Voltaire's Candide

 

Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire was the French author of
the novella "Candide", also known as "Optimism" (Durant and
Durant 724). In "Candide", Voltaire sought to point out the
fallacy of Gottfried William von Leibniz's theory of
optimism and the hardships brought on by the resulting
inaction toward the evils of the world. Voltaire's use of
satire, and its techniques of exaggeration and contrast
highlight the evil and brutality of war and the world in
general when men are meekly accepting of their fate.
Leibniz, a German philosopher and mathematician of
Voltaire's time, developed the idea that the world they
were living in at that time was "the best of all possible
worlds." This systematic optimism shown by Leibniz is the
philosophical system that believed everything already was
for the best, no matter how terrible it seemed. In this
satire, Voltaire showed the world full of natural disasters
and brutality. Voltaire also used contrast in the
personalities of the characters to convey the message that
Leibniz's philosophy should not be dealt with any
seriousness.
 
Leibniz, sometimes regarded as a Stoic or Fatalist because
his philosophies were based on the idea that everything in
the world was determined by fate, theorized that God,
having the ability to pick from an infinite number of
worlds, chose this world, "the best of all possible
worlds." Although Voltaire chose that simple quality of
Leibniz's philosophy to satirize, Leibniz meant a little
more than just that. Even though his philosophy stated that
God chose "the best of all possible worlds," he also meant
that God, being the perfection he is, chose the best world
available to him, unfortunately it was a world containing
evil. It seems as though Voltaire wanted to ridicule
Leibniz's philosophy so much that he chose to satirize only
the literal meaning and fatal acceptance of evil of
Leibniz's philosophy.
 
To get his point across in Candide, Voltaire created the
character Dr. Pangloss, an unconditional follower of
Leibniz's philosophy. Voltaire shows this early in the
novella by stating, "He proved admirably that there is no
effect without a cause and that, in this best of all
possible worlds....(16)" Pangloss goes on to say that
everything had its purpose and things were made for the
best. For example, the nose was created for the purpose of
wearing spectacles (Voltaire 16). Because of his "great
knowledge," Candide, at this point a very naive and
impressionable youth, regards Pangloss as the greatest
philosopher in the world, a reverence that will soon be
contradicted by contact with reality (Frautschi 75). The
name Pangloss is translated as "all tongue" and "windbag."
The colloquialism "windbag" implies that a person is all
talk, and he takes no action. In this case, Leibniz's
philosophy is Stoic acceptance of the evil of the world. As
the story progresses, though, Pangloss loses faith in the
Leibnizian philosophy. Although Pangloss suffered many
hardships, he still sticks to the philosophy to avoid
contradicting himself (Frautschi 69). Voltaire uses
Pangloss and a contrasting character, Martin, to point out
the shortcomings in Leibniz's philosophy.
 
A contrast to the views of Pangloss is the character
Martin. Martin, a pessimist, is a friend and advisor to
Candide whom he meets on his journey. Martin continuously
tries to prove to Candide that there is little virtue,
morality, and happiness in the world. When a cheerful
couple is seen walking and singing, Candide tells Martin,
"At least you must admit that these people are happy (80)."
Martin answers Candide's comment with the reply, "I wager
they are not (80)." Martin suggests that Candide invite the
couple to dine at his hotel. As the young girl, now found
to be Paquette, tells her story, Martin takes pleasure in
knowing he has won the wager.
 
Another contrast to this "best of all possible worlds" is
Eldorado. Voltaire describes Eldorado as an extremely
peaceful and serene country. Eldorado, a place that is
"impossible" to find, has no laws, jails, war, or need for
material goods. Voltaire uses Eldorado as an epitome of the
"best of all possible worlds." It contrasts the real
outside world in which war and suffering are everyday
occurrences. 

Another example of how Voltaire ridicules Pangloss'
optimistic philosophy is the mention of the Lisbon
earthquake and fire. Even though the disastrous earthquake
took over 30,000 lives, Pangloss still upheld his
philosophical optimism by stating, "For all this is for the
very best...For it is impossible that things should not be
where they are.(26)" The disaster in Lisbon affected
Voltaire's life so much that he wrote the Poem on the
Lisbon Disaster, but Pangloss' philosophy said that the
Lisbon earthquake was necessary in the course of nature,
and there was definitely a rationale for the situation.
 
War is another evil which Voltaire satirizes in Candide.
Voltaire used the Bulgarians and their brutality as a basis
for his satire on war. Voltaire writes how Candide was
captured by the Bulgarians and is given a choice "to be
beaten thirty-six times by the whole regiment, or receive
twelve lead bullets at once in his brain (19)." Being the
"hero" he is, Candide chooses to run the gauntlet. Instead
of the thirty-six times he was to run the gauntlet, our
"hero" made it only two until he pleaded to the Bulgarians
to smash in his head (19). Another satire of war included
in Candide is the Bulgarians' burning of the Abarian
village "in accordance with the rules of international
law.(20)" Voltaire also shows his satire on war in that the
Bulgarian soldiers do not just kill other people, they rape
disembowel, and dismember innocent women and children. In
fact, Candide's training as a soldier involved being
brutalized and beaten. Voltaire uses this example to
demonstrate the inhuman vulgarity of many belligerent
groups. He thought that this torture was cruel and
unjustified. If this were the "best of all possible
worlds," innocent people would not be harmed, and violent
peoples such as the Bulgarians would not exist.
 
Upon arrival in England, Candide witnesses another instance
of brutality, the execution of an admiral because of his
failure to win a battle(Voltaire 78). A reply to Candide's
questioning of the act is, "...it is a good thing to kill
an admiral from time to time to encourage the others
(78-79)." This is an obvious allusion to an incident
Voltaire himself witnessed. Admiral Byng of England was
court-martialed for the same outrageous reason, and
although Voltaire tried to stop the execution, Byng was
still killed (Durant and Durant 725).
 
Although the novella Candide was partially written for
entertainment purposes, it was written primarily to
satirize the views of Leibniz's philosophy. Voltaire looked
at the world with the idea that there could be something
done about all of the evil in the world. He achieved his
goal of satirizing Leibniz by tearing apart Pangloss'
philosophy, using Martin as a contrast to Pangloss, showing
the destruction caused by natural disasters, and the
brutality of war. 

Works Cited
 
Durant, Will, Ariel Durant. The Story of Civilization: Part
IX: The Age of Voltaire. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.
 
Frautschi, R.L. Barron's Simplified Approach to Voltaire:
Candide. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1968.
 
Voltaire. Candide. In Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories.
Tran