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Review of Voltaire's Book Candide and Maturity

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By Edited Aug 6, 2016 0 1

This article is a discussion addressing the protagonist of Voltaire's conte, Candide, and his (Candide's) enlightenment to the fallacies of the philosophy of Optimism. This relatively short novelette provided Voltaire a platform to satire Leibniz's Optimism as well as incorporate some of Voltaire's other views on life. The key questions addressed by this paper are as follows: Does Candide finally mature by the end of the story? Has he given up Pangloss' philosophy? Has he embraced Martin's? Or has he developed one of his own? What is the meaning of "we must cultivate our garden" (from Candide, page 75)? Is this another "earthly paradise," as ephemeral as those of Westphalia and Eldorado?

François-Marie Arouet [nom de plume: Voltaire]: As a note to the reader, Voltaire’s real name was François-Marie Arouet; it might be beneficial to learn more about the author himself when studying his works.

Candide endures a series of mishaps and misadventures that, initially to Candide, are all for the best no matter how much pain and suffering he or others endure. He is the student of Optimism as taught by his philosopher and mentor Pangloss. Candide's view of life is challenged and is changed. By the conclusion of this story, Candide appears to finally discard Pangloss's philosophy of Optimism.

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Pangloss's philosophy is based on all events in life being linked in a complex chain of cause and effects further linked to a divine God and this God's harmonious universe (loosely based on Leibniz Optimism). Since this God is omnipotent, and the best of all possible Gods; the best in this case assumes good and, for Pangloss, it is logical that all that happens is for a greater good even if humanity cannot appreciate it. "It is clear, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything serves the best end (2)." Pangloss philosophy infers that everything is pre-planned or there is some kind of universal order beyond what mankind can see. Therefore, the best effects will result from any cause since God (a perfection) controls this universal order that is perfection and only perfection (assumes best or good) will come out of God's plan.

Everything is for the Best

Candide is presented and nurtured in this philosophy of "everything is for the best" throughout his childhood. No other view or counter view is presented until his adventure outside the Baron's Castle began. Master Pangloss, the character modeled after the Optimism philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, provides Candide with this philosophy of life. This philosophy is a simplified version promoted by Leibniz, focusing on the idea that this world must be the best of all worlds and all things happen for a reason. Everything is based on cause and effects. Whatever the cause and whatever the resulting event it is for the best; because in a world that is the best of all worlds God would not have effects resulting from a cause be less than the best result, so as to avoid any contradiction of this being the best. Candide throughout his life related the idea of "everything is for the best" as everything is for "his" best and that the "best world" would result in his fulfilling a "live happily ever after" ending for his own life.

Does he give up Pangloss' philosophy?

Candide finds himself teetering both ways as to accepting or denying Pangloss's teachings as time, adventures, and experience test and challenge the philosophy he grew up with. Pangloss, using some absurd logic as he usually does, relates how syphilis, which he contracts during the story, was a necessary evil in order for Europe to have Cochineal (scarlet red dye) and chocolate. Despite the fact that he (Pangloss) has lost an eye and an ear as a result of the cure for his venereal disease, an Anabaptist hires him as his bookkeeper. For Pangloss this is more proof that everything is for the best. To continue the string of absurd logic, as Candide and Pangloss witness their benefactor falling from the ship they were sailing on, Pangloss announces, " . . . the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for this Anabaptist to drown in" (10). It is this faulty logic that Candide has followed unquestioning up until midway through the story when Candide meets a man with a tragic story of his own.

This man tells of being sold as a child by his parents and having a hand and leg cut off as a form of discipline. Candide seeing no good outcome from this man's suffering cries out, "Oh Pangloss . . . you had no notion of these abominations! I'm through; I must give up your optimism after all" (40). "What's optimism, said Cacombo? Alas, said Candide, it is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell" (40). This is Candide's first attempt to throw off the guiding philosophy of Pangloss. However, by Chapter 27, Candide is once again accepting Pangloss philosophy when he believes circumstances once again are leading him back to Cunégonde, his beloved. That is until he meets Martin.

Martin's philosophy is the antithesis of Pangloss's Optimism. Martin's views can be summed up by saying that not all is for the best and in his own words, ". . . man was bound to live either in convulsions of misery or in the lethargy of boredom" (73). Martin tells Candide that "I think that God has abandoned it (the world) to some evil spirit" (40). Martin is the first person that causes Candide to look at misery, suffering, and evil for what they are and that good is not always an outcome of every "cause." In Chapter 20, after Candide is conned out of his sheep and jewels, he sees the perpetrator sinking in the bay, "You see, said Candide to Martin, crime is punished sometimes; this scoundrel of a Dutch merchant has met the fate he deserved. Yes, said Martin; but did the passengers aboard his ship have to perish too? God punished the scoundrel, the devil drowned the others" (44). As he goes through his adventures, Candide is surprised by the negative events and evil they see while Martin is not surprised at all and expects them. During another time in his story Candide doubts that "all is for the best." Candide "Oh it would have been better to stay in the earthly paradise of Eldorado than to return to this accursed Europe. How right you are my dear Martin; all is but illusion and disaster" (56).

Candide never fully accepts Martin's philosophy of negativism; instead he always tries to see the proverbial cup as half full. Because of Candide's former teachings that since this is the best of all possible worlds and that all outcomes are for the best, all outcomes are supposed to be good or right. For Candide, up until he is reunited with Cunégonde, the one good he still believed most strongly in was his being with her and the idea of "living happily ever after" in marriage. "I hope, said Martin to Candide about finding Cunégonde that she will someday make you happy; but I very much doubt it" (59). "You're a hard man, said Candide . . . I've lived, said Martin" (59).

Martin's point, or more appropriately Voltaire's, may be that you must make the best of what you have. It will not happen due to having any particular possession. Eventually, he learns that all may not be good or right or best. Candide, frustrated with trying to reconcile the notion of evil through traditional philosophical terms, asks the religious leader of their little group of characters. He asks the reverend father, Brother Giroffee, why is there so much evil in the world. Brother Giroffee puts things in perspective for Candide by saying "What does it matter . . . whether there's good or evil? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry whether the mice on board are comfortable or not? (73)

François-Marie Arouet [nom de plume: Voltaire]

Does Candide (finally) mature by the end of the story and does Candide develop a philosophy of his own? To the first question, the answer is yes. Candide matures to the extent that he recognizes the immaturity of his past optimism. However, he does not demonstrate or develop a philosophy of his own by the end of the story. Again, he borrows another man's philosophy of life, though surely factoring in all that he has learned by this point. He (Candide) seems to adopt the philosophy of a Turkish "good old man" he, Pangloss, and Martin meet at the end of Chapter 30. In this last chapter, Candide, Martin, and Pangloss meet this "good old man" who seems very content with his life and avoids getting involved in matters outside his home, family, and small 20-acres of ground. He tells the three travelers, working our "garden" keeps us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and poverty (74).This "good old man" presents a life philosophy based on cultivating your own small piece of the world (garden): Do not concern yourself with things outside the garden (your piece of the world).[1]

End the Chase

Candide decides himself to no longer chase a better life or take advantage of life outside his garden. He no longer wishes to accept risk. No pursuit for gain of wealth, knowledge, or experiences beyond that which he has already endured. He just wants to make a tolerable survivable home in this little garden of a world. Pangloss tries to link Candide's life experiences and tragedies as if all these "causes," bad as they may have seemed at times, were in fact leading the Candide's current "effect" or best situation that he is now in (as if this situation could not have been better). Candide responds as if patronizing Pangloss but also establishing his own position by saying, "That is very well put . . . but we must cultivate our garden" (75).

Cultivate Our Garden

So, what is Candide's meaning of "we must cultivate our garden"? Is this another "earthly paradise," as ephemeral as those of Westphalia and Eldorado? Westphalia was a sanctuary where Candide lived oblivious to the outside world and its trials. Candide saw his home in Westphalia as the best of all possible castles, set in the best of all possible worlds, and any discontent was comforted by Pangloss's Optimism. Eldorado was, for Voltaire's purposes, a true "best of all worlds." Eldorado represented an ideal utopian world for Voltaire to compare the brutal realities of the rest of the world, especially Europe, against all other worlds or places Candide experienced. Now, Candide has truly seen the best of all worlds and eventually misses Eldorado, believing he can never return. He soon finds that he must make his own "best of worlds"; just as Voltaire created for himself in the area where he built his home and sanctuary from the rest of the world. As Robert Adams writes, "As Voltaire is retired and free outside France, so too Candide in his final retreat in Turkey" (103). This proverbial garden is a small world: Cultivating it (the world) is to make the best of life in that world and to avoid getting caught up in the cause-and-effect outside that garden world. Whether or not the "garden" is as fleeting as Westphalia or Eldorado, will be determined by whether or not Candide leaves the garden and never returns. The best of all worlds is what we make of the one we are in, be it Westphalia, Eldorado, Voltaire's home outside France, and Candide's new home in Turkey.

The End

In the end of this story, Candide does mature in some sense. He does learn and develop in his ability to think things out and no longer accept Pangloss's Optimism at face value. He also does not become a total cynic as is presented in the character Martin. He no longer accepts the idea that all things that occur are for the best. Instead he chooses the idea that we must make our own "best of world" by "cultivating our garden."

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Comments

Aug 16, 2014 7:55pm
Moina-Arcee
Good analysis, life makes fools of us all no matter what our philosophy. We call it good, we call it bad, but who can say for sure? Not I.
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Bibliography

  1. Voltaire, Translated by Robert M. Adams Candide or Optimism, 2nd ed.. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1991.

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