Last Updated 10 Mar 2020

Candide and Enlightenment

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Voltaire’s Candide both supported and challenged traditional enlightenment viewpoints through the use of fictional ‘non-western’ perspectives. Candide mockingly contradicts the typical Enlightenment belief that man is naturally good and can be master over his own destiny (optimism). Candide faces many hardships that are caused by the cruelty of man (such as the war between the Bulgars and Abares, Cunegonde being raped, etc) and events that are beyond his control (the earthquake in Lisbon).Voltaire did not believe that a perfect God (or any God) has to exist; he mocked the idea that the world must be completely good, and he makes fun of this idea throughout Candide. He also makes fun of the philosophers of the time, because the philosophers in the novel talk a lot, do nothing, and solve no problems at all. Candide also makes a mockery of the aristocracy’s notion of superiority by birth. Voltaire also addresses the corruption of the religious figures and the church thus “destroying and challenging the “Sacred Circle”. Voltaire’s Candide is the story of one man’s trials and sufferings through life.

The main character is Candide. Candide is portrayed as a wanderer. He grew up in the Castle of the Baron of Westphalia, who was his mother’s brother and was taught by, Dr. Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the whole world. Pangloss taught Candide that everything that happens is for the best. Candide is exiled from the castle because of his love for the Baron’s daughter, Cunegonde. He then sets out to different places in the hope of finding her and achieving total happiness. Candide thought that everything happened for the best because the greatest philosopher taught him that, but everyone around him did not accept that theory.

The optimistic Pangloss and Candide, suffer and witness a wide variety of horrors: beating, rapes, robberies, unjust executions, disease,and an earthquake, These things do not serve any apparent greater good, but be a sign of the cruelty and madness of humanity and the lack of sympathy of the natural world. Pangloss manages to find justification for the terrible things in the world, but his arguments are sometimes stupid, for example, when the Anabaptist is about to drown he stops Candide from saving him because he claims that the Bay of Lisbon had been formed specifically for the drowning of the Anabaptist.

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Other characters, such as the old woman, Martin, and Cacambo, have all reached more pessimistic conclusions about humanity and the world because of past experiences. One problem with Pangloss’ optimism was that it was not based on the real world, but on abstract arguments of philosophy. In the story of Candide, philosophy repeatedly proves to be useless and even destructive. It prevents characters from making realistic judgment of the world around them and from taking positive action to change hostile situations.

Candide lies under debris after the Lisbon earthquake and Pangloss ignores his requests for oil and wine and instead struggles to prove the causes of the earthquake. In another scenario, Pangloss is telling Candide of how he contracting venereal disease from Paquette, and how it came from one of Christopher Columbus’ men. He tells Candide that venereal disease was necessary because now Europeans were able to enjoy new world delicacies, like chocolate. The character Candide was the nephew of the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, whose sister, was Candide’s mother.

The baron’s sister, refused to marry Candide’s father because he only had seventy-one quarterings (noble lineages) in his coat of arms, while her own coat of arms had seventy-two (Candide, 1). This exaggeration makes the aristocracy’s concern over the subtleties of birth look ridiculous. Candide explores the hypocrisy that was rampant in the Church and the cruelty of the clergy using a variety of satirical and ironic situations such as, the Lisbon earthquake that kills tens of thousands of people and damages three fourth of Lisbon; still the Portuguese Inquisition decides to perform an auto-da-fe’ to appease God and prevent another disaster.

This serves no purpose because another earthquake strikes in the middle of the hanging of Pangloss and beating of Candide. Church officials in Candide are portrayed as being among the most sinful of all citizens; having mistresses, engaging in homosexual affairs, and operating as jewel thieves. The most ridiculous example of hypocrisy in the Church is the fact that a Pope has a daughter despite his vows of celibacy.

Other examples are the Portuguese Inquisitor, who takes Cunegonde for a mistress, who hangs Pangloss and executes his fellow citizens over philosophical differences, and orders Candide to beaten for, “listening with an air of approval” (Candide, 13) to the opinions of Pangloss; and a Franciscan friar who is a jewel thief, despite the vow of poverty taken by members of the Franciscan order. Finally, Voltaire introduces a Jesuit colonel with marked homosexual tendenci es.

The Enlightenment belief, in which a perfect society should be controlled by reforming existing institutions, is made to appear ridiculous, while erhaps all that Voltaire wanted to do was to present the history of his century with the worst abominations. It was probably Voltaire's ability to challenge all authority that was his greatest contribution to Enlightenment values. He questioned his own parenthood and his morals to express his ideas to the world of Enlightenment through the novel Candide. In particular, the novel makes fun of those who think that human beings can endlessly improve themselves and their environment.

Voltaire expresses his beliefs on optimism, philosophical speculation, and religion through the main character. Candide, The main character of the novel, is set adrift in a hostile world and unsuccessfully tries to hold on to his optimistic belief that this "is the best of all possible worlds" as his tutor, Pangloss, keeps insisting. He travels throughout Europe, South America, and the Middle East, and on the way he encounters many terrible natural disasters. Candide is a good-hearted but hopelessly naive.

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Candide and Enlightenment. (2017, Apr 04). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/candide-and-enlightenment/

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