Candide: Theme Analysis
Voltaire's Candide has many themes, though one central, philosophical theme traverses the entire work. This theme is a direct assault on the philosophy of Leibniz, Pope and others. Leibniz held that the world created by God was the best possible world with perfect order and reason. Alexander Pope, similarly, in his Essay on Man, argues that every human being is a part of a greater, rational, grand design of God. Pangloss stresses this viewpoint-that what appears to be evil is actually part of a greater good-when he asserts to Jacques that "private misfortunes make for public welfare.?/font>
Voltaire, on the other hand, found that his own experiences contradicted this optimistic determinism. Much like his protagonist, Candide, Voltaire must abandon this belief after realizing the needless suffering that surrounds him. Thus the major theme of the book revolves around this idea that the world is not the best of all possible ones, that it isn't determined by reason and order, and that accident and chance play a major role. Though as a deist, Voltaire believed that God did create the world, he also believed that human injustice and brutality made the world anything but perfect. Furthermore, he believed that the fatalistic philosophy of Pope and others stripped man of his God-given free will.
In addition to his anti-philosophy current which runs throughout the work, Voltaire also satirically indicts religion and war. Almost from the first chapter to the last, Voltaire depicts religious men (priests, monks, etc) as hypocrites who don't live up to the religion they profess to believe. Most importantly, Voltaire makes the Church out to be one of the most corrupt, violence-ridden institutions on the planet. This is seen both during the Inquisition scene towards the middle of the book as well as the Jesuit satire seen while Candide and Cacambo are in Paraguay.
Based largely on Voltaire's experiences of the Seven Years?War (1756-63), an anti-war message is found throughout the fast-paced narrative of Candide. Voltaire bitingly criticizes both the French (Abares) and the Prussians (Bulgars). Casually describing the thousands of dead soldiers on both sides, Voltaire underscores how wasteful these "heroes?are of human life, clearly showing his anti-war sentiments. During one such battle, Candide, his protagonist, hides, doing his best to keep away from the needless bloodshed and "heroic butchery.?After the battle subsides, he escapes through the battlefield, seeing the "scattered brains and severed limbs?that "littered the ground.?/font>
Thus, Voltaire bashes a multitude of people and institutions throughout Candide. Despite his many sources of criticism, however, Voltaire merges all of his satires into one, larger message-that the human world is utterly disutopian. All of the versions of utopia which Voltaire raises up and then slams down in his work demonstrate such a loss of optimism. Pangloss?utopia, for one, which simply changes the conditions of the word to fit it to the world he knows is proven false, since even Pangloss himself eventually stops believing it. Eldorado, a second kind of utopia, also fails to satisfy Candide, who soon becomes bored, yearning for adventure, and, of course, Cunegonde. Only the decision to simply till the land at the conclusion of the book satisfies a quasi-utopian hope of the reader. Yet when Pangloss tries to resurrect the idea that this world is a utopia in the second to last paragraph, Candide himself dismisses the notion.
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Candide Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Chapters 1-2
- Chapters 1-2
- Chapters 3-4
- Chapters 5-6
- Chapters 7-8
- Chapters 9-10
- Chapters 11-12
- Chapters 13-14
- Chapters 15-16
- Chapters 17-18
- Chapters 19-20
- Chapters 21-22
- Chapters 23-24
- Chapters 25-26
- Chapters 27-28
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire