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Candide

While reading Voltaire’s Candide, I sensed a touch of detachment on the part of the narrator regarding the violence occurring in the book. He began the story by short, hardly imaginative descriptions of the characters, ending the 1st chapter with an account of the brief lover’s tryst between Candide and Miss Cunegonde which was perturbed by the latter’s father having a fit and without seeming ado, deals Candide with some “kicks on the breech”, and driving him out the door.

This then makes Cunegonde faint but when the girl wakes up, she is met with a boxing of her ears by her mother.

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The recounting was fast-paced so much so that by the end of the chapter, I felt as though the master of the castle had shut the door to my face also: after such fleeting events—fleeting descriptions, fleeting meetings, fleeting allusions to the depth of the characters’ relationships with each other (or rather, shallowness thereof)—the author ends without so much as a description of how the people felt.

We are not given an insight as to how Candide felt about being abruptly separated from his beloved, or how all their love came to be in the first place, although regarding the former, Candide is shown to not have fought for his love nor his home and went about all wretched, for god knows how long, before he naively gets recruited into ranks of the enemy.

He then proceeds with another curt account of Candide’s subsequent inclusion into the Bulgarian army, and how, merely because he chose to take a leisurely walk that soldiers (or “heroes”) were apparently supposed, he was made to run the gauntlet after choosing that over being shot in the head. The atrocity of the actions are rendered impotent to the reader because Voltaire treated them with such a detached air of someone who is merely observing events.

Then again a normal observer would not be as indifferent as he was. To an extent, his description of the events became a cruel comedy: the naivete and foolishness of the “young metaphysician”, a phrase so obviously paradoxical; and, the apparent lack of political and moral judgment on the part of the Bulgarians prior to killing someone who merely took a walk when he was not supposed to, or in other words, the lack of hesitation to commit unjust execution, which might as well be murder.

This attitude towards the characters—like that of a cruel god who plays with his own creations/followers like a mean child—continues throughout the first 15 chapters my most favorite being the part where the cowardly Candide makes his way around heaps of dead or dying people, and sees the victims of war: Voltaire gives me the impression that he has a fascination for the morbid, the gruesome, and the morally offensive.

No, I do not share this “fascination”, I just meant to say that it was in this Chapter that Voltaire appeared less indifferent. He gives little value to the emotions and thoughts of his characters, but he has an eye for detail of the surroundings. Personally I find the narration quite humorous, the characters are rendered absurd, the punishments for their absurdity severe and exaggerated. As I said earlier, it is a cruel comedy, full of wit and an undercurrent of intellectual criticism perhaps of the society in which Candide dwelt.

However, I also find it morally offensive, as if it were real life and not just a satirical account of a foolish boy, the characters, what with the atrocities, cruelties and hardships they were put through, were treated in an inhumane manner by the narrator: there is a lack of compassion on his part, a quality which I think necessary in this story. Or at least to prove that the narrator has a piece of humanity in him.

The lackluster account of the events; the focus on the gruesome and the morbid— all of these leave an air of innate cruelty, of cynicism, of paganism or atheism, of blasphemy, and deep hatred of the lives the characters had. I am given the impression that the author wishes to enlighten us on the perspective of men who care less for others and more for themselves—indifferent of other’s suffering, or if they harbor any feeling, it is that of sheer cruel amusement.