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Voltaire's "Candide" is several novels rolled into one. (Homer and Hull, 1978), he returns to the life of a commoner. His life has gone full circle. From flights of fancy, he derives pleasure from one of the most basic occupations -- farming. Voltaire's epic works at several levels. His disdain for philosophies at the cost of realism is evident. Pangloss, the "metaphysico-theologo-cosmonolonigolo" ic tutor is not particularly equipped when confronted with life's harsh realities. In the long run, there is a reversal of roles: from Candide's starry eyed wonderment of Pangloss' learning, to Pangloss' life at the pleasure of Candide.
The essay will argue that in keeping with the alternative title for Candide -- Optimism -- throughout the narrative, Candide always looks ahead to the future. His travails would have put paid to most people. But his optimism and will to survive enables him to use all his abilities to protect himself and those he loves -- even by killing. There is an element of luck that perhaps veers away from the logic of the narrative. Candide's optimism and fresh-faced approach to life is fraught with na vete. Some of that na vete comes from learning concepts from the perspective of idealism from a theoretician like Pangloss. As the narrative progresses, one can consider a graph in which one axis extends from zero realism (100 per cent idealism) to the other end (of the narrative) where the relative amounts of realism and idealism are reversed.
The beginning of the narrative finds Candide living at the pleasure of one of the most powerful noblemen of Bavaria. He falls in love with the baron's daughter Cunegonde. The baron espies them kissing and casts Candide out of the castle. Thus, begin his travails. The conclusion of the narrative shows that Pangloss, Martin (another philosopher-character) and Candide cannot get away from philosophical discussion about the meaning of life and the origins of good and evil.
But in the scheme of things, these discussions merely serve as idle distractions which have no bearing on any of their lives. Indeed, the last line of the literal (English) translation sums this up well. "That's well said,' replied Candide, "but we must cultivate our garden.' "
So is Candide about the horrors visited upon the protagonist and those near and dear to him? Or is it that the main cast of characters find themselves in the historical scheme of things? In order to understand why Candide's story is one of a fruitful life because he came through physically and emotionally anguished times, one must obtain a perspective of the difficulties that Candide went through.
When Candide is expelled from the castle, he is conscripted into the Bulgar Army. Then he is wrongly accused of deserting. He has to choose between death and running the gauntlet 36 times, that is, being beaten by the entire Bulgar army for every time he runs the gauntlet. He is saved from certain death by the King of the Bulgars who takes pity on Candide. Eventually, Candide escapes. In Holland, he hopes to find succor. But the country is going through the effects of a war and famine. And all the protestant clergy can do is offer lame platitudes that bear little resembling social awareness. Candide challenges the clergy and he is met with remonstrations and castigations. An Anabaptist named Jacques takes Candide in and provides him with succor. Later, Candide meets Pangloss and discovers that his beloved has been murdered with her entire family. While traveling to Lisbon, Jacques drowns in a storm. Candide and Pangloss arrive in Portugal to find that it is under the control of the Inquisition. Here Candide discovers Cunegonde is alive and a sex slave of the Grand Inquisitor. Candide kills Cunegonde's enslavers and the couple escapes to Buenos Aires. Candide and Cunegonde plan to marry, but as soon as they arrive in Buenos Aires, for financial reasons she marries the governor of Buenos Aires. Pursued by the law who try to capture Candide for the murder of the Inquisitor, he escapes with a valet to an area controlled by Jesuits against the Inquisition. This place is Paraguay. The historical perspective is associated with the Conquistadors who colonized, ruled and decimated entire populations of Inca Indians in the name of the spread of Catholicism. (Caddy, 1991) In Paraguay, Candide and his compatriots are almost killed by a cannibalistic tribe called the Biglugs. They are saved only on the realization that Candide and the tribals had a common enemy -- the Jesuits. The Jesuit's commander is Cunegonde's brother who refuses Candide permission to marry his sister. Candide attacks the Baron and escapes to El Dorado where he finds untold riches. Candide wants to use his wealth to buy back Cunegonde, but loses it to an unscrupulous merchant. Later, he recovers part of it. He also discovers that Cunegonde has been enslaved again in Turkey. Candide uses his riches to buy her back. Cunegonde reunites with several friends who have been a part of his life during his adventures. Cunegonde's life has been very hard; being enslaved and abused has taken a toll on her looks. Candide keeps his promise anyway and marries her. Finally, Candide encounters a farmer who lives a simple life, works hard, and avoids vice and leisure. This serves as inspiration to Candide. Candide and his friends take to cultivating a garden in earnest. All their time and energy goes into the work, and none is left over for philosophical speculation. At last, everyone is fulfilled and happy.
Pangloss and Candide maintain, throughout the narrative, that "everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." If one followed this philosophy, one would assume that God existed and his creations were perfection -- the theodicy conundrum (Mason, 1992)
Candide's character is bland, naive, and highly susceptible to the influence of stronger characters. Like the other characters, Candide is less a realistic individual but more a characteristic presented as a human being. Candide's name is derived from the Latin word candidus, which means, "white." It means na vete and innocence -- ready to be led by others. Candide begins the novel as innocent -- wide-eyed in his worship of his tutor Pangloss. Pangloss is the eternal optimist that borders on the reckless, who is out of touch with the reality of the world. Candide lets life control him. His experiences serve to acquire strength of mind and a survival instinct. Over the course of the novel, Candide's experiences cause him to question his studentship in the Pangloss School of optimism. His trusting instinct however, persists and he is frequently duped when a situation tugs at his heartstrings or pleases him. Eventually, Candide gives up philosophizing in favor of the practical labor that is introduced to him by the old farmer -- who has no claim to learning or knowledge. While this shift in philosophy appears on the surface to be real progress, Candide's personality remains essentially unchanged. He is still incapable of forming his own opinions. He exchanges blind faith in Pangloss's opinions for blind faith in the opinions of the farmer. Despite his simplicity, Candide is an effective, sympathetic hero. He is fundamentally honest and good-hearted. He is generous, charitable and trustworthy -- possessed of a soft heart. He honors his commitment to marry Cunegonde even after his love for her has faded.
One could argue that Candide's life is a horror story -- a life not worth living. How could one after undergoing the tribulations that Candide did still maintain a semblance of normalcy in his life. In keeping with the essence of Voltaire's thesis in Candide, the hero, despite his nightmarish experiences is a better person. But Candide's fresh faced approach to life and never say die approach can be revisited.…[continue]
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