The Outrageouesness of Voltaire

Published: 2021-06-29 06:54:50
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I will begin this essay with a summary of the novel, as I believe that much of the novel's message is to be found in neatly arranged elements of the plot. Candide is the story of a young man whose name is that of the book. He lives in the castle of a Baron in Westphalia, and many old servants believe that he is the son of the Baron's sister. The Baron's sister, however, due to their difference in class, refuses to marry Candide's father. Candide begins the novel as a young, naive boy who strongly believes that the castle is the ideal home and hence lacks the initiative to explore what is outside it. When, however, he and Cunegonde, the Baron's daughter, are found in compromising positions, he is thrown out of the castle.

Following this, Candide experiences a plethora of adventures- eerie, enlightening, sad, and amusing in variety. He learns that unlike what Pangloss(a philosopher resident in his castle) had told him, things are not always for the best. He encounters, in Europe and America, misery, meeting people on various walks of life and coming across people with world views ranging from that of Pangloss to Martin, the latter of whom contains a bleak outlook on life. He also experiences a wide variety of attitudes, from Jacques' altruism to the drunken sailor's cruelty. As Candide reaches El Dorado, he reaches a certain equilibrium of content- however, he leaves it quickly in order to search for Cunegonde. Though he eventually finds her enslaved in Turkey, he finds that he no longer wants her as she has grown to be unsightly. Nevertheless, he marries her and, having learnt that hard work is a primary technique to happiness, begins to cultivate his own garden along with Martin, Pangloss, and Paguette.

Voltaire's greatest and most well known work is outrageous in that it parodied a great number of Enlightenment philosophies, and not subtly(in fact, I would go so far as to suggest that Voltaire was one of the very few examples of the Enlightenment being a philosophically multi-directional movement in a significant manner.) Voltaire's attack on Leibnizian optimism(which I have often heard to have been dubbed Panglossism) is also, thought somewhat indirectly, an attack on one of the primary theses of the Enlightenment- that optimism can inhibit the negative doings of humans. Voltaire did not believe that reason could unconditionally trump the social conditions of the time, and demonstrates this both through his characterization of Pangloss as reasonless and silly, and through Candide's gradual shedding of his initial naivete. It can also be noted that the target of Voltaire's satirization, in this aspect, in a watered down version of Leibnizian philosophy. In one instance, the narrative says of Pangloss, "He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in the best of all possible worlds the Baron's castle was the best of all castles and his wife the best of all possible Baronesses." Candide's initial adherence to Pangloss' claim that the castle is the best of all possible worlds and the narrative's subsequent attack on this claim permeate the entirety of the novel. Voltaire's school of thought was also remarkably shocking in that he did not necessarily take for granted the existence of an absolutely good superpower(the idealistic image of god as visualized during the Enlightenment period, that is)- Pangloss and Candide, in the earlier parts of the novel suffer and encounter a wide variety of human wrongdoings, a theme that generally accompanies Candide's satirical treatment of optimism. At various points in the novel, they witness floggings, rapes, disease, robberies, and betrayals, the vast majority of which fits under the umbrella of dishonesty or misfortune. These wrongdoings and naturally occurring instances don't seem to serve any 'greater purpose' throughout the novel, highlighting only the raw imperfections of humanity, if not a generally large deviation from any seeable 'purpose' in the doings of the race. Pangloss, still adherent to his own philosophies, then attempts to justify these things to be 'for the best' as he'd initially claimed all things were, but grows very obviously absurd, claiming that the transmission of syphilis from the Americas to Europe served the purpose of allowing Europeans to enjoy delicacies from the New World. Candide, coming to be completely privy to this absurdity, at one point states that optimism is "a mania, for saying things are well when one is in hell." By the novel's conclusion, Candide can almost no longer see the use of the acceptance of events, let alone a written purpose to them. In working practically on his garden along with the others, Candide begins to gain his philosophies to come by working hard and while working hard, not instead of it.

Candide also parodies

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