Candide is an outlandishly humorous, far-fetched tale by Voltaire satirizing the optimism espoused by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. It is the story of a young mans adventures throughout the world, where he witnesses much evil and disaster. Throughout his travels, he adheres to the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss, believing that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Candide is Voltaires answer to what he saw as an absurd belief proposed by the Optimists – an easy way to rationalize evil and suffering.
Though he was by no means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens is always for the best. The Age of Enlightenment is a term applied to a wide variety of ideas and advances in the fields of philosophy, science, and medicine. The primary feature of Enlightenment philosophy is the belief that people can actively work to create a better world. A spirit of social reform characterized the political ideology of Enlightenment philosophers.
While Voltaires Candide is heavily characterized by the primary concerns of the Enlightenment, it also criticizes certain aspects of the movement. It attacks the idea that optimism, which holds that rational thought can inhibit the evils perpetrated by human beings. Voltaire did not believe in the power of reason to overcome contemporary social conditions. In Candide, Voltaire uses Pangloss and his ramblings to represent an often humorous characterization of the typical optimist.
Of Pangloss, Voltaire writes, He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in the best of all possible worlds the Barons castle was the best of all castles and his wife the best of all possible Baronesses. (522) The attack on the claim that this is the best of all possible worlds permeates the entire novel. Throughout the story, satirical references to this theme contrast with natural catastrophes and human wrongdoing. When reunited with the diseased and dying Pangloss, who had contracted syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault.
Pangloss simply responds that the disease was a necessity in this the best of all possible worlds, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease. (526) The multitudes of disasters, which Candide endures, culminate in his eventual, if temporary, abandonment of optimism. When asked Whats optimism? by Cacambo, Candide replies, Alasit is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell. (555)
Candide finally begins to recognize the futility of his dear Pangloss philosophy. Voltaire concludes Candide by having Candide discover the Turks truth to life – the work keeps us from three great evils, boredom, vice and poverty. (584) Candide and his band of followers consider these words and decide that they must cultivate their garden. Even when the entire group has accepted the pastoral lifestyle, finding contentment, Pangloss the Optimist attempts to prove how all their prior misfortunes were parts of the necessary chain of events for them to reach happiness.
Voltaire paints Pangloss as the true dolt of optimism, never realizing the errors of his own logic. Even though a philosopher of the Enlightenment himself, Voltaire uses Candide as a platform to criticize the utter optimism of his fellows. His use of satire throughout the story has a serious purpose. Voltaire uses satire as a means of pointing out injustice, cruelty, and bigotry, and makes it seem intolerable to the reader. Voltaire always has a serious intention behind the laughter in Candide.