Candide Or Optimism Term Paper


Voltaire's Title Character Candide: Fool, Hero, or Both? The comic novel Candide, by 18th century French author Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (better known as "Voltaire") satirically attacks the pseudo-rationalist idea that human optimism alone (the actual title of the book is Candide, or Optimism) can counteract extremes of evil and cruelty, such as those continually endured by the novel's title character and his various friends: Cunegonde; Pangloss; Cunegonde's brother; the old woman; Cacambo; Martin, and others. Throughout most of the novel, Candide seems a hapless fool, for continuing to cling, in the face of much contrary evidence, to his tutor Pangloss's original world view, that "everything is for the best" (p. 521). However, Candide also later grows into a hero of sorts: brave; tenacious, and resilient. Ultimately he saves friends from cruel fates. Still, most of the time before that, we simultaneously pity him and laugh at him. Only at the end, when Candide both disbelieves and lead his peers away from Pangloss's dogma, having learned, both metaphorically and actually, that to achieve real contentment and fulfillment, "we must cultivate our garden" (p. 580) does Candide emerge as more hero than fool.

At the beginning of the novel especially, the title character seems: ". . . bland, naive, and highly susceptible to the influence of stronger characters. Like the other characters, Candide is less a realistic individual than the embodiment of a particular idea or folly that Voltaire wishes to illustrate" ("Analysis of Major Characters: Candide"). However, Candide's late-developing heroism derives from his ability not only to learn, but to teach others, and also from his courage to begin again,...


To arrive at that point, however, a hero (or at least this hero) must first endure enough suffering to wish to challenge beliefs adopted very early on. As a hero, Candide must first admit his own disillusionment with Pangloss's philosophy, and then beginning anew, based wisdom gathered from painful first-hand experience. In other words, Candide must learn to fight the complacency that makes unbridled optimism seductive, yet dangerous.
As Lawall and Mack also suggest: "The real problem, Candide suggests, is not natural or human disaster so much as human complacency" ("Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire 1694-1778," p. 518). As Voltaire implies throughout Candide, simplistic, quasi-rational thinking, as exemplified by absurd declarations by Pangloss, e.g., "noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles" (p. 521) is not enough to counteract the real damage human beings characteristically inflict on one another. Before Candide is jettisoned from the Baron's castle, Pangloss continually tells him "everything is for the best" (p. 521), and throughout most of the story, Candide still believes it, even as events themselves starkly and vividly illustrate the opposite.

In Pangloss's own case, even his own case of syphilis, from which he is dying, is "an indispensable part of the best of worlds, a necessary ingredient . . ." (p. 526). In fact, with its piling-up of incidents of hideous, usually completely avoidable human misfortunes (except for the Lisbon earthquake), the story systematically disproves Pangloss's insistent view that: "It is clear . . . that things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything…

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