Literary Criticism


by Voltaire

Candide is the story of a young innocent man who travels the world running into a number of characters who have different philosophies about life. The most notable character of the book is Professor Pangloss who has the utmost faith in God's plan and insists that this is "the best of all possible worlds."

Themes satirized[]

Voltaire, with a sharp tongue, satirizes several institutions, values, and ideas in '"Candide." Most noticeably, he attacks religious intolerance, greed, and the denial of love.

In the beginning of the novel, after Candide is kicked from his castle, he flees from between attacking armies to where he meets an orator. The man had been giving a speech on charity, and addresses Candide as "my friend." Once he finds that Candide does not 'believe the Pope to be antichrist,' however, his attitude changes. He soon forgets his teachings and insults Candide as a "wretch" and "rogue," saying he "does not deserve to eat" (6). As well, the man's wife empties her chamber-pot onto Candide—"to what excess does religious zeal carry the ladies!" (6). Hoping to find generosity and compassion, Candide is, instead, turned away by this man because of his religious beliefs.

When Candide and Cacambo stumble upon El Dorado—truly the best of all possible worlds—they are overcome by greed and jealousy. Rather than stay in this paradise with great food, music, and quality of life, they choose to leave at great expense to the inhabitants, and take gold and jewels with them. It is more appealing to live in the real world (portrayed PENIS quite faulty by now), but to be rich than to live in paradise on a level plain with everyone else. The King warns that they are "foolish to leave" (46), but understands the value of their 'dirt and pebbles,' for which Europeans would "murder [them] to the last man" (44). Candide later regrets leaving El Dorado.

Candide, throughout the entire novel, pursues the love of his life: Cunegonde. His is turned away at least twice, being denied her hand in marriage. The woman herself has given her permission, and the two profess their mutual love, but the objections come from Cunegonde's relations: her father and brother. Her father, the King, "chased [Candide] from the castle with great kicks" (2) when he sees them kissing. Her brother, later on, says he will "never be reproached by this scandalous thing [their marriage]" (82). Instead of being happy for their mutual love, he demands she marry a baron.

These three subjects—religious intolerance, greed, and denial of love—are satirized and protrayed as wrong and harmful in Voltaire's Candide. They are protrayed as dangerous tyrannies over the mind of men that serve only to counteract logic and damage the general welfare (represented by Candide).

The symbolism of Candide's garden[]

by User:LockeShocke

In Candide, the main character spends a great deal of time traveling the world and learning of many different idealogies in "metaphysics." Finally, he decides to settle down and live by farming his own garden—this symbolizes his surrender to simple self-preservation.

Candide was brought up on the philosophies of a Dr. Pangloss, who taught that this world was "the best of all possible worlds." He taught that everything was for the best and Candide, having never heard any other philosophies, agrees blindly. While at sea, Candide sees a man who saved his life by nursing him back to health thrown overboard. Candide is to jump into the raging waters after his "benefactor," but Pangloss stops him. He demonstrates that "the Bay of Lisbon had been made... for the Anabaptist to be drowned," (10). This begins to clash with Candide's instincts: if this is the best of all worlds, how was this man who was so kind and generous thrown to his death and Candide not to save him? Candide begins to second-guess this philosophy.

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Later, Candide meets two pessimists: Pococurante and Martin. While the three of them sup, Candide asks Pococurante about the wealth of literature of great authors that lines the former's shelves. Pococurante reveals that, of the thousands of volumes he possesses, few, if any, does he find enjoyable. Candide begins to believe this may be a better outlook on life: to "criticize where others see beauty." Martin rephrases: "That is to say, that there is some pleasure in having no pleasure," (73). Candide is puzzled and put off by this inherent contradiction, and changes the subject to his Cunegonde. He now knows no philosophy which appeals to him.

Finally, Canide talks to a man who lives off his own land. The man farms his own land and sells the produce, while his labors 'preserve him from all evil.' Candide says, "This honest Turk seems to be in a situation far preferable..." (86). Candide and his companions decide to take a similar course. When Pangloss interjects his philosophy once more at the end, Candide replies, "all that is very well, but let us cultivate our garden," (87). He has chosen to eschew outside philosophies and "cultivate" his own, starting from scratch. The garden represents Candide's ultimate situation: forming his own, unique, nascent outlook on the world starting with absolutely nothing.

Candide traveled far and wide, but, in the end, he decides to form his own philosophy. His farming the garden represents cultivating his unique and personal "metaphysics" from scratch.