Candid By Voltaire

Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, in his satirical masterwork Candide,
critiques both society and humanity wit little mercy. The author obviously seeks
to expose all of the human race's self-deceptions and weaknesses, but he does so
with great humor. Voltaire gives delight with his humor while planting the
deeper message about the fallibility and corruption of humanity. This
contradiction holds the power of Voltaire's writing. Candide provides a horrific
portrait of the human condition, but it does so with preposterous and outlandish
humor. Voltaire especially intends to criticize the popular idea of his era that
sees a rational order in the world: "Voltaire shows how the claim of a
rational universal order avoids the hard problems of living in a world where
human beings have become liars, traitors, and so on" (335). At the same
time, Voltaire is not so much the pessimist that he holds no hope for any sort
of improvement or salvation on the part of human beings. For example, after
putting his protagonist through every sort of awful predicament, Voltaire allows

Candide the positive goal of starting and cultivating a garden (402). Yes,

Voltaire is saying, there is much corruption in humanity, but there is also at
least a glimmer of hope that individual human beings can overcome that
corruption, survive their suffering, and lead some sort of productive and
responsible lives. Voltaire leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves
just how much weight they might give this optimistic conclusion, in light of the
horror upon horror which led up to that happy ending. Voltaire gives Candide and
his companions a very bumpy ride before they arrive at their relatively happy
destination. Candide is the incurable optimist, always believing the best about
human beings. Voltaire portrays him as optimistic by nature: "His features
admirably expressed his soul; he combined an honest mind with great simplicity
of heart" (336). Candide is instructed in the ways of the world by the
philosopher Pangloss, whom Voltaire clearly sees as an utter fool. The innocent

Candide sees Pangloss, on the other hand, as "the greatest philosopher ..
. in the entire world" (337). Candide is thrown out of the castle in which
he lives and must make his way through the cruel and corrupt world outside. At
every step of his introduction to the harsh reality of the world, however,

Candide struggles to maintain the positive outlook which the foolish Pangloss
planted in him. Candide is forcibly drafted into the army and told he is a hero.

He goes for a walk without permission and as a result is beaten almost to death:
"That made four thousand strokes, which laid open every muscle and nerve
from his nape to his butt" (339). However, Candide is as blessed by
unexpected benefactors as he is cursed by innocence in an evil world. The King
rescues him from certain death, and sends him to war, which he flees in order to
beg for bread on the streets. The story of Candide continues with such ordeals,
one after another, suffering piled atop suffering, but usually portrayed with
such exaggeration that it is hard to take seriously. Every brief moment of
pleasure or relief from suffering only brings greater suffering. For example,

Pangloss is reunited with Candide and tells the young man of his amorous
adventures with the maidservant of the castle: "In her arms I tasted the
delights of paradise, which directly caused these torments of hell, from which I
am now suffering" (342). Perhaps the favorite target of Voltaire is the
philosophy which holds that the world which exists is the best of all possible
worlds and the accompanying view that everything is for the best. This
philosophy is clearly nonsense to Voltaire, who uses Pangloss to express its
absurdity in the wake of an exploding volcano which has wrought tremendous
destruction: "For, said he, all this is for the best, since if there is a
volcano in Lisbon, it cannot be somewhere else, since it is unthinkable that
things should be where they are, since everything is well" (345). Of
course, Voltaire's message is precisely that everything is not well, that
everything is far from well, and that only a fool would ever consider the
preposterous argument that the world is a reasonable place or that humanity
lives in the best of all possible worlds. To Voltaire, the only starting point
for a philosophy of truth is the acceptance that human life is for the most part
a miserable set of circumstances. This excerpt from a diatribe from the old
woman aboard ship illustrates the author's position: Ask