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Although the main characters in Voltaire’s Candide supposedly resign themselves to work and cultivation rather than philosophizing in the end, it is necessary for them to survive struggle and turmoil in order to come to this realization. The adventures that bind Candide to his companions throughout the story provide a model for Voltaire’s outlook toward the world. While it is evident to any attentive observer of the real world that the optimistic philosophy of Pangloss should be rejected, the author also leaves his readers with the impression that work and compliance is the key to happiness. The potential flaws in this impression, however, ultimately show that true happiness is unobtainable in Voltaire’s eyes, and throughout the narrative, Voltaire seeks to reveal that it is impossible to advocate adherence to any system of thought. Whether a person is active or passive; optimistic or pessimistic; idealistic or realistic; he can do nothing decisively to alter his state, and he therefore must entrust himself to a reality that humanity cannot alter. Because humans can only acquiesce to what they cannot control, Voltaire’s satire does not act as a tool for reform but only of realism.
The progression of adventures through which Candide must proceed demonstrates the futility of reform in Voltaire’s eyes. Even the pace at which Candide journeys from situation to situation demonstrates how reform cannot be a goal. The quick action of each event does not allow the reader to know many details or to sympathize with any supporting characters, and the lack of transition leaves no time for contemplation on what recently happened to the protagonist. With the combination of little time for consideration and the passing existence of so many characters, there is no need to reform situations that have no opportunity to present themselves again. Even supposed death countered by miraculous continuation of life does not alter the traits of certain characters. Pangloss is exemplary of this idea. The reader does not know many particulars about Pangloss other than his optimism, which survives two presumed deaths. When the reader only perceives a supporting character through one trait, it is more difficult to imagine that character changing and reforming his views or actions. At the end of the story, Martin suggests that they “stop all this philosophizing,” (Voltaire, Candide, p.99) but Pangloss closes the chapter with more philosophy. His inability to stop philosophizing even when he agrees to do so functions as a paradigm for Voltaire’s other characters.
The Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, Cunegonde’s brother, is a follower of the paradigm that Pangloss provides, and he is another character who is incapable of modifying his opinion from the beginning through the end of the story. When Candide meets him in Paraguay, the Baron becomes mirrors the sentiments of his father and becomes hostile when Candide mentions an intention to marry Cunegonde (p. 39). At a point during the reunion of the men in Constantinople, the Baron’s opinion has not changed—even after Candide has “killed” him. “‘You can kill me all over again if you want,’ said the Baron” (p. 95). The Baron’s challenge to Candide and his immutable pride allow him to say a rather alarming statement. Death should be the ultimate end, but in Voltaire’s world, a man can be killed and still not be changed. Such fortunate opportunities to defy death show that even killing him “all over again” cannot alter the situation. If all characters were to strictly follow this model, there would be no hope for anyone’s improvement, but Voltaire allows some characters to become so disillusioned that they must reevaluate their outlook.
Cunegonde exhibits promise that she may become more than what Voltaire made her in the end, and she is the first to become disillusioned by Pangloss’ optimism. “So Pangloss deceived me cruelly when he told me that all was well with the world” (p.20). It seems that the revelation ends there, however, since Cunegonde cannot create a solution to making “all well with the world.” She knows that “Pangloss deceived” her, but she cannot take the extra step and do something about it. Ultimately, only Candide can fulfill his potential and act upon his disillusionment. At the fundamental level, therefore, Voltaire shows that humans overall exhibit a reluctance or perhaps incapacity to change.
While Pangloss and the Baron are only two of many convenient examples that show Voltaire’s characters’ relative incapacity to change, it is important that Candide himself does change. As a response to Pangloss’ philosophizing at the end of the narrative, Candide only acknowledges his teacher’s statement with “That is well put […] but we must cultivate our garden” (p. 100). It took him longer than it did for Cunegonde to realize the problem with Pangloss’ view, but he progresses further than anyone because he actively labors against it. Candide therefore is the only character that has truly changed his outlook on life, and this transformation displays the contrast between his previous mode of thinking and his present one. In a way, Candide’s final statement may act as a mouthpiece for Voltaire himself. With “that is well put,” Voltaire concedes that the systems of the past—all of which he disapproved and against which he rebelled—had something of worth in them. Ultimately, however, the worth or merit of each philosophy is not enough to bring about a final resolution. Humanity has to consign itself to performing its fundamental function without the analysis or explanations with which it has previously comforted itself.
When humanity abstains from analysis and returns to its fundamental function, it implies true reform. Yet it seems that Voltaire is able to break down even this epiphany with his satire. A return to fundamentals implies action, which in turn implies reform. Voltaire, however, shows that even a return to the basic function of “cultivating our garden” is flawed because Candide is the only person who can actually realize the truth of this statement and its implications. Pangloss can only echo the reformist ideals of Candide, and when the latter first advocates working in the garden, Pangloss responds with more of his learning. “For when man was placed in the garden of Eden, he was placed there ut operaretur eum—that he might work—which proves that man was not born to rest” (p. 99). This statement actually returns to philosophizing, which Pangloss is ultimately not able to abandon. Only Candide possesses the possibility of reform, and his companions echo him in word but not in practice. As an extension to the rest of humanity, Voltaire shows that although reform can be an ideal put forth by one person, the rest of humanity cannot put such reform into practice.
Even if one person can put forth the ideals of reform, it does not necessarily bring happiness to that person. While Candide is not exactly miserable with his situation, it is not his ideal. As an example of how Candide is now trapped within the grasp of an unfortunate existence is his relationship with Cunegonde. His one-time love suddenly became ugly, but a conflicts with her “honorable” brother convinces Candide to marry her out of spite. Voltaire presents a situation of hope—Candide possesses his love and is reunited with everyone else who has considerably affected his life—but the author quickly thwarts any glimmer of happiness to which that hope may lead. Marred by discord between reality and intention, Candide knows that happiness is ultimately unattainable.
With the premises that reform cannot truly be practiced and happiness is unobtainable even if change were possible, the reader must decide what the action of the story ultimately communicates. It is clear that Voltaire advocates something that is not the rejection of everything altogether, and there is a direction toward which he is trying to lead his readers:
“‘But,’ said Candide, ‘isn’t there pleasure in criticizing everything, in finding fault where other men think they find beauty?’
‘Which is to say,’ rejoined Martin, ‘that there’s pleasure in not having pleasure?’ […] ‘One does well to hope,’ said Martin” (83).
Voltaire rejects the idea that a person should attempt to find happiness in disputing the ideas of other people. There truly cannot be happiness or pleasure when a person criticizes everything, and it is not advisable to be a perpetual faultfinder. Martin acts as the voice of reason in this instance and in other parts of the story as well, and he responds appropriately by saying that a person cannot find “pleasure in not having pleasure.” It is illogical to claim to have something while at the same time not having that same thing. For Voltaire, this philosophy shows that humanity cannot renounce the world in its entirety.
In order to show that some form of true happiness actually does exist within the world and that the world should not be renounced, Voltaire presents Candide’s adventure to Eldorado. Candide spends a month with Cacambo in Eldorado, but Candide can think of nothing except Cunegonde. His desire to see her spoiled what should have been his ultimate happiness. “Such is the desire to be always on the move, to be somebody, and to show off about what you’ve seen on your travels, that the two happy men resolved to be happy no longer and to ask leave of His Majesty to depart” (p. 51). Voltaire demonstrates that mankind is restless and ultimately incapable of true happiness since Candide cannot stay in Eldorado. His love for Cunegonde and the promise of being rich in Europe draws him away from the perfect society. Since Candide was the only character who actually had the chance for happiness and reformation of his views, his departure from Eldorado shows that no one is left to challenge the world’s opinions. Candide has chosen to live with the illogicality of choosing riches and love over happiness, and he was the story’s only hope.
Satire is a convenient method for showing the illogicality of the world while at the same time proving that one must accept what it brings. Candide begins as an ignorant young man who is tossed into a predicament that he neither chose nor can resolve. This situation is a common element of the human condition, and many people experience unexpected and unintended hardships at some point. After Candide kisses Cunegonde, “all was consternation in the most beautiful and most agreeable of all possible castles” (p. 3). Voltaire exposes the facade of the “beautiful and most agreeable” castle through his satire. The reader can see that Candide was not, after all, living in the perfect world, but the ideas indoctrinated into him made him believe that all was for the best. All of the problems and “consternation” in the perfect world had always existed, and satire reveals this reality. Voltaire seeks to convince his readers that they cannot live behind the false facades of the world but must accept all things as they truly are.
In order to see things as they truly are, Candide must abandon all of the ways of thought and systems of philosophy that have been presented to him, and Voltaire is urging his readers to do the same. The outlook on the world is expressed by Martin in that “he [the devil] may well be in me, just as he’s in everything else. But to be frank, when I look about me on this globe, or rather this globule, I begin to think God has abandoned it to some malign being” (p. 58). In a world that “God has abandoned,” there is only man left with the influence of the devil upon him. Corrupted mankind can be seen as the “malign being” to which God has given the world. To Martin, evil permeates all, and there is no other way of explaining the problems that occur in everyone’s life. The structure of the globe itself has changed. Martin’s use of the word “globule” in place of “globe” implies that the structures and foundations upon which the corrupted world has been instituted is not a strong or solid one. “Globule” hints at fluidity and fluctuation rather than soundness. The only way to overcome this fluctuation and tendency toward evil, for Voltaire, is to return to a prelapsarian state, where man only had to tend the garden of Eden. It is questionable, however, whether people can make this return. As argued previously, people cannot change but can only echo the ideas of reform. Voltaire leaves humanity, therefore, in a state of limbo where the only prospect is to acquiesce to the realities of the world and perhaps become an objective observer.
The purpose of Voltaire’s satire, therefore, is to promote such simple acquiescence to the realities of the world without having to live with manmade facades. A person has to live his life and can only attempt to “cultivate the garden” as his ideal. Voltaire views the purpose of humanity as simply to be, and everything in addition to that is superfluous to that reality. Candide can work, philosophize, travel, or do any other of a variety of activities, but he cannot allow these to define him. His travels can only affect his perception and reveal to him who he truly is, but they do not determine the fundamental Candide. It is a world without ideals where the only absolute is the person himself. The various ways of interpreting the same action, such as Pangloss’ optimism versus Martin’s realism, only leads to confusion about who a person is. When Candide realizes this, he can see that working in the garden is not an end in itself. Rather, cultivation is only an expression of Candide’s being, and it ultimately makes him human.
List of Works Cited
Voltaire. Candide. In Candide and Other Stories. Trans., R. Pearson. Oxford University Press: New York, 1990.
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