, however, that Jane is not a self-made woman. These critics point out that she suddenly gained independence via her inheritance. This could not be more far from the truth. The traits and values that shaped her character were unaltered by her unexpected social progression ? she essentially remained the same person. In that era, social pressures engulfed women in Jane’s position; Bronte gave them the audacity to express their discontent, she urged them to move forward.Jane Eyre is also notable for its significant “Woman Question”, or Bronte’s portrayal of the role of women in society. Because it was a very controversial theme during its time period, Bronte definitely used Jane to showcase her feminist manifesto (which is why she published the novel under the pseudonym, Currer Bell). In real life, Bronte rejected the marriage proposals of two men and was rejected herself after falling in love with a married man (Blom 26-27). Perhaps, because she had experienced both sides of unrequited love, Bronte paralleled Jane’s troubles with Rochester and St. John. Bronte also gave Jane her attitude. “Women feel just as men feel,” Jane states (Bronte 112). She let no obstacles stand in her way; she became an “independent woman” (437), her “own mistress” (438). “It was my time to assume ascendancy,” Jane affirmed, “my powers were in play” (427).Overall, Voltaire and Bronte maintained firm beliefs concerning evil and injustice in the world. Through effective literary styles, they managed to not merely put their ideas on paper, but their lives. By creating imaginary individuals to represent themselves, Bronte and Voltaire gave their ideas life and substance. By imparting wisdom, they taught their characters lessons. By giving them challenges, they made their protagonists realistic. Voltaire and Bronte saw two types of iniquity in the world. When they encountered physical evil, they turned to religion for answers. When they saw social evil, they turned to man. More than anything, they turned to their imaginations and themselves. Physical evil disturbed Jane Eyre and Candide for two specific reasons. First, it called into question the motives of a God whose general laws cause so much wretchedness for his people. Second, it gave rise to speculation about the unknown, as though it were the known, with disastrous effects on the moral motivation of mankind. Ultimately, physical evil is declared to be totally incontrollable; individuals should strictly stick to what they can comprehend. Social evil, on the other hand, is pronounced as knowable and controllable. For Candide, the cure involves “cultivating his garden.” For Jane, it is to assert her personal will.In the end, both characters accomplished what their author’s had intended ? the attainment of happiness with a simultaneous discovery of a personal identity. Jane Eyre and Candide are not only fictionalized versions of their creators, but also the very epitome of modern mankind. They look to their hostile surroundings and inside themselves to find answers to life’s questions. In their struggles, we share their agony. In victory, we share their triumphs. Works CitedBerg, Maggie. Jane Eyre: A Student’s Companion to the Novel. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.Blom, Margaret. Charlotte Bronte. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.Bottiglia, William. “Candide’s Garden”. Voltaire: A Collection Of Critical Essays. Ed. William Bottiglia. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 87-111.Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.Voltaire. Candide. Trans. Lowell Bair. New York: Bantam Books, 1959.
A child has the ability to make the most critical and objective observation on society and the behavior of man. How is this possible? A child has yet to mature and lacks proper education and experience. However, it is for this very reason that a child would make the perfect social scientist; his or her naivete may provide an excellent means of objective criticism and most often satire. A child’s curious nature and hunger for knowledge would bring about an unbiased questioning of social structures, minus the brainwashing of these very institutions, and his or her vulnerability would expose any societal dangers present. This child-like scientist would see the truth as it is.This same premise may be applied to literary works. A naive character or narrator may be used as a child-like scientist, who reveals social truths to the audience through his or her naivete. As Maurois has noted, in writing about Candide, by Voltaire,” It was novel of apprenticeship, that is, the shaping of an adolescent’s ideas by rude contact with the universe” (101). Jonathan Swift also takes this approach in his work Gulliver’s Travels, where Gulliver, the main character, provides a naive point of reference.The satires Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, and Candide, by Voltaire, both make use of naivete to convey satirical attacks on society. In both works, litotes [understatements] are made of extremely absurd situations, which further illuminates the ridiculous nature of a situation. Characters in each novel are made vulnerable by their overly trusting natures. This is taken advantage of, and these characters are left exploited by corrupt people in society. Attacks are also made on authority figures of the world. This can be seen in the characters’ reaction to authority. Finally, both works are travel tales, which expose the main characters to many perspectives. This allows the authors to satirize many aspects of society.These two satirical works make litotes of preposterous situations, thus shedding light on the absurdity at hand. This is an especially effective technique, because a character or narrator is involved in a ridiculous situation. The reader, from an aesthetic distance, is then able to recognize the foolishness of the incident. After careful consideration, a satirical conclusion may be drawn. For example, Voltaire’s narrator describes a brutal battle scene in a lighthearted manner:Nothing could have been more splendid, brilliant, smart or orderly than the two armies . . . . then rifle fire removed from our best of worlds about nine or ten thousand scoundrels who had been infesting its surface. The bayonet was also the sufficient reason for the death of several thousand men. (22-23) The diction in this passage is ironic. By referring to a battle as “splendid” (22) and “brilliant” (22), the narrator demonstrates how common the idea of warfare has become and how little the human life is valued. Also, the phrase, “Our best of worlds” (22-23) identifies optimism as a focus of this satirical attack (Maurois 100). In this way, the narrator nonchalantly discusses grave matters. Maurois cited both Voltaire and Swift as using this method when he states, “and from the Dean [Swift] he [Voltaire] had learned how to tell an absurd story in the most natural manner” (104). In this way, the foolish scenarios stand out in the context of “serious” discourse, and when taken in on a satirical level, the narrator’s carefree consideration of dreadful events suggests a desensitizing of society.Quintana, in his essay “Situation as a Satirical Method,” describes Swifts’ satire as a “situational satire.” In this method a situation is created and objectively observed in order to produce satirical attacks (344-346). This method is the same as the one described earlier. The audience, once having stepped back from the dramatic situation, realizes the absurdity of it, and the satirical point being made. When speaking with the King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver describes many absurd characteristics of human life in Europe, which to Gulliver, seem noble. He especially treats gunpowder with litotes (Bk. I, ch. 6-7). The lofty manner in which Gulliver presents his culture ironically accents the ignoble qualities of Europe.Another example may be drawn form Gulliver’s stay in Lilliput. In attending the “political” ceremonies of Lilliput, Gulliver takes serious consideration of the ridiculous system of gaining political favor and power. Politicians perform “rope dances” in order to gain political rank. (Bk. I, ch. 3). Here Gulliver’s being gullible is used as a political attack on the superficiality if politics. In both works, characters or narrators make understatements or treat absurd subjects with complete sincerity, thus creating a situation from which satirical observations may be drawn.Another way in which naivete is used in these two tales is to satirize the tendency of corrupt people to take advantage of overly trusting individuals. Both Gulliver and Candide fit the description of the overly trusting, naive character. Van Doren chronicles this situation as demonstrated in Gulliver’s Travels:Grateful for the kindness shown on him, Gulliver aided the Lilliput in this war by capturing the Blefuscudian fleet and bringing it as a gift to his royal host. But the Lilliputians were no more grateful than the English had been to the Oxford ministry for ending the war with France. . . . The sourest of the tiny ministers became Gulliver’s enemy. (187)Here Gulliver too easily places his trust in the hands of strangers. This naive move leaves open the opportunity for the Lilliputians to betray him. Swift is able to satirically attack human’s behavior through this “situational irony” (Quintana 344-346). In this particular situation, Swift demonstrates how dangerous being overly trusting may be. Gulliver believes that he has made friends in the Lilliputians. However, by the end of the visit he is almost executed (Bk. I). On a satirical level, Swift asserts that the corruptive human being is deadly when overly trusted.The dangers of being overly trusting are also discussed in Candide. In chapter 19, Candide is taken advantage of by a conniving captain. Candide, who has just acquired great wealth from El Dorado, is overcharged for passage on a ship. Then he entrusts his possessions with the captain, who flees with Candide’s riches (ch. 19). Here Voltaire rejects an “optimistic” (Maurois 100) approach to philosophy. The audience realizes that Candide has been swindled out of his belongings by confiding in a “trustworthy” citizen of the “best of all possible worlds” (Maurois 100). Again naivete is used to create satire, in this case, an individual’s overly trusting nature is wrongly taken advantage of and results in a loss of property or even a near death experience.Another aspect of society that is attacked in both of these novels is authority figures. In each case, Gulliver or Candide’s reactions to authority are used as satirical devices. In the case of Candide, positive progress is made after a period of naive subordination. In Gulliver’s case, the hierarchical structures of society keep him in constant submission. Candide at first blindly accepts his teacher’s highly optimistic philosophy. It takes Candide a while to begin to question this authority. Voltaire contends that authority figures should be questioned and their doctrine should not be taken at face value. Voltaire’s negative tone towards Candide’s naive following of Pangloss’ optimism is seen at aesthetic distance in the context of devastation after devastation that occurs. Pangloss’ philosophy is obviously not holding up. This leads Candide to an evaluation of this authority. Pasco describes this intellectual growth that occurs after the questioning: when Candide says early in chapter 13 that had Pangloss lived, Candide would have dared to object to the master’s continual insistence that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, we know something has taken place. This is the first of several indications that Candide has begun a process of development that will leave him considerably less naive. (94) Candide is able to become less naive and thus less subordinate.The same is unfortunately not true for Gulliver. He has been conditioned by a hierarchical society to internalize his submissive role. This internalization is apparent when he first encounters the Lilliputians, Gulliver states,” I answered in a few words, but in the most submissive manner” (36). The audience is to consider the drastic size difference between Gulliver and the Lilliputians. It is absurd for Gulliver the bow down to these microscopic islanders. Once this has been assessed, Swift’s satirical attack on hierarchical structures is made clear; certain institutions foster a socially stratified culture, of which Gulliver is a product. Again his submissive nature emerges in his contact with the Houyhnhms. Lawler mentions Gulliver’s position with the Houyhnhms when he notes, “the final realization that even as a servant and disciple there can be no place for him [Gulliver] in the land Houyhnhms” (323). In this land Gulliver readily takes his submissive role, as a result of his experience with hierarchical authority. In both novels, different satirical points are made about authority, but they are both done through the same medium of a naive character’s reaction to authority. Finally, both works may be regarded as travel tales, which expose the naive characters to various perspectives. This allows the authors to satirize various aspects of human nature and universalizes the satire. Clark further describes Gulliver’s role:Indeed it was never long before he [Gulliver] comprehended the inhabitants of the lands he chanced upon. In this respect he was a typical voyager. (2)In the “Introduction to Gulliver’s Travels” this sentiment is also expressed. The author states that,” Swift adopts an ancient satirical device: the imaginary voyage” (905). Gulliver travels to far and unknown lands, and is presented with new perspectives that satirize lands very familiar to the reader. The world seen through his naive eyes can be interpreted as Swift’s satire. Van Doren comments on the affect of these various perspectives, using Brobdingnag as an example:But after the giant, he [Gulliver] could not so easily return to the old scale. . . his own people seemed contemptible by their smallness. (189)And again by using Houyhnhm as an example: “The reasonable Houyhnhms said he had noticed the rudiments of all these human ways of life among the yahoos” (193). These alternate perspectives provide revelations for Gulliver about his society and human nature in general. As the naive traveler is enlightened, the reader recognizes the satirical significance of the situation (Quintana 344-346). Mylne similarly classifies Candide when she states, “Tories like Zadig and Candide were in the tradition of the voyage imaginaire and the Oriental travel-tale” (216). Candide’s journey spans across many nations and both hemispheres. He is exposed to different philosophies and people. This allows the author to satirize different aspects of society. Candide is especially given a new perspective at El Dorado. In El Dorado, gold is treated like dirt. There is little value that these citizens place on material possessions. This episode acts as a satirical attack on the materialism of the world. In tune with the message of the final chapter, “we must cultivate our garden” (123), Bottiglia divides the many settings of the novel into gardens. He states that: Westphalia is the center of optimistic fatalism Bulgares is a naked military despotism, while Paraguay is a military despotism masquerading as a kingdom of God on earth. Holland is a mercantile utopia . . . Lisbon is the home of Inquisitory fanaticism . . . Orellions is the habitat of state-of-nature savagery . . .[El Dorado] offers a philosophic ideal for human aspiration. (91)Here the scholar provides an extensive example of the many perspectives present and the ideals that are satirized. In each arena Candide’s experiences and interaction with others are the breeding ground for Voltaire’s satire. In both Candide and Gulliver’s Travels this universal satire is made possible by the stories’ being travel-tales in which the protagonists are exposed to many different lands and perspectives.As can be seen, child-like naivete can be a helpful tool in criticizing or satirizing a subject. When an amateur approaches a subject ignorant of the topic, his or her mistakes may be learning experiences for those observing. That is exactly the case with these two novels. As stated in the “Introduction to Gulliver’s Travels”,” Through Gulliver’s eyes, we gaze on marvel after marvel” (906), and through these naive characters’ experiences and satires are developed. Understatements are made of absurd incidents. This reveals the preposterous nature of the situation. The naive characters place too much trust in the hands of strangers. This vulnerability allows for the exploitative nature of humans to be exhibited. These characters’ reactions to authority act as a medium to satirize authority figures and hierarchical structures. Finally, the travel aspect of these stories creates many perspectives from which universal topics of satire may be drawn. In this manner, naivete reveals truths about human nature.Works Cited
- Bottiglia, William F. “Candide’s Garden.” Voltaire A Collection of Essays. Ed. Bottiglia, William F. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc., 1968.
- Clark, Paul O. A Gulliver’s Dictionary. New York: Haskell Publishers, 1972.
- Green, F. C. French Novelist Manners and Ideas. New York: D Appleton and Company, 1929.
- “Introduction to Gulliver’s Travels.” Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Major Authors. Ed. M.H. Abrhams et al. Sixth ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1995.
- Lawler, John. “The Evolution of Gulliver’s Character.” Norton Critical Editions.
- Maurois, Andre’. Voltaire. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1932.
- Mylne, Vivienne. The Eighteenth-Century French Novel. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1965.
- Pasco, Allan H. Novel Configurations A Study of French Fiction. Birmingham: Summa Publications, 1987.
- Quintana, Ricardo “Situation as Satirical Method.” Norton Critical Editions: Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels. Ed. Robert A Greenberg. New York: W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1961.
- Van Doren, Carl. Swift .New York: The Viking Press, 1930.
Although the main characters in Voltaire’s Candide supposedly resign themselves to work and cultivation rather than philosophizing in the end, it is necessary for them to survive struggle and turmoil in order to come to this realization. The adventures that bind Candide to his companions throughout the story provide a model for Voltaire’s outlook toward the world. While it is evident to any attentive observer of the real world that the optimistic philosophy of Pangloss should be rejected, the author also leaves his readers with the impression that work and compliance is the key to happiness. The potential flaws in this impression, however, ultimately show that true happiness is unobtainable in Voltaire’s eyes, and throughout the narrative, Voltaire seeks to reveal that it is impossible to advocate adherence to any system of thought. Whether a person is active or passive; optimistic or pessimistic; idealistic or realistic; he can do nothing decisively to alter his state, and he therefore must entrust himself to a reality that humanity cannot alter. Because humans can only acquiesce to what they cannot control, Voltaire’s satire does not act as a tool for reform but only of realism.The progression of adventures through which Candide must proceed demonstrates the futility of reform in Voltaire’s eyes. Even the pace at which Candide journeys from situation to situation demonstrates how reform cannot be a goal. The quick action of each event does not allow the reader to know many details or to sympathize with any supporting characters, and the lack of transition leaves no time for contemplation on what recently happened to the protagonist. With the combination of little time for consideration and the passing existence of so many characters, there is no need to reform situations that have no opportunity to present themselves again. Even supposed death countered by miraculous continuation of life does not alter the traits of certain characters. Pangloss is exemplary of this idea. The reader does not know many particulars about Pangloss other than his optimism, which survives two presumed deaths. When the reader only perceives a supporting character through one trait, it is more difficult to imagine that character changing and reforming his views or actions. At the end of the story, Martin suggests that they “stop all this philosophizing,” (Voltaire, Candide, p.99) but Pangloss closes the chapter with more philosophy. His inability to stop philosophizing even when he agrees to do so functions as a paradigm for Voltaire’s other characters.The Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, Cunegonde’s brother, is a follower of the paradigm that Pangloss provides, and he is another character who is incapable of modifying his opinion from the beginning through the end of the story. When Candide meets him in Paraguay, the Baron becomes mirrors the sentiments of his father and becomes hostile when Candide mentions an intention to marry Cunegonde (p. 39). At a point during the reunion of the men in Constantinople, the Baron’s opinion has not changed—even after Candide has “killed” him. “‘You can kill me all over again if you want,’ said the Baron” (p. 95). The Baron’s challenge to Candide and his immutable pride allow him to say a rather alarming statement. Death should be the ultimate end, but in Voltaire’s world, a man can be killed and still not be changed. Such fortunate opportunities to defy death show that even killing him “all over again” cannot alter the situation. If all characters were to strictly follow this model, there would be no hope for anyone’s improvement, but Voltaire allows some characters to become so disillusioned that they must reevaluate their outlook.Cunegonde exhibits promise that she may become more than what Voltaire made her in the end, and she is the first to become disillusioned by Pangloss’ optimism. “So Pangloss deceived me cruelly when he told me that all was well with the world” (p.20). It seems that the revelation ends there, however, since Cunegonde cannot create a solution to making “all well with the world.” She knows that “Pangloss deceived” her, but she cannot take the extra step and do something about it. Ultimately, only Candide can fulfill his potential and act upon his disillusionment. At the fundamental level, therefore, Voltaire shows that humans overall exhibit a reluctance or perhaps incapacity to change.While Pangloss and the Baron are only two of many convenient examples that show Voltaire’s characters’ relative incapacity to change, it is important that Candide himself does change. As a response to Pangloss’ philosophizing at the end of the narrative, Candide only acknowledges his teacher’s statement with “That is well put […] but we must cultivate our garden” (p. 100). It took him longer than it did for Cunegonde to realize the problem with Pangloss’ view, but he progresses further than anyone because he actively labors against it. Candide therefore is the only character that has truly changed his outlook on life, and this transformation displays the contrast between his previous mode of thinking and his present one. In a way, Candide’s final statement may act as a mouthpiece for Voltaire himself. With “that is well put,” Voltaire concedes that the systems of the past—all of which he disapproved and against which he rebelled—had something of worth in them. Ultimately, however, the worth or merit of each philosophy is not enough to bring about a final resolution. Humanity has to consign itself to performing its fundamental function without the analysis or explanations with which it has previously comforted itself.When humanity abstains from analysis and returns to its fundamental function, it implies true reform. Yet it seems that Voltaire is able to break down even this epiphany with his satire. A return to fundamentals implies action, which in turn implies reform. Voltaire, however, shows that even a return to the basic function of “cultivating our garden” is flawed because Candide is the only person who can actually realize the truth of this statement and its implications. Pangloss can only echo the reformist ideals of Candide, and when the latter first advocates working in the garden, Pangloss responds with more of his learning. “For when man was placed in the garden of Eden, he was placed there ut operaretur eum—that he might work—which proves that man was not born to rest” (p. 99). This statement actually returns to philosophizing, which Pangloss is ultimately not able to abandon. Only Candide possesses the possibility of reform, and his companions echo him in word but not in practice. As an extension to the rest of humanity, Voltaire shows that although reform can be an ideal put forth by one person, the rest of humanity cannot put such reform into practice.Even if one person can put forth the ideals of reform, it does not necessarily bring happiness to that person. While Candide is not exactly miserable with his situation, it is not his ideal. As an example of how Candide is now trapped within the grasp of an unfortunate existence is his relationship with Cunegonde. His one-time love suddenly became ugly, but a conflicts with her “honorable” brother convinces Candide to marry her out of spite. Voltaire presents a situation of hope—Candide possesses his love and is reunited with everyone else who has considerably affected his life—but the author quickly thwarts any glimmer of happiness to which that hope may lead. Marred by discord between reality and intention, Candide knows that happiness is ultimately unattainable.With the premises that reform cannot truly be practiced and happiness is unobtainable even if change were possible, the reader must decide what the action of the story ultimately communicates. It is clear that Voltaire advocates something that is not the rejection of everything altogether, and there is a direction toward which he is trying to lead his readers:”‘But,’ said Candide, ‘isn’t there pleasure in criticizing everything, in finding fault where other men think they find beauty?”Which is to say,’ rejoined Martin, ‘that there’s pleasure in not having pleasure?’ […] ‘One does well to hope,’ said Martin” (83).Voltaire rejects the idea that a person should attempt to find happiness in disputing the ideas of other people. There truly cannot be happiness or pleasure when a person criticizes everything, and it is not advisable to be a perpetual faultfinder. Martin acts as the voice of reason in this instance and in other parts of the story as well, and he responds appropriately by saying that a person cannot find “pleasure in not having pleasure.” It is illogical to claim to have something while at the same time not having that same thing. For Voltaire, this philosophy shows that humanity cannot renounce the world in its entirety.In order to show that some form of true happiness actually does exist within the world and that the world should not be renounced, Voltaire presents Candide’s adventure to Eldorado. Candide spends a month with Cacambo in Eldorado, but Candide can think of nothing except Cunegonde. His desire to see her spoiled what should have been his ultimate happiness. “Such is the desire to be always on the move, to be somebody, and to show off about what you’ve seen on your travels, that the two happy men resolved to be happy no longer and to ask leave of His Majesty to depart” (p. 51). Voltaire demonstrates that mankind is restless and ultimately incapable of true happiness since Candide cannot stay in Eldorado. His love for Cunegonde and the promise of being rich in Europe draws him away from the perfect society. Since Candide was the only character who actually had the chance for happiness and reformation of his views, his departure from Eldorado shows that no one is left to challenge the world’s opinions. Candide has chosen to live with the illogicality of choosing riches and love over happiness, and he was the story’s only hope.Satire is a convenient method for showing the illogicality of the world while at the same time proving that one must accept what it brings. Candide begins as an ignorant young man who is tossed into a predicament that he neither chose nor can resolve. This situation is a common element of the human condition, and many people experience unexpected and unintended hardships at some point. After Candide kisses Cunegonde, “all was consternation in the most beautiful and most agreeable of all possible castles” (p. 3). Voltaire exposes the facade of the “beautiful and most agreeable” castle through his satire. The reader can see that Candide was not, after all, living in the perfect world, but the ideas indoctrinated into him made him believe that all was for the best. All of the problems and “consternation” in the perfect world had always existed, and satire reveals this reality. Voltaire seeks to convince his readers that they cannot live behind the false facades of the world but must accept all things as they truly are.In order to see things as they truly are, Candide must abandon all of the ways of thought and systems of philosophy that have been presented to him, and Voltaire is urging his readers to do the same. The outlook on the world is expressed by Martin in that “he [the devil] may well be in me, just as he’s in everything else. But to be frank, when I look about me on this globe, or rather this globule, I begin to think God has abandoned it to some malign being” (p. 58). In a world that “God has abandoned,” there is only man left with the influence of the devil upon him. Corrupted mankind can be seen as the “malign being” to which God has given the world. To Martin, evil permeates all, and there is no other way of explaining the problems that occur in everyone’s life. The structure of the globe itself has changed. Martin’s use of the word “globule” in place of “globe” implies that the structures and foundations upon which the corrupted world has been instituted is not a strong or solid one. “Globule” hints at fluidity and fluctuation rather than soundness. The only way to overcome this fluctuation and tendency toward evil, for Voltaire, is to return to a prelapsarian state, where man only had to tend the garden of Eden. It is questionable, however, whether people can make this return. As argued previously, people cannot change but can only echo the ideas of reform. Voltaire leaves humanity, therefore, in a state of limbo where the only prospect is to acquiesce to the realities of the world and perhaps become an objective observer.The purpose of Voltaire’s satire, therefore, is to promote such simple acquiescence to the realities of the world without having to live with manmade facades. A person has to live his life and can only attempt to “cultivate the garden” as his ideal. Voltaire views the purpose of humanity as simply to be, and everything in addition to that is superfluous to that reality. Candide can work, philosophize, travel, or do any other of a variety of activities, but he cannot allow these to define him. His travels can only affect his perception and reveal to him who he truly is, but they do not determine the fundamental Candide. It is a world without ideals where the only absolute is the person himself. The various ways of interpreting the same action, such as Pangloss’ optimism versus Martin’s realism, only leads to confusion about who a person is. When Candide realizes this, he can see that working in the garden is not an end in itself. Rather, cultivation is only an expression of Candide’s being, and it ultimately makes him human.List of Works CitedVoltaire. Candide. In Candide and Other Stories. Trans., R. Pearson. Oxford University Press: New York, 1990.
In a study of Voltaire’s Candide, the central critical discussion revolves around the final chapter. Candide’s epic journey finds its conclusion in a garden, where Candide and his companions are reunited and choose to spend the rest of their days working the land, a practical resolution to a novel that is filled with idealism. The majority of critics agree that this work is a satire of Enlightenment Optimism, with Candide’s one-time mentor, Pangloss, as the butt of the joke. Pangloss insists, despite increasingly tragic events that occur throughout the novel, that everything is as it should be, and critics take Candide’s resolution to work in the final chapter as his revelation that Enlightenment Optimism is an impractical philosophy. In his controversial article, “Gull in the Garden?”, Roy S. Wolper completely omits any criticism of Leibnitz’s ideas and prefers the conclusion that it is Candide, not Pangloss who is the object of satire in this novel, as he doesn’t mature at the end of the novel, but simply gives in to the banalities of everyday life. He asserts that readers should not see Candide as a representative of Voltaire’s thoughts and ideals, but that Candide should be read critically as a work independent of outside philosophies or historical movements.
I am in the minority when I state that I agree with Professor Wolper’s argument; Candide doesn’t learn a lesson at the end of this novel, and in fact, the moral at the end of the story, or the lack thereof, is less important than the meaning that can be derived from the structure of the novel itself. The prevailing theme is that of the story-teller and the listener. A series of narrators compete against one another to tell the most tragic tale, and Candide, like the reader, derives a sort of pleasure from hearing about the misfortunes of others. The end of the novel is not a happy ending or a resolution, but simply a lack of desire to tell stories or to listen to them. Each character’s story reaches a brilliantly climactic level of pain and tragedy, only to fall flat in a purgatory-like existence in the final garden. No one is truly happy unless they can compare their pain to the pain of others, and when there are no stories to tell or to hear, life becomes mundane and one much turn to physical work to stave off boredom. In this sense, the “meaning” of the Candide – that pleasure can be derived from the pain of others – is echoed in the narrative form of the novel.
Candide is structured as a frame narrative, with a fictitious master narrator telling Candide’s story, who in turn serves as listener for the many other characters he encounters along the way who tell their own stories. The title page informs readers that the novel was “Translated from the German of Doctor Ralph, with the additions found in the Doctor’s pocket when he died at Minden” (Voltaire 1). This “Doctor Ralph,” who is never mentioned again throughout Candide, serves as an anonymous buffer between Voltaire and his work. Ostensibly, this was to prevent his persecution for what he knew would be a controversial work, but it also adds another layer of narrative to the novel, preparing the reader for a series of stories that will, “like a Russian doll” encapsulate “stories within stories,” each of which are “strikingly similar to Candide itself” (Wootton xxi). This story-within-a-story structure allows the veracity of the events that unfold to become more and more unreliable, as each tale is filtered through the memory of the storyteller, through Candide’s recounting of it to Doctor Ralph, and yet again through the Doctor’s translation. Even though he has an esteemed title, this Doctor, as English Showalter notes, “died at Minden, the site of a notorious battle; he thus shared the vulnerability of the characters and perhaps their fallibility” (25). Like Harry Bailey in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Candide seeks out these stories from his companions and from strangers as a means of entertainment along his journey, and often persuades others to tell their tales as part of a contest; in The Canterbury Tales, the contest was meant to determine who was the best story-teller, but in Candide, our protagonist wants to know whose story is the most miserable. Oddly enough, in a novel full of characters who love to tell their own tales of misfortune, Candide doesn’t have much of a voice. What we know of Candide’s journey is told through the narration of Doctor Ralph, and much of Candide’s dialogue is spent either parroting his mentor, Pangloss, debating with Martin the Scholar, or pining for his lost love, Cunégonde. While Candide’s story is the central one to the novel named for him, it is not told in first-person the way the others are told, and primarily serves as the glue that holds all the other tales together.
Candide is widely referred to as a conte, the French for “tale” and the origin of “fairy tale,” or contes des feés (Brown 201). In fact, Candide contains many traits of a fairy tale, as defined in the Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature: “Fairy tales are episodic: the main character is separated from, or otherwise in trouble with, his or her family. He or she encounters severe or supernatural challenges and difficulties until, finally, all ends happily. Within this framework are set one or more extraordinary […] motifs, such as a character’s ability […] to come back from the dead […]” (Brown 201). The novel opens with the line, “Once upon a time in Westphalia,” (Voltaire 3) a very common opener for a fairy tale, and surely this was meant to set the tone of the novel, as Philip Stewart notes, though he concedes that “it does not truly answer to that description either” (129). In this sense, Candide is a parody of a fairy tale, mimicking its style and format while omitting certain details and turning others on their heads. For example, a novel with so familiar an opening line would be expected to end with “happily ever after,” and whether this was the outcome or not is the topic of much debate. The bulk of the novel, as it follows Candide on his grand quest to seek out his true love and find happiness, contains many elements of the romance genre as well, but the opening line and the frequent inclusion of first-hand stories within the novel more closely identify it as a fairy tale, considering that “oral tradition has long provided material for literary fairy tales, and the dynamics of oral transmission have affected the fairy tale’s artistic construction” (Brown 202). Much like a fairy tale, the events that occur in Candide are far too preposterous in scale to be believable, but it is the message behind the fairy tale that Voltaire wants his readers to seek out.
A study of the individual narratives within Candide is crucial to finding the meaning that has been embedded in the novel. As Braun explains, “in Candide meaning is inextricably intertwined with the very fabric of the narrative itself, and cannot be separated from it” (572). The main stories, told by Cunégonde and the old woman, the six kings, and Pangloss and the Baron, do not stand alone, but hold more meaning when compared with their counterparts. Cunégonde’s tale of being orphaned, raped, stabbed, taken prisoner, sold into servitude, and made to watch her tutor and her lover be hanged and flogged, respectively, at first seems tragic beyond belief. But not long after Cunégonde tells her tale, the old woman scoffs at her and asserts that not only was she far more beautiful and noble than Cunégonde in her youth, but suffered a great deal more than her in every aspect. Her mother’s throat was not simply slit, as in Cunégonde’s case, but she was viciously ripped to pieces in front of her very eyes (Voltaire 27). She was not sold into servitude, but outright slavery, several times over. She survived not a mere earthquake, but actually contracted the plague and survived. And as if her tale could not get more comically grotesque, she was relieved of one of her buttocks which was then cannibalized by her captors. Her story so directly parallels and outdoes Cunégonde’s story, and outdoes it in terms of scale and horror, that it becomes comical, and she even seems to relish the notion that she has bested young Cunégonde by telling a more tragic tale. As Showalter notes, “The old woman tells her story only to prove that she is unhappier than Cunégonde,” (24) fitting with the theme of story-telling as a contest to be won by the least fortunate narrator.
The brief yet tragic stories of the six deposed kings whom Candide meets in Venice are told in rapid succession and with no emotion whatsoever. The final line told by each king, “I have come to spend Carnival in Venice” (Voltaire 81) is repeated almost verbatim, forming a refrain that lightens the mood of the stories, making them almost like a nursery-rhyme with which the reader can gleefully chime in. After leaving, Candide seems more excited at the adventure of having dined with kings than sympathetic to their stories of loss. That Candide gave the final and most unhappy king “a present of a diamond worth two thousand sequins” (Voltaire 82) is reminiscent of the prize that Martin received as “winner” of Candide’s story-telling contest earlier in the novel. Just as the old woman’s tale mirror’s Cunégonde’s and the kings’ stories are all very similar, Pangloss’ tale at the end of the novel is so similar to the Baron’s that it seems uncanny. Both were presumed to be dead, both recovered from their wounds, and both were sent to the galley for committing a lewd act that each of them deemed to be totally innocent in nature. This set of stories fits the model set by Cunégonde and the old woman: Cunégonde and her brother tell the first story in each set, with notable lack of emotion and sparse details, and when it’s time for the old woman and Pangloss to tell their own stories, they tell virtually the same tale as their predecessor, only with much more description and a sense of amplified tragedy. Both the old woman and Pangloss “win” their contest by making use of parallelisms and exaggeration. The kings’ stories fit nicely between these two sets of tales because they are so similar to each other that they form a refrain, or a bridge, between the women and the men.
The most surprising aspect of all the stories within the novel, including Candide’s own story, is the unexpected lack of emotion while recounting such horrific tragedies. Even though many of the story-tellers include plenty of descriptors and detail to emphasize how painful their ordeal has been, this seems to only serve the purpose of making their story seem more tragic, more exciting, than the previous tale. As Gianni Iotti notes, “A principal source of the comic in Voltaire lies in deflating characters’ extraordinary experiences into ordinary ones, reducing – always with irony – the exceptional to the banal, the unacceptable to the normal” (115). The stories are told not to evoke emotional sympathy from other characters (because none of them receive any sympathy, at least not from Candide), but only to outdo each other, to tell the best tale. Details are rattled off one after the other about each tragic experience, with no apparent pauses for emotional response or reflection. Each tale ends with a summary in the plainest of speech that serves to both recap the story and enumerate the tragic events that occurred therein. This summary is often followed up with a deflated epigram that distances the reader from any potential emotional response they may have had to the story. For example, Cunégonde ends her tale with the aforementioned recap, then casually says to Candide, “You must be ravenous, and I have a large appetite; let us begin with supper” (Voltaire 21). Who else, when having just finished recounting the story of their rape and kidnapping, would next think of having a bite to eat? The old woman’s story climaxes when she reveals that she has often thought of suicide as a means to end the tragedies of her life, but she then directs the “moral” of her tale to Cunégonde: “In short, Mademoiselle, I have lived, and I know the world” (Voltaire 31). To have survived rape, plague, slavery, and cannibalization and to simply call that “living” is certainly an understatement. When Candide prompts the villagers to tell their stories of woe, Doctor Ralph informs the reader that Candide only picks Martin as the winner because he thought he might be and amusing travel companion, and then tosses a few coins to the other story-tellers to thank them for their time. The stories seem to have no emotional effect on Candide whatsoever, and by this point the reader, like Candide, is becoming less and less emotionally concerned with the tragedies that befall the many characters. As Packard notes, “The absurd accumulation of tragedies is so incredible that humorous and intellectual appreciation are separated from the reader’s emotional involvement” (244). By the time Candide reencounters Paquette, now living as a prostitute after her horrible life, he and Martin use her as an example to settle a bet and simply leave her with the monk, never to be mentioned again. However, the story-tellers don’t seem to be seeking sympathy from Candide and the others that hear their tales. For them, the act of telling the story is its own emotional reward. They experience catharsis in the act of telling, and Candide derives pleasure from hearing these miserable tales; he experiences shadenfreude from hearing stories that are more miserable than his own, evidenced by the increasing lack of emotional response to each story that he hears.
As it becomes more clear that it is the act of story-telling and the art of narrative that are more important than the actual stories that are told, the final of scene of Candide takes on a new meaning. The most notable difference between the Candide in the garden and the Candide of the rest of the novel is that the Candide of the garden is no longer interested in stories. Having found a relatively idyllic place to call home, he doesn’t have the need to hear that other people’s lives are more miserable than his; in fact, his story takes the same deflated ending that many of the other characters ended their tales with. As Wolper points out, Candide has fulfilled the goals of his quest: “[he] is the leader of the group, a surrogate baron Thunder-ten-tronckh; he is married to Lady Cunégonde; and he has Pangloss as a constant conversationalist” (268). However, this is a far cry from the “happily ever after” that was promised by implication of the opening line of the novel. True, Candide has gotten all the he ever wanted, but his ending is mediocre at best: he is the leader of a small group of outcasts; his one true love is old and ugly; and he no longer holds Pangloss’ optimistic ideals as true, having been won over by Martin’s pessimism. As Frances K. Barasch so neatly summarizes, “true, to burlesque convention, all the friends whom Candide had supposed dead are restored to life and placed safely under his protection on a communal farm. But the ending is not meant to be happy” (4). In the concluding chapter of Candide, Doctor Ralph as narrator stays true to form by neatly summarizing Candide’s adventures, as well as some of the other characters. All are reunited, and instead of the expected emotional response to Candide’s journey and his sufferings, the novel “ends with a gesture of silencing” (Showalter 25). When Pangloss attempts to provoke Candide into a debate on the final outcome of things, Candide simply brushes off his statement, saying “’That is well said,’ […] ‘but we must cultivate our garden” (Voltaire 94). It seems odd that Candide, once so fascinated by stories and by discussing philosophy with both of his mentors, now has no appetite for conversation and would rather spend his days engaging in physical activities than intellectual ones. He doesn’t argue this point with Pangloss; he simply lets the conversation fizzle out and die. It is disappointing to see Candide’s lust for a good story fade out so quickly and uneventfully, probably because as a reader, we have not lost our desire to hear a story be told. For Candide, without pain, there is no pleasure, and without pleasure, there is only boredom which must be staved off through physical labor. Candide has resigned to his fate, and Doctor Ralph must have seen it fit to end Candide’s story there, before his mundane lifestyle, so far removed from the previous adventures, drives his readers to boredom as well.
Barasch, Frances K. “The Grotesque as a Comic Genre.” Modern Language Studies 15.1 (1985): 3-11. JSTOR. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. B
Braun, Theodore E.D., Felicia Sturger, and Martine Darmon Meyer. “Teaching Candide – A Debate.” The French Review 61.4 (1988): 569-577. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
Brown, Mary Ellen and Bruce A. Armstrong, eds. “Fairy Tale.” Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998. Print.
Packard, Hyland. “Mardi: The Role of Hyperbole in Melville’s Search for Expression.” American Literature 49.2 (1977): 241-253. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
Showalter, English. “The Theme of Language in Voltaire’s Tales.” The French Forum 14.1 (1989): 17-29. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
Stewart, Philip. “Candide.” The Cambridge Companion to Voltaire. Ed. Nicholas Cronk. Cambridge: CUP, 2009. 125-138. Print.
Voltaire. Candide, or Optimism. Trans. Theo Cuffe. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. Print.
Wolper, Roy S. “Candide, Gull in the Garden?” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3.2 (1969): 265-277. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
Wootton, David. “Introduction.” Candide and Related Texts. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000. viii-xxxiii. Print.
Throughout Voltaire’s Candide the reader was introduced to a wide variety of unique characters, each seemingly with their own philosophies and beliefs on how life should be viewed. Voltaire seems to stress through the development of the protagonist, Candide, just how influential the people we surround ourselves with are when it comes to shaping our own beliefs. Sometimes we completely agree with someone’s personal philosophy, while on the other hand detesting others we don’t agree with. I strongly believe that when Candide (Voltaire) states that “we must cultivate our garden” (Voltaire.96), he’s implying that we as individuals should think more for ourselves rather than solely base our beliefs on the thoughts of others.
Candide is perhaps the biggest culprit of being more of a follower than a leader in the sense of forming original thoughts on how the world (or even the universe) works. Granted, the privileged boy did grow up with Pangloss as a personal teacher and friend, he still desperately clung to the belief that “things cannot be otherwise, for, everything being made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end” (2). Intrigued by the idea that he lives in a world where everything happens for a reason, the protagonist mindlessly worships his teacher for the seemingly logical explanations put forth to support said idea. It’s widely accepted through modern day studies and research that adult values can be a huge influential factor in determining what a child will grow up to value (Catsambis, 2001; Englund, Luckner, Whaley, & Egeland, 2004) which appropriately explains Candide’s admirable persistence in believing in Pangloss’ philosophy of cause and effect. Even when things are presumably at their absolute worst, such as when Pangloss himself gets hanged before Candide’s very eyes, and despite sometimes questioning how reliable of a theory it still is, some act of good fortune will usually restore his faith shortly after (like discovering that Cunegonde’s still alive). While this pattern persists almost throughout the entire story, Candide’s greeted with constant contradictions to Pangloss’ teachings to the point where he flat out renounces it all together, literally stating, “you (Pangloss) had not guessed this abomination; this does it, at last I shall have to renounce your optimism” (51). While some could argue that it’s this shallow optimism that kept the protagonist’s spirits high during all the hardships he faced, it still didn’t bring him the happiness in life he’s been longing for ever since his first tragic experience (being cast out from the castle after kissing Cunegonde).
After taking the first step toward “cultivating [his] garden” (96) by verbalizing out loud that he can no longer support the teachings of Pangloss, Candide’s eyes are opened to yet another intriguing philosophy regarding the meaning of life after meeting Martin. Alone without friends, family, and on top of it all, being robbed of almost all the riches he had brought back from El Dorado, it seemed there was no better time for the story’s protagonist to be introduced to Nihilism. Albeit an influence on his mind all the same, there was a very interesting contrast between the nihilistic Martin and the overly-optimistic Pangloss. To be raised on the belief that “all that happens is for the best” (2) and then meeting someone whose misfortunes had led him to believe that “a man is equally badly off anywhere” (92) definitely gave Candide something to think about as he continued his journey to reunite with Cunegonde. I realized that this show of optimism vs pessimism challenged my initial thought that Pangloss’ teachings, despite not always being the most solidly defended belief, could get almost anyone facing a hardship past it by believing something equally great will happen soon after. I too began to feel that persisting optimism truly was the solution for survival in a world riddled with rape, thievery, deceit, and so forth, until Martin proved otherwise. Having lived through a hell only slightly worse than that of Candide’s, Martin was still alive after it all, despite being quite possibly the most nihilistic character out of any literature I’ve ever read (except for possibly Meursault from Albert Camus’ The Stranger). While Candide never really embraced the nihilistic views of his new friend as he had done with Pangloss, the philosophy still deeply perplexed him nevertheless. Even after Candide’s reveling in the realization that they had just dined with six former kings, Martin simply didn’t see the big deal, leading him to question, “What does it matter whom you sup with, provided you make good cheer?” (84). Martin’s Nihilism was somewhat of a push in the right direction, as it aimed to teach the protagonist that some big things really aren’t so big on the grand scale of things, and that perhaps a better time would be had just enjoying more of life’s simplicities.
It wasn’t until the very end where all conflict had finally seemed to resolve itself with the main characters once Voltaire introduced a farmer who claimed that “work keeps away three great evils: boredom, vice, and need” (95). Even in the absence of heart wrenching tragedy or perilous danger, Candide and co. became so engulfed in boredom that they literally began questioning if it was worse than all their past experiences combined. Through the acquisition of this new mentality that one simply shouldn’t meddle in the chaotic business of others and instead become occupied with something else, Candide had finally gained a sense of inner peace he had longed for since his younger days. I believe Voltaire’s trying to get the reader to acknowledge the dangers of persistently following the views of others, and that discovering the things that make us, as individuals, feel happy and fulfilled is the true path to our own better worlds. Once one learns to cultivate their own gardens, what else should matter?
Violence and other cruelties are such a large part of the world that they can never be fully rooted out, no matter how hard the effort is to remove them. A common coping mechanism of handling the tragedies of everyday life is to ignore or to attempt to conjure a “bright side” of the situation. In Voltaire’s Candide, the main character’s faith in the philosophy optimism is shaken. With the struggles of the novel, Voltaire most strongly denounces blind, philosophical optimism through the use of hyperbole, litotes, and symbolism.
This blind, philosophical optimism can best be described as believing that everything is alright and refusing to believe that the universe would not allow for suffering if it were not for some better outcome. Voltaire heavily satirizes this concept through the use of exaggeration, or hyperbole, with Candide, the main character, and his favorite philosopher, Pangloss, as advocates for the fact that they live in “the best of all possible worlds” (15). With the tragedies that occur, this claim is a purposeful overstatement used to mock the optimism by attempting to bring cruel, satiric humor to such a description in order to bring attention to the lunacy of it. It is for that reason that Voltaire describes everything as the best it can be, such as describing Candide as “the gentlest of characters” (15) and the baron’s castle as “the most magnificent of castles” (22). This use of hyperbole illustrates the perspective of the optimists, yet it also serves the purpose of showing that optimism makes one foolishly restricted in their views because it proves these characters’ ignorance of the world outside of their homes. The overstatement of small details effectively argue the logic of optimism because it brings attention to a strange perspective of life.
Not only does Voltaire utilize overstatement, but he also makes use of its antithesis: understatement, or litote. With the twisted perspective of straight-forward philosophical optimism, while small, unimportant details are exaggerated, the important, impacting ones are abridged or are merely passed off as “daily occurrences.” For example, after the account of all the horrors that happened to the old woman in her past, Candide states, “‘It is a great pity… that the sage Pangloss was hanged contrary to custom at an auto-da-fé; he would tell us most amazing things in regard to the physical and moral evils that overspread earth and sea…” (46). Rather than expressing concern or sympathy for the old woman’s tragic past, Candide overlooks it and does not dwell on the horrible nature of the events, understating them, by expressing that it is even more so a pity that Pangloss is not there with them to express his thought on how yet, they live in “the best of all possible worlds.” Even when the tragic event is happening directly to Candide, like when he is about to be eaten by the Oreillons, he says, in the same manner, “‘We are certainly going to be either roasted or boiled. Ah, what would Dr. Pangloss say if he saw what pure nature is like? All is well, I won’t argue about it; but I must admit it’s a cruel fate to have lost Lady Cunegonde and then roasted on a spit by Oreillons’” (56). These understatements are vital to illustrating the idiocy of philosophical optimism because the true horror of these events are merely being accepted without a fight.
From overstatement to understatement, Voltaire denounces the optimism that Candide and Pangloss actively attempt to run their lives by, and, to fully denounce it once and for all, he uses symbolism. At the end of the novel, after trials and trials of attempting to break Candide’s faith in optimism once and for all, Candide finally releases his relentless hold on the philosophy, responding to Pangloss’s reiteration of the same notion that they live in “the best of all possible worlds” with, “‘I also know… that we must cultivate our garden” (113). This “garden” is symbolic of life, meaning that each person has control of their “garden,” rather than it being governed by the notion of always wishing for the best possible outcome, as optimism also implies. Finally, Candide has rid himself of blind optimism, and Voltaire uses the symbol of the garden to represent that there are better ways and more reasonable ways to live life. These ways are in the characters’ powers, meaning that “cultivating a garden” is within their skills of what they can accomplish. Unlike how philosophical optimism encourages “reaching for the stars,” Candide ultimately realizes that optimism is “…a mania for insisting that everything is all right when everything is going wrong” (69). His notion to “cultivate our garden” is his final acceptance of blind, philosophical optimism’s foolishness. Voltaire’s use of this symbol is the last way that he denounces optimism by providing a better outlook on life than the one optimism provides.
In all, Voltaire effectively targets optimism as the main core detail in Candide with almost subtle literary devices. While the overstatements, or hyperbole, not only bring humor but, more importantly attention, to the twisted perspective of optimism, the understatements, or litotes, also bring attention to it as well as more forcibly emphasizing how ridiculous it is to overlook such drastic and tragic events for the sake of the philosophy. The symbolism of the garden is Voltaire’s last way of showing the flaws in optimism because it gives definitive ways of living life, rather than a way consisting of constant unknowing but wishfulness that usually results in more tragedy. Instead of pretending it does not occur, Voltaire advocates that accepting and working with the violence and cruelties of the world is more effective than optimism.
Familiarizing oneself with philosophical ideas of 18th century Europe means understanding the ways in which writers during this time dealt with the unique philosophical problems – social, political, scientific and religious – of the Enlightenment period. In the writings of Voltaire, one of the most vocal and adamant reformist philosophers of the Enlightenment era, the story of Candide stands out as emblematic of changes to philosophy, unique to the 18th century. Published in 1759, Candide belongs to the format of the philosophical novel. In it, Voltaire parodies the gradual disillusionment of the main character, Candide, who signifies an emerging rejection of optimism – notable in the work of Leibniz – in a quickly moving plot that trace’s the main characters struggle with events, such as the Seven Years War, as well as natural disasters, like the devastating earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755. It also deals head on with what is known in philosophical discourse as “the problem of evil,” developed well before the Enlightenment, by religious scholars and theologians such as Augustine, which positions Atheism as a plausible explanation for the qualitative existence of evil in the world.
In terms of politics, the character of the Honest Turk, who leads a mundane and dedicated life of simple work, represents both the work ethic and class position of many philosophers of the Enlightenment, including Voltaire. Yet, even if we have ulterior reasons for pursuing an active political or luxurious life, the Honest Turk in Candide is right, that the most satisfying life is simple and apolitical. Despite the forewarning of Voltaire’s Honest Turk, we are obligated to seek political change – to make an earnest attempt at progress. The Honest Turk is a displaced former Turkish sultan, Achmet III, who Candide first encounters in chapter 26. As a former sultan, his humble work ethic appears somewhat surprising to the reader. Arguably, Voltaire uses him to both lend satire to the notions of monarchy, aristocracy and the nepotism of 18th century social and political life. According to Dorina Outram, state control in Europe by the 18th century had centralized under several key monarchies – Louis XIV’s reign in France; Frederick the Great in Prussia; and the Habsburgs and Bourbon’s in Spain. With the emergence of Enlightenment thinking, Voltaire and others like Denis Diderot and Baron Montesquieu, became very distasteful of everything they represented: cronyism, nepotism, meritless and ultimately, worthy of overthrow by democracy, transforming states into beacons of politically and socially liberal ideas of self-determination, rather than monarchist rule. Furthermore, the Honest Turk represents a character whose values, self-worth and humility represent everything these Enlightenment philosophers’ thought possible, with regard to social and political transformation. If, as the Honest Turk embodied, monarchies could give way to systemic changes, based on modern liberal ideals of democracy, then society as a whole, would be qualitatively better off.
When Voltaire introduces the Honest Turk, he does so with satire. Meeting the Honest Turk at the Carnival in Venice, the humble man reveals how he met unfortunate circumstances. After he relays his story, several others around him repeat it nearly verbatim with the same concluding sentence: “I come to spend the carnival at Venice” (Voltaire, 1960, p. 84). In the company of several satirical monarchs (two from Poland, one from England and one from Corsica), they listen to the Honest Turk as he describes his outlandish story and mock him through their satire. Yet, the Honest Turk, despite presumably having a vast estate, lives a simple, meagre and virtuous life. Pillars that became central to one of the key concepts developed by Voltaire throughout the book: the cultivation of one’s own garden, symbolizing, in effect, the trustworthiness that comes from hard work and bearing the fruits of one’s own labour and surplus adulterated by nepotism and inheritance. During a conversation with Candide, the Honest Turk responds that he lives an honest life free of vice. “I have no more than twenty acres of ground, the whole of which I cultivate myself with the help of my children; and our labor keeps off from us three great evils—idleness, vice, and want” (Voltaire, 1960, p. 90). Later, when Candide is returning home with Pangloss and Martin, he comments on truism within this way of thinking emblematic of the Honest Turk’s life as philosophically just. “This good old man,” Candide remarks, “appears to me to have chosen for himself a lot much preferable to that of the six kings with whom we had the honor to sup”, And “that we must take care of our garden”, an apt metaphor that sits in for value of hard work, regardless of political orientation, social standing or class. The idea that hard work, merit and dedication is apolitical may seem straightforward enough to the contemporary reader, but during the 18th century and the Enlightenment, this would have been a radical idea.
The entire social and political fabric of Europe, prior to the 18th century, was built along lines of familial and papal dynasties. Religion and monarchy went hand in hand. Those who ruled Europe did so knowing that it was through a patchwork of alliances and inter-marriages that kept the large aristocracy in check and the idea that one could rise through the ranks, simply based on merit, was very difficult to attain in any practical sense. However, the idea that hard work and honesty factored into merit was not something that most monarchs in Europe were willing to accept, until the wave of political upheavals in Europe began overthrowing centuries of established political dynasties, beginning in France. That idea that hard work and honesty is apolitical is also somewhat problematic, however, because it ignores the fact that the Enlightenment thought, developed by Voltaire and others was steadfastly against aristocratic rule, despite the fact that what emerged was a form of Enlightenment that allowed monarchies to nevertheless remain in power, will fostering an environment of free speech, increased social and political tolerance and the right to private property. The principal inspiration behind Enlightened monarchies – like that fostered by Catherine the Great – was nothing short of a watered-down version of what the Honest Turk embodied. Though in some respects, administrations were changed. Financial systems of property allowed to develop amongst the middle class, there was still far from the total abolishment of serfdom across Europe and what monarchies did instead, was to channel the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers into existing aristocratic political frameworks. The ideas seemingly espoused by the Honest Turk, relayed by Candide, of tending to one’s own garden seem, at least on the surface, to mirror the appropriation of Enlightenment thinking by monarchs to their own ends. This would suggest that while it may seem apolitical to dedicate oneself to toiling away on a simple, hardworking level, that ultimately even in this act there is a willful ignorance here that is certainly far from indifferent towards politics. Instead, it seems what Voltaire is saying is that we are all responsible for manifesting out our own political utopias, which in a sense mirrors the individual’s ideas of liberty and freedom espoused by most Enlightenment thinkers (even the so-called “Enlightened monarchs” who in turn appropriated their ideas).
One figure who exemplifies the real-life notion of the Enlightened monarch, perhaps more so than any other, is Catherine the Great, who took over the Russian throne in 1762. Catherine the Great not only gave asylum to several Enlightenment thinkers during her over 3-decade long reign, but also was in frequent correspondence with Voltaire through letters where they expressed mutual sympathy with each other. Catherine’s ‘enlightened despotism’ made fanfare with renegade thinkers such as Voltaire, whose pointed criticism of the French monarchy, their greed and corruption, found a sympathetic ear in Catherine, whose rule over a barely modernized Russia prompted her to enact, reforms designed at integrating with an Enlightened Europe, a top priority. In turn, many of her qualities are arguably present in the Honest Turk: someone who is reformist, willing to accept change and modification of social and political systems, free from religious doctrine, open, inclusive, hardworking and dedicated, qualities which certainly Voltaire saw in Catherine as well.
In crafting the Honest Turk in such a way so as to create a sense of merit and value in small, mundane and even menial tasks required to “cultivate one’s own garden,” Voltaire seems to privilege a form of Enlightened absolutism that others such as Catherine the Great took up with keen interest. As such, the Honest Turk is someone who does not evade his past, his inheritance, or his fortune, but rather is someone who sees value in the merit, bounty and freedom of hard work on a personal and individual level. Thus, it was through satire that Voltaire was able to release and expand upon these philosophical ideas – central to the Enlightenment – that hard work was not exactly an apolitical gesture, but to the contrary that self-fulfillment and attainment make for earnest changes at the political level. For when one is able to make changes unto oneself, the personal becomes political.
References: Voltaire. (2005). Candide. Simon and Schuster.