A Free Will Problem in Frankenstein And Candide Novels
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and Candide by Voltaire, both the monster and Candide are tossed into the real world and forced to fend for themselves. Although these two stories seem as if they have nothing in common since Candide is a satire and Frankenstein is a more of a horror story, the most important similarity that the main characters share is that they both have a feeling of desire that strips them of their freedom. The monster wants to fit into society and Candide is searching for his lover, and these desires subsequently conflict with their freedom, because they are bound by their desires. Voltaire’s quotation, “What is the meaning of the phrase ‘to be free’? It means ‘to be able,’ or else it has no meaning. To say that the will ‘can’ is as ridiculous at bottom as to say that the will is yellow or blue, round or square. Will is wish, liberty is power”, touches upon the tension between freedom and free will, and is supported by both Candide and Frankenstein. Voltaire’s quotation applies to both books because even though it seems as if the monster is given freedom, he is denied of his wish to be a part of society, which causes him to become murderous, and Candide is stripped of his freedom because he longs to be with the love of his life, Cunegonde, and all of his choices are therefore restricted because of his love for her. Both books prove that there is no such thing as free will, because society dictates people’s choices and their fates.
When the monster is created and abandoned, he is set free into the world and eventually learns that he doesn’t want to live in isolation. However, no one allows him to assimilate into society, which seems to be his strongest desire. When the monster saves a little girl and gets shot for doing so, he says, “This was then the reward for my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and, as a recompense, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound, which shattered the flesh and bone” (Shelley 125). Even though the monster proves that he has the capacity to be virtuous and does a good deed, it is clear that he will not be allowed to participate in society no matter how hard he tries. The monster continues on to say, “The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind” (Shelley 125). Mankind’s propensity for violence forces the monster to become a hateful creature, even though all he ever wanted was to live in a community peacefully among other people. The monster’s choice and desire to be a part of society dictated all of his actions, and proved that he ultimately had no choice in his fate.
However, desires aren’t the only thing holding back the monster. From the beginning of the monster’s creation, he showed signs of intelligence, and did not seem to act like the horrible creature that everyone assumed that he was. When the little boy tells the monster, “Let me go, monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces – You are an ogre – Let me go, or I will tell my papa” (Shelley 126), it is revealed that people automatically assume the worst of the monster, based off of his outwards appearances. This is an unfair judgment of the monster, and it is this rationalization that ultimately forces the monster to become murderous and evil. Society kept trying to tell the monster who he was, and it eventually led to the monster fulfilling his horrible fate. The monster was never given a choice in his personality; he was forced into acting a certain way because that was what everyone assumed of him. Clearly, the monster did not have free will, and society eventually turned him into the horrible beast that they dreaded.
The land of Eldorado also explores the idea of a land in which there is no free will to a more extreme extent, but it is representative of the real world. When an old man tells Candide, “We all agree with each other here” (Voltaire 63), it is obvious that no one thinks for themselves, and that Eldorado is a land in which everyone lacks originality and is marked by sameness. Although it seems as if Candide has free will because he chooses to leave, his reasoning for leaving is because he thinks that he’s in love with Cunegonde. The king tells Candide, “It’s a foolish thing to do. I know my country doesn’t amount to much, but when a man is fairly well off somewhere, he ought to stay there” (Voltaire 66). It was very foolish of Candide to leave a land filled with riches, peace, and kindness, to return to a world filled with “monks who teach, argue, rule, plot, and burn people who don’t agree with them” (Voltaire 63). He fact that Candide left Eldorado, which is supposed to be a perfect place, because of his love for a woman suggests that Voltaire believes that women have a powerful hold over men that causes them to do stupid things. Although it seems as if Candide used his free will to leave Eldorado, he really did not have free will, because he was blinded by love.
Not only does it seem as if free will doesn’t exists, but Voltaire also suggests that mankind is happiest when he don’t have free will. At the ending of the book when Candide decides to live in a society in which each person fills a specific niche (the role that an organism plays within a society), Candide realizes that this lifestyle is what is truly desirable to him. When the Turk tells Candide that his work keeps him free of three great evils: boredom, vice, and poverty (Voltaire 112), Candide ponders this idea and says, “That good old man seems to have made himself a much better life than the six kings we had the honor of eating supper with” (Voltaire 112). This is the moment in which Candide realizes what makes him truly happy, and he gives up his free will to live a life of repetition and uniformity. At the end, instead of continuing to debate with Pangloss, Candide shuts him down by saying, “Well said, but we must cultivate our garden” (Voltaire 113). Clearly, Candide has lost his desire for free will, and would rather live a life of ignorance and happiness.
Both books seem to agree with Voltaire’s quotation, which argues that there is no such thing as free will. Frankenstein shows that society doesn’t always allow a person to have what he/she wants, and that society can ultimately shape a person’s characteristics and dictate their actions. Candide depicts that idea that a life without free will is a happy one, and that love can destroy a person’s free will. In the end, free will is something that everyone seems to think that they have, but as Voltaire claims, no one truly makes a decision out of free will.
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