Francois-Marie Arouet De Voltaire, the son of a notary, was born on November 21st, 1694, in Paris. In 1704 he was enrolled to the Jesuit College of Louis-le-grande to study law, but he remained there until his seventeenth year. Voltaire quickly chose literature as a career. He began moving in aristocratic circles and soon became known in Paris as a brilliant and sarcastic wit. During his life he spend some time in Bastille for writing satiric verses about the aristocracy. He wrote many tragedies, comedies and few philosophical works. “Candide” is one of satirical and philosophical novels written by Voltaire.
The main character, Candide, is an innocent man who after struggles to survive in the mad and evil world learns that irrational ideas taught to him about being optimistic (everything is for the best) are not always true. The main theme, which is presented throughout the novel, is optimism. Out of every unfortunate situation in the story, Pangloss, his philosopher-teacher has advised Candide, that everything in this world happens for the best, because “Private misfortunes contribute to the general good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more we find that all is well”.
Pangloss tries to defend his theories by determining the positive from the negative situations and by showing that misfortunes bring some privileges. As Candide grows up, whenever misfortune happens, Pangloss would turn the situation around, bringing out good in it. Pangloss is a very hopeful character in the story because he refuses to accept bad. He is also somewhat nave and believes that he could make the world a better place by spreading his theories on optimism.
When Candide had met up with Pangloss after a long period of time, Pangloss said that he was almost hanged, than dissected, than beaten. Candide asked the philosopher if he still thought that everything was for the best, and Pangloss replied that he still held his original views. No matter how little Pangloss believed in fact that somehow everything would turn out well, he still maintained his original views. During the course of Candide’s journey, an earthquake strikes, murdering thirty thousand men, women, and children.
In reality, this is a horrible predicament to be involved with. In Pangloss’ world, “It is impossible for things not to be where they are, because everything is for the best”, meaning that the earthquake was necessary in the course of nature, and so there was definitely a rationale for this situation. To show contrast in the story, Voltaire introduces a character whose beliefs are completely opposite than the beliefs of Pangloss. This character is Martin, a friend and advisor of Candide who he meets on his journey. Martin is also a scholar, and a spokesman for pessimism.
Martin continuously tries to prove to Candide there is little virtue, morality, and happiness in this world. When a cheerful couple are seen walking and singing, Candide tells Martin “At least you must admit that these people are happy. Until now, I have not found in the whole inhabited earth…anything but miserable people. But this girl and this monk, I’d be willing to bet, are very happy creatures”. “I’ll bet they aren’t”, replies Martin, and he bets Candide that the couple are, in fact, depressed, and are disguising their unhappiness.
Martin claims to be a pessimist because he “knows what life is” which is why Martin concludes that man was born to suffer. Candide becomes affected by optimism in different ways throughout his life. The name Candide comes from Latin word candidus, which means white, and symbolizes innocence. Perhaps Candide very readily believed in optimism at first because of his innocence. He grew up as a nave and vulnerable child in his own Eden and was only exposed to the brighter side of life and the idea that everything in the world happens for the best.
He did not know what to expect in the real world and why things happened. As Candide progressed in life, though, his eyes opened and he became exposed to bad without goodness coming out of it, like when people he cared for were harmed. Candide became more independent and learned to form his own opinions. He would look at the world and say exactly what he saw, and in every situation where Pangloss is absent, Candide would refer to Pangloss’ spirit: “What would Pangloss think?
Over time Candide realized that “Pangloss cruelly deceived [him] when he told [him] that all is for the best in this world”. For a long time throughout Candide’s life, he believed strongly in optimism, not because he was forced to, but because he was raised in that manner. It is possible, however, that all along, deep down inside, Candide doubted the philosophies of his teacher because of his exposure to immorality in the real world. For example, Candide witnessed the public hanging of two Portuguese Jews simply because they refused to eat bacon for dinner.
It was occurrences like these which demonstrated the inhumanity that one person can do to another, leading Candide to disbelieve Pangloss’ philosophies. Candide’s learning’s and the events that happened to him affected his character in many ways. He had learned to become his own person, to accept his life for what it had to offer, and that not everything had to be analyzed to decide whether it was good or bad. In this way Candide can be an example for all those who read his story.