Candide, a novel by Voltaire, is an adventure story that can be summed up into one word: eccentric. The story begins with the introduction of an extremely wealthy family that resides in the England province known as Westphalia. While there, he encounters two people who will have a greater impact on his beliefs, goals, and determination than anybody else in his life would. One is Professor Pangloss who is renowned philosopher during that time period in England. He teaches Candide that everything in life has a cause and that every cause is good in some way.
This would be a truth that he would carry with him until the end of his life. The other was Cunegonde. She became the love of his life from the moment that he saw her. He would spend the rest of that life chasing after her to all the ends of the earth. They had a rough time from the start. Not too soon after they met, Candide was kicked out of his home for kissing his true love behind a screen. He received his punishment of brutal whippings and was sent on his way. He sets out with nothing but his beloved Cunegonde on his mind.
He traveled to many places and meets many people, but no person or beautiful climate can satisfy his desire more than being with Cunegonde. He encountered many misfortunes along his way as well. Some include having to run through a gauntlet of some two thousand soldiers, being robbed by a Spanish boat captain, and catching a very serious illness in Europe. The greatest tragedy of all was when he and his beloved Cunegonde were finally reunited. He looked upon her to discover that her beauty had changed to wrinkles and her appearance was more hideous than he could imagine; he did not love her anymore.
Candide begins his long journey with the belief that everything in life has a reason of why it happened and that it’s purpose is always good in some way. As he encountered his many misfortunes he began to wonder if his theory of non-existing evil and surrounding goodness in human life is the actual truth. This book suggests that man must find a middle path between the “convulsions of anxiety” and the “lethargy of boredom. ” Man meets many misfortunes in life and it is up to us to deal with them. Voltaire believed that by sitting around and watching misfortunes happen instead of working with them to make them better is useless.
Optimism is a healthy characteristic that can also be extremely hazardous to your health. Candide saw life through the eyes of a pure optimist. In a way it helped him get through those times of anguish and despair, but it crippled him those times when reality was necessary. In situations, like their incident with the Orellions, when intellect is the key route to survival but your mind, cluttered with optimism, gets in your way of reality. If it were not for the levelheaded Martin being involved in this sticky situation, Candide’s saga might have ended a couple chapters short.
This book poses the questions: Is everything that we see as evil, evil to all others? If there is a god, why would he put such evil into our hands? Why were we given free will if it would only result in such suffering? Leibniz suggests that “evil cannot be excluded from a world in which we are free to choose evil or good, and that such a world is better than one were there would be no free agents, and therefore no evil and no good. ” This statement opposes that of Candide where everything is part of one huge plan and is therefore predetermined.
Martin however, believes that the statement is true, however devastating the stature of the world may be. Everything, according to him, happens because of the chosen acts of man. For how could any god who’s purpose is to do good to his people, let the earth fall into such a tragic state of affairs? This entire book is said to be Voltaire’s way of mocking absolute optimism as being a foolish and wasteful practice. It must be understood however, that in Voltaire’s time, pessimism was considered the accepted way of thinking. He himself suffered great personal anguish.
He spent nearly a year in the prison of Bastille and was exiled from Paris at his release. As a tragic dramatist, he focused on the injustices of the times, from political to religious. Therefore, it is no wonder that this novel frowns upon idealistic optimism as a way of wandering through such a bleak existence. Voltaire seems to put a higher value upon freedom, though he still stresses the dangers of which possession of too much can lead to. He holds true to the Enlightenment theme of reason. When making decisions and acting upon them one must remain responsible for consequences.
According to Voltaire, people always have a right to choose. Voltaire was born in Paris into a middle-class family. He was educated by the Jesuits at the College Louis-le-Grand (1704-11). From 1711 to 1713 he studied law and then worked as a secretary to the French ambassador in Holland before devoting himself entirely to writing. Voltaire suffered from poor health, his essays did not gain the approval of authorities, but he energetically attacked the government and the Catholic church, which caused him numerous imprisonments and exiles.