Voltaire is a great writer of the period of French Enlightenment. He is famous for his satire of the society in his works. One of his most significant works is Candide that was written in 1759. The poem is considered to be a masterpiece of the Enlightenment period, however, it contains a strict criticism and satire of the Enlightenment philosophy. This work still remains one of the greatest works of literature and expresses the author’s philosophy and criticisms of contemporary French society and politics through the characters of the poem.
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The author’s point of view is presented not directly, but it is heard in every line of the text. The characters of the poem (Candide, Pangloss, Martin, Cacambo, Cunegonde) are the spokesman who express the author’s point of view. However, the critics of society, contemporary French politics and culture are “put into mouths” of the minor characters, such as the Old Woman, Commander, Jacques (the Anabaptist), farmer, Count Pococurante, Paquette and others. The main intention of the author was to show the cruelty, egoism and injustice that were predominant in the society in which Voltaire lived.
Let us first discuss the main ideas that are expressed through the major characters. Voltaire used Candide and his friends in order to attract the reader’s attention to the idea that a perfect world is impossible and optimist is absurd. Through the text, Voltaire rejects the Pangloss’ expression “all is for the best in this best in the moral and physical world, and that nothing could be otherwise that it is” (Voltaire 63). Every situation and every person that heroes meet on their way illustrate the idea that one cannot be happy because of the human nature. An individual always wants more. We can see it clearly when Candid and Cacambo arrive to a perfect country El Dorado, “if all things are good, it is in El Dorado and in the rest of the world” (Voltaire 54).
Though Candide could live happily in this country, he leaves it to find his Cunegonde and become a rich man. As we can see, his hopes did not come true. None of the personages, neither major, nor minor, could achieve his/her aims and it demonstrates the author’s pragmatic attitude to life: all depends on accidental circumstances. Another character that expresses the Voltaire’s satire is Pangloss. This philosopher believes that “there is no effect without cause. Everything is linked by necessity and arranged for the best” (Voltaire 46).
Though, his own fate contradicts his point of view. Thus, this character is a parody on the optimism promoted by the philosophy of Enlightenment. As opposed to optimistic Pangoss, a pessimistic Martin acts as a spokesman for the author’s pessimistic philosophy. This person suffered many evils and expects nothing good from this world, he says, “I cannot help thinking that God has abandoned it to some malignant being” (Voltaire 55). At the same time, Voltaire introduces a character that rejects the author’s disbelief in human nature. This character is Cocomba. As a contradiction to Martin and Pangloss, this man is intelligent and has big life experience, he expresses the truth of life as, “the law of nature teaches us to kill our neighbor” (Voltaire 42). In other words, one should fight for his/her life alone.
Meanwhile, the major characters express the author’s philosophy, the minor ones are introduced in order to support it. Moreover, their stories and characters express Voltaire’s complaints about French politics, society, culture and religion. The women characters are used to describe the diseases and human suffering in society. The Old Woman is the personage that suffered the most, “alas! You have not known such misfortunes” (Voltaire 24).
This personage is another one contradiction to the Pangloss’ optimism. Nevertheless, she is full of hope and strength, as well as Cacambo. Thus, this character is the evidence of Voltaire’s belief in human nature. Paquette who was suffering from Syphilis symbolize that evil, greed and avarice are like diseases that can “infect” human’s mind. Human pride, immorality and envious nature are disclosed in the character of Count Pococurante who was happy and rich Venetian. But he was happy only when others around him were unhappy.
Almost all people main characters met on their way were liars or cheaters. The heads of government and clergy as Don Fernando, the governor of Buenos Aires, Marquise of Parolignac and Brother Giroflée are fanatical about power and corrupt. The prosperity of the society is based on the slave trade and injustice towards poor people who are doomed to suffer in hands of aristocracy. The only minor character that expresses the author’s solution to the evils of society and one’s happiness is the farmer who promotes hard work on the land as a cure for soul and key to happiness. The main thought of the poem is that “we must cultivate our garden”.
Thus, all the characters that we meet in the poem are the spokesmen who express the author’s critics on the contemporary society. They illustrate all negative aspects of French culture, politics and religion during the period of Enlightenment.
Voltaire. Candide. New York: Echo Library, 2010. Web.