An Analysis of the Novel “Candide: or, The Optimist” by Voltaire

The philosophical satire “Candide: or, The Optimist” was created by the famous French writer of the Age of Enlightenment in the late fifties of the XVIII century. One of the most popular works of Voltaire experienced a strange turn of fate. It was forbidden for a long time because of the “sort of improper things”, and the writer himself one day acknowledged his authorship, another day repudiated it.

A real historic event inspired Voltaire to write Candide. It was the Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755. In the story, the event holds a central place where the life paths of Candide and the philosopher Pangloss diverge, the storyline of Candide’s and Cunégonde’s love emerges, and the real adventures of the protagonist begin.

From the compositional point of view, this is the climax of the novel. Before arriving in Lisbon Candide aimlessly roamed the world, but when he found his lost lover he woke up and rushed headlong into the thick of life. Under the influence of love a peaceful philosopher turns immediately into a defender of the lady-love: at first he kills a rich Jew, then an inquisitor. Upon the arrival of the heroes in South America, Candide runs a sword through Cunégonde’s brother, who does not want his sister to get married with a man without seventy-two generations of ancestors. Candide does it as naturally as if he has been doing this all his life. However, all murders in the story are purely of an external nature. All the hanged, burned, stabbed and raped characters come out to be alive due to some divine circumstances and mastery of the healers. Thus, the author partly justifies the second title of his novel – “The Optimist”, partly entertains the reader in the best traditions of the picaresque novel.

The adventurous beginning of “Candide” is incredibly strong. The travels of the main hero through Europe, South America and the Middle East countries are the basis for revealing Voltaire’s world order. The writer shows the historical and cultural realities of his time (for example, the military expedition of Portugal and Spain against the Paraguayan Jesuits in 1756 or the Japanese custom of trampling the Christian crucifix after the trade with the Dutch), as well as the legends that live among the people (about the wonderful country of Eldorado). By the way, in the story this mythical state of universal happiness and contentment contrasts with the really existing world. Only in Eldorado people do not take money for lunch, do not steal, do not get imprisoned, do not sue each other. They have everything they need for happiness, and this is certainly the best country ever. In the normal world, in spite of the big talks of the Candide’s teacher, the philosopher Pangloss and his real prototype the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, everything is anything but for the good.

The protagonist with a self-explanatory name Candide (that is, “sincere”, “open-hearted”), at first, takes the words of his teacher for the truth, but life teaches him the opposite. All people, who a young man meets, tels him horrific stories of their life. Misfortunes accompany the characters, regardless of their social status: in “Candide” both royalty and ordinary people live equally bad. The female beauty of Cunégonde, for example, becomes a real curse for the girl: all men want her, but no one, except Candide, wants to enjoy the beauty on legal grounds.
In the novel “Candide: or, The Optimist”, Voltaire smiles at public perception and vices, culture and religion, feelings and deeds. Out of his hero’s mouth, the Venetian noble Pococurante, the representative of the French Enlightenment speaks unkindly about the opinion imposed by the society regarding the works of art to be held in veneration. At the same time, the author also laughs at Pococurante, because he sees him as a person not so much rebellious as bending under public perception.

Some remarks of the heroes turn the author’s irony into a real anecdote. For example, Candide explains the murder of a Jew and a prelate by the fact that “…when a man is in love, is jealous, and has been flogged by the Inquisition, he becomes lost to all reflection”. While crying about the stolen diamonds, Cunégonde asks herself what to exist on and in a very fine feminine way notes: “Where shall I find Inquisitors and Jews who can give me more?”.

The satirical beginning of the story is bound up in its philosophical part. “Candide: or, The Optimist” ends with the wisdom of an old Turk, who gave the heroes a cue how to live in a world full of evil and suffering. According to the Eastern sage, the true happiness of a man is in labor, which is not scattered throughout the earth, but concentrated on your small garden plot.

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