Candide is a French satire written by Voltaire during the Enlightenment in 1759. Voltaire, a French philosopher, writer, and historian of the Age of Enlightenment wrote the book in just three days. He was born in 1694 in Paris, France, and was mainly known for his intellect, advocacy for civil liberties, and criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. Voltaire produced many literary works including poems, plays, novels, and essays. He especially liked to use his satirical work to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and French institutions. Because of his politically and religiously centered works, he consequently was put in prison twice and he spent numerous years in exile (Biography.com).
Candide was written during the Enlightenment (1715-1789) which was “An intellectual movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries marked by a celebration of the powers of human reason, a keen interest in science, the promotion of religious toleration, and a desire to construct governments free of tyranny,” (dictionary.com). Voltaire created Candide with a satirical style so that he could not be attacked directly for his views and to get his points across without directly calling anyone out. The main viewpoint he attacked is that of Leibniz’s philosophy of optimism; he used satire to get his philosophical points across that rejected Leibniz’s optimism. Voltaire uses satire in Candide to not only criticize Leibniz’s philosophy of optimism, but also to criticize the legitimacy of philosophical reason, and corruption of organized religion.
Voltaire believes that Leibniz’s optimism is very misleading and foolish and uses the character of Dr. Pangloss to reflect Leibniz. Throughout the story, Dr. Pangloss often uses the concept of “all is for the best.” Dr. Pangloss states, “It is demonstrable, that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end,” (Voltaire). Just as this quote shows, Dr. Pangloss believes that there is a positive spin on everything that happens in the world. For example, he says that syphilis was transmitted from Americans to Europeans so that Europeans could enjoy things such as chocolate. He states, “if Columbus had not caught in an island in America this disease, which contaminates the source of generation, and frequently impedes propagation itself, and is evidently opposed to the great end of nature, we should have had neither chocolate nor cochineal,” (Voltaire). Throughout the book, Dr. Pangloss continues to try to make light of anything bad that happens.
At first, Candide goes along with everything that Dr. Pangloss states and believes every effect has a cause and everything is arranged for the best; however, as Candide experiences more of life, he soon starts to see that there is nothing optimistic about misfortunes and that it is human nature to struggle. By the end, Candide learns that good things do not always happen to good people, that there are bad things that happen in the world, and there is not always a good thing that comes out of it. This is shown when Dr. Pangloss tries to make light of the loss of a leg and a hand of a negro who is laying on the ground just before they entered the town of Surinam. He states, “such horrid doings never entered thy imagination. Here is an end of the matter.
I find myself, after all, obliged to renounce thy Optimism.” He then states that optimism “is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.” Even towards the end, Dr. Pangloss starts to believe that optimism does not account for natural disasters and suffering of good people and that he does not even believe anything he says about optimism (Voltaire). The point that Voltaire was trying to get across to the audience is that natural misfortunes happen in life that does not always point to a greater good.
Another way that Voltaire attacks the idea of Leibniz’s concept of optimism is to criticize the illegitimacy of philosophical reason. Voltaire believes that abstract philosophical reason is not as useful as concrete scientific evidence. Throughout the book, Dr. Pangloss continues to think about everything through a philosophical lens. For example, after the earthquake in Lisbon, Pangloss looked at Candide who is hurt and under rubish and decided to think about why the earthquake occurred. Pangloss states, “This concussion of the earth is no new thing. The city of Lima in South America experienced the same last year; the same cause, the same effects; there is certainly a train of sulphur all the way underground from Lima to Lisbon,” (Voltaire). Instead of doing anything to help Candide, he decides to look at it through his philosophical lens which then, in turn, puts Candide in danger.
Another example is when Dr. Pangloss stops Candide from saving Jacques when he is drowning because “the roadstead of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned there,” (Voltaire). By the end of the story, they both realize how foolish this philosophy is. They dismiss philosophical reason as concrete reason, which is what Voltaire wants his readers to do. The point that Voltaire wanted to get across is that philosophical thinking is useless, destructive, and unnecessary in most situations since it prevents them from living in reality and helping people.
Religion is also one of the central targets of Voltaire’s satire. Throughout the book, religion is shown as being very hypocritical, judgmental, and devious. Voltaire uses characters such as the Inquisitor, Protestant Minister, Jesuit Baron, and revered Franciscan to display these qualities. In Candide, Miss Cunegund is robbed of her moidores and jewels. They accuse reverend Franciscan and later on they find out it was him and that he tried to sell the jewels as well. The book states, “The old woman rightly guessed that the Franciscan with the long sleeves, was the person who had taken Miss Cunegund’s money and jewels,” and “this same friar attempted to sell some of the diamonds to a jeweler, who presently knew them to have belonged to the Grand Inquisitor, and stopped them,” (Voltaire). The friar is then hanged for his behavior.
Another example of this religious corruption in Candide is the fact that the Inquisitor has a mistress. Cunégonde tells Candide of her when she attended an auto-da-fé as a mistress of the Inquisitor. She states, “At length to turn aside the scourge of earthquakes, and to intimidate Don Issachar, My Lord Inquisitor was pleased to celebrate an auto–da–fe. He did me the honor to invite me to the ceremony. I had a very good seat,” (Voltaire). This shows that religious leaders are not perfect even though they may tell society that they are. Throughout the story, Candide does not have pleasant experiences with these religious leaders because they oppress him for not believing what they believe.
For example, since Candide is a student of Pangloss, the inquisitor persecutes Pangloss and Candide for their ideas. Candide believes that reason and science are the foundation of facts instead of religion and philosophy. In the end, Candide comes to believe that, “we must take care of our garden,” (Voltaire). By saying this, he means that we must live our lives and plant our seeds instead of blaming something or someone else; basically, our fate is in our hands and that is the point Voltaire wants to get across to his readers.
Voltaire uses Candide to poke fun at the rich and famous, religion, other philosophers, and government during the Enlightenment era. During the Enlightenment, Philosophers like Voltaire helped create conversations regarding how people think about the world, how they think about government, and how important concrete reason is. A potential target audience for this work would be the people who lived in France at that time who were subject to the absolute monarchy. Before the French revolution, they were being controlled in what they did and what they think, and Voltaire wanted people to be able to think for themselves. Throughout Candide, Voltaire successfully argues that optimism is very misleading and foolish, science and reason are the foundation behind facts, and religion can be misleading and corrupt.