What is Cruelty in Voltaire's Candide

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About this sample


Words: 634 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Mar 20, 2024

Words: 634|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 20, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Cruelty in the Name of Religion
  2. Cruelty in the Name of War and Power
  3. Cruelty in the Name of Wealth and Privilege
  4. Conclusion

Voltaire's satirical novella, Candide, is a scathing critique of the prevailing philosophical and religious beliefs of the Enlightenment era. Throughout the text, Voltaire exposes the cruelty and hypocrisy of human nature through the experiences of the protagonist, Candide. This essay will explore the various instances of cruelty in the novella and analyze their significance in the broader context of the text.

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Cruelty in the Name of Religion

One of the central themes of Candide is the critique of religious institutions and their role in perpetuating cruelty. Voltaire uses the character of Pangloss, Candide's tutor, to satirize the optimistic philosophy of Leibniz, which asserts that this is "the best of all possible worlds." Pangloss' blind adherence to this philosophy leads him to justify the cruelties and injustices that occur throughout the novella, including the Lisbon earthquake and the execution of Candide's friend, Cunégonde's brother. Voltaire uses these events to highlight the absurdity of Pangloss' optimism and the cruelty of his rationalizations.

Furthermore, Voltaire critiques the hypocrisy and cruelty of religious authorities through the character of the Grand Inquisitor. In the chapter set in Lisbon, the Grand Inquisitor orders the execution of Candide and Pangloss for heresy, despite their innocence. This act of cruelty exposes the corruption and abuse of power within the Catholic Church, as well as its complicity in perpetuating injustice and suffering.

Cruelty in the Name of War and Power

Another form of cruelty that Voltaire examines in Candide is the violence and exploitation perpetrated in the name of war and power. Throughout the novella, Candide and his companions are subjected to various forms of cruelty at the hands of military leaders and rulers. For example, in the chapter set in Paraguay, Candide and Cunégonde are separated and subjected to brutal treatment by the governor and his men. This experience highlights the arbitrary exercise of power and the inhumanity of those in positions of authority.

Furthermore, Voltaire uses the character of the Old Woman to shed light on the cruelty and exploitation experienced by women during times of war and conflict. The Old Woman recounts her experiences of being captured and sold as a slave multiple times, enduring unimaginable suffering and abuse. Her story serves as a powerful indictment of the dehumanizing effects of war and the vulnerability of women in patriarchal societies.

Cruelty in the Name of Wealth and Privilege

Voltaire also critiques the cruelty inherent in the pursuit of wealth and privilege. Throughout the novella, characters such as the wealthy and powerful Vandals and the greedy merchant Vanderdendur are depicted as callous and ruthless in their pursuit of profit. Their exploitation of others for personal gain exposes the moral bankruptcy of the pursuit of wealth and privilege.

Furthermore, Voltaire uses the character of the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh to critique the cruelty of the aristocracy and the hypocrisy of the social elite. Despite his noble title and privileged position, the Baron is depicted as cruel and tyrannical, mistreating Candide and Cunégonde and denying them their rightful happiness. His actions serve as a commentary on the inherent cruelty and injustice of the feudal system and the arbitrary nature of social hierarchies.

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In conclusion, Voltaire's Candide is a powerful critique of the pervasive cruelty and hypocrisy of human society. Through the experiences of its characters, the novella exposes the cruelty inherent in religious institutions, war and power, and the pursuit of wealth and privilege. By shining a light on these forms of cruelty, Voltaire invites his readers to question the prevailing beliefs and values of his time and to challenge the status quo. Ultimately, Candide serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring relevance of its critique and a call to action against the cruelty and injustice that continue to plague human society.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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What Is Cruelty in Voltaire’s Candide. (2024, March 20). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
“What Is Cruelty in Voltaire’s Candide.” GradesFixer, 20 Mar. 2024,
What Is Cruelty in Voltaire’s Candide. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
What Is Cruelty in Voltaire’s Candide [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 20 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from:
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