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Voltaire’s Candide Essay

“A guy walks into a bar and says, “Ouch. ” Many are familiar with this ancient pun. Very often, jokes are told that begin with a character walking into a bar. This joke, however, satirizes those cliches and while sounding very foolish, the anecdote is still sensible, much like the humor performed in Voltaire’s Candide. The novel is essentially a satire, itself, on the many philosophies of life, mainly the belief of optimism. Voltaire’s humor throughout Candide’s adventures become more ridiculous and simultaneously, hilarious to achieve his paradox on the ideals of life.

Voltaire includes a variety of comedic elements in Candide, including: sarcasm, paradoxical remarks, and outright ludicrous humor. However, Voltaire does not introduce this humor immediately. He basically “sets up” the reader for what appears to be a novel about philosophical optimism, but then incorporates his satiric comedy, which provides for a better comedic performance. The humor is unexpected and that is what allows for this delayed comedy to work.

For example, the first real occurrence or humor does not appear until Chapter IV when Pangloss is explaining to Candide how he obtained the sores on his body and how he was reduced “to such a pitiful state. ” (26) Pangloss explains how all of these “diseases” were passed to each person, and eventually him. He then reveals the final scapegoat to Candide, which is love. He blames love for his acquisition of the sores. Voltaire satirizes the human race’s idea of love here, because it is so cherished by all.

But he realizes how love is always misunderstood, and this leads to perfect satire. Reading further into Candide, one will notice how Voltaire’s comedy progresses into absurd humor. Voltaire, in Chapter XI, introduces one of his many tools of comedy, this being the old woman. When read initially the old woman seems to have no reason for involvement in the story and can even be perceived as pointless. However, she is another prop used by Voltaire to provide comedy in the novel. The old woman tells her story, and this is where Voltaire’s absurd comedy occurs.

When describing her youth to Candide, she says, “My breasts were forming, and what breasts! They were white and firm, and as shapely as those of Venus de’ Medici. ” (42) Her graphic description to another male is what makes this scene so funny; just imagining Candide sitting there, listening to her describe her breasts. She lists many of her other youthful features and the fortuitous incorporation of her breasts is indeed the most humorous. She also explains how the soldiers stripped the women of their clothes, and she adds, “It’s amazing how quickly those gentlemen can undress people. 43)

Not only is this comment by her unnecessary, but also it contradicts her opinion on the soldiers. She was angered and what they did to her, yet she manages to refer to them as gentlemen. Continuing with the unexpected humor that appears so spontaneously throughout Candide, Voltaire provides more amusement by playing with Candide’s optimistic views. When Candide meets again with Cunegonde’s brother, the baron, they are both initially pleased with one another. Yet when he mentions marrying Cunegonde, the baron suddenly changes his tone and the two become almost immediate enemies.

The baron says to Candide, “You insolent wretchYou should be ashamed of yourself for mentioning such an audacious scheme to me! ” (56) They continue to argue until Candide thrusts his sword into the baron, appearing to kill him. It is comical to see how quickly the attitudes of these two characters change in a few short moments. They go from being friendly old-fashioned chums, to one killing the other. This type of ludicrous humor by Voltaire makes the scene laughable when it should be serious because a man has just been murdered.

Voltaire takes his silly humor to the next level as the adventures of Candide unfold. Voltaire’s last character utilized as a comical tool is Signor Pococurante. Although he possesses many of the fine riches that people yearn for and adore, he only buys them out of vanity. When Candide attempts to please him with a plethora of compliments on his objects, Signor Pococurante explains the he dislikes almost everything he owns. It is funny to see how each time Candide shares his pleasure with each object, he counters with a derogatory remark.

When Candide notices a book by Homer, he says, “That used to delight the great Pangloss, the best philosopher in Germany. ” Pococurante reverts with a sharp, “It doesn’t delight me. ” (100) Then when Candide finds the author, Cicero, he says, “Surely you never tire of reading that great man. ” And once again Pococurante counters by saying, “I never read him. ” (101) This type of humor from Voltaire slightly strays from the outrageous humor he has provided throughout the novel. Nevertheless it still amuses the reader.

The fact that Signor Pococurante snaps at Candide’s optimism with his pessimism, along with these two characters’ contrasting views, makes these scenes humorous. Conclusively, Voltaire manages to explain the many philosophies of life and simultaneously satirize them. His absurd comedy throughout the book displays his ability to prove a point and keep the reader amused. As a result of such humorous language and scenes throughout the novel, Voltaire establishes the satire of Candide’s journey, as well as optimism and life’s other philosophies.

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