Many of Voltaire’s writings embody the philosophies of the Enlightenment movement, an intellectual movement that rises after the end of the French Revolution. Enlightenment thinkers begin to question the traditional views of science, religion, and the government.
The ideas of equality and basic human rights of an individual also begin to spread. Candide explores many of the concepts of the Enlightenment movement, such as the folly of optimism, the futility of philosophical speculation, and the hypocrisy of religion. Pangloss teaches Candide that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds” (458).
However, Candide, Pangloss, and a variety of other characters suffer throughout Candide for no apparent greater good. Pangloss’s teachings also prove to be useless to Candide throughout his journey and sometimes even have a harmful effect. Candide encounters various hypocritical religious leaders over the course of the story.
These characters prove their hypocrisy by breaking their religious vows and not suffering any consequences, but will punish anyone who commits the same acts. On the other hand, some aspects of the story are the complete opposite of Enlightenment ideas. The Enlightenment stresses the importance of natural rights, but women are still subjugated and suffer much misery. While Candide contains many of the same criticisms of the Enlightenment period, such as criticism against the philosophy of optimism and combinations of church and state, the novel also satires many of these same ideas during the course of the story. Through his painful experiences during his journey, Candide slowly becomes less optimistic. Candide, which means optimism, is named accordingly based on his demeanor.
Despite being the bastard son of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh’s sister, Candide receives many amenities of the nobility such as having a philosophical tutor, Pangloss. Pangloss teaches Candide “metaphysico-theologico-cosmo-codology” (455). This is clearly a satirical way to poke fun at philosophers during the Enlightenment era. It also shows that Pangloss is not an entirely clever person because his arguments are usually absurd.
His character symbolizes the foolishness of blind optimism and excessive abstract speculation of Enlightenment thinkers. Pangloss claims that “everything having been made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose” (455). After Candide is expelled from Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh’s home, he begins to become skeptical of Pangloss’s philosophy that suffering and evil exist in a larger divine plan.
For instance, Candide’s first sign of questioning his tutor’s teachings is when Candide is forced into a war. He ironically uses Pangloss’s theology of “the best of all worlds” when he is describing the death tolls of the war (458). He begins to doubt Pangloss’s philosophies, even more when they meet again. Pangloss tells Candide everything that has occurred after Candide was forced to leave the Thunder-ten-tronckh castle, like the rape and supposed murder of Cunégonde.
The conversation moves on to Pangloss’s syphilis. Pangloss does not view syphilis as a bad thing but rather as a “necessary ingredient”, and without it, he claims that Europe would not have chocolate or cochineal (459). Despite losing an eye and an ear to the disease, Pangloss still remains optimistic and maintains the idea that “individual misfortunes contribute to the general good with the result that the more individual misfortunes there are, the more all is well” (460). After suffering from many misfortunes at the hands of those who pretended to offer hospitality, like the Bulgarians, it comes as a relief when Candide and Cacambo discover they do not have to pay for their meal or other things in Eldorado. Candide believes this is the place his teacher has always described as “the best of all worlds” because Candide describes Eldorado as “the place where all goes well” (458 & 481). It is not until after talking to the slave who explains the brutality he has endured as a slave that Candide seems to give up Pangloss’s version of optimism (485).
However, not too long after, Candide gains back some of his optimism after talking with Martin, but instead of believing the world itself is good, he believes there is still good in it. Candide no longer views optimism in the way that Pangloss does. Martin becomes Candide’s new traveling companion and “his philosopher” (490).
Martin’s character serves in direct opposition of Pangloss’s character; Pangloss remains forever optimistic, while Martin is incredibly pessimistic. After finally reuniting with Cunégonde and other characters, Candide and the others go and live on a small farm. They soon realize how unhappy they are and end up spending most of their days arguing about the meaning of life.
In the end, while Pangloss still tries to push his optimistic philosophy onto the other characters, Candide is no longer interested in that way of thinking. He realizes it is better to use reason and hard work to improve life by saying, “we must cultivate our gardens” (513). By dismissing Pangloss’s ideology of faith based optimism and instead choosing to view the world with reason based optimism, Candide has become ‘enlightened’ to the standards of the time. In Candide, Voltaire satirizes the hypocrisy of the church.
During his journey, Candide meets many hypocritical religious leaders. He first meets a Protestant orator who is speaking about charity and demonizing the Pope. Candide, having just escaped from war, is starving and asks this man for help. The orator asks Candide “do you believe the Pope is the Antichrist?” (458).
Candide rather than answering the question states that he is in need of food. The orator cruelly dismisses him despite him preaching about charity only a few moments prior. Upon arriving in Lisbon, Candide and Pangloss discover it has been devastated by earthquakes. After Pangloss tells an agent of the Inquisition about his philosophies, he and Candide are both arrested and punished for having ideas that did not follow the leaders of the Inquisition’s beliefs (462). To prevent further earthquakes, the “wise men” of Lisbon decide an auto-da-fé is necessary (462).
This decision is a mockery of the idea that religious faith impacts events such as natural disasters in the world. Even more religious hypocrisy can be seen when Cunégonde tells her story. Cunégonde had come into the possession of a Jew named Don Issacar. The Grand Inquisitor spotted her during Mass and wanted her as his mistress. The Grand Inquisitor threatens Don Issacar with an auto-da-fé if Issacar did not allow him time with Cunégonde (465). This abuse of power reflects the hypocrisy of religious leaders of the time.
Later in the story, Candide, Cunégonde, and the old woman are robbed by a Franciscan monk (467). When the old woman tells her story, Candide and Cunégonde learn that she is the daughter of Pope Urban X which is meant to be satirical because popes are supposed to be celibate (468). The hypocrisy of religion is also exposed when Candide and Cacambo flee to Paraguay. The kingdom is described as being owned entirely by the Jesuits and not by the citizens (474).
Again, the Church abuses its influence to gain power. When Candide and Cacambo reach Eldorado, an old man explains the religion of the place. The old man is surprised when asked what the religion of Eldorado is because as far as he knows, there is only one religion and one God (482). Religion in Eldorado is in completely different to religion in Europe.
In Europe, religion is a complex and divided into different groups of people who all believe something different, but in Eldorado, religion is much simpler, thus making life simpler. By giving this contrast, Voltaire is criticizing religion in Europe, which has turned into a means of gaining power rather than to bring peace, comfort, and a sense of being to people. Voltaire accurately captures many of the ideas of the Enlightenment in Candide; however, he falls short in regards to women. The movement stresses individualism over tradition.
During the Age of the Enlightenment, there was a shift in the way women were perceived; women are beginning to be viewed as “sexually passive and morally superior” (197). In the novella, the characterization, or lack thereof, of Cunégonde, Paquette, and the old woman satirizes gender roles of the eighteenth century. The women possess very little complexity as characters and are often sexually exploited.
Cunégonde is the young and beautiful daughter of a baron, and upon being forced into sexual slavery, she learns to use her beauty to her advantage. Her only contribution to the plot is Candide’s persistent desire to be with her. Even her name is sexualized being that it is a pun on the French and Latin words for female genitals (454). Women in this story are only valued depending on their beauty.
The old woman is not even granted a name. Paquette is described as being obedient, not as a chambermaid, but rather she is described as obedient because she is willing to submit to the men in Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh’s castle and later to any man when she becomes a prostitute (455 & 499). By the time that Cunégonde and Candide can be together in peace, Candide learns that Cunégonde “has lost her beauty and has become horribly ugly”, but being a “man of honor”, he vows to still will love her forever (506).
Throughout many scenes in Candide, Voltaire uses satire to exhibit the criticism of the Age of Enlightenment. In his long journey, Candide discovers the folly in optimism as he encounters one misfortune after another. The corruption and hypocrisy of the religious figures illustrated in the novel accurately reflect actual religious figures during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. While Voltaire portrays most of the ideals of the Enlightenment, he falls short in giving women in his story individualism that many enlightened thinkers sought. Instead, his female characters fall into traditional female roles, do not actively contribute to the plot, and are subjugated to men.