One of the most important novellas in the literature of the Enlightenment, “Candide” tells the story of a young and naïve protagonist, who is forced to start an incredible adventure that will challenge him to question his own believes. Written by Voltaire, this story is meant not only to make readers laugh, but also to satirize many of the mores of the civilized society, being particularly constructed so as to illustrate the absurdity of the philosophy of optimism, which had emerged in the 18th century, and whose main proponent was Leibniz. This philosophy essentially maintains that this is everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire however, having witnessed many The author moreover, exposes the corruption of the institution of the Catholic Church, and many other absurd beliefs and events from his time. He constructs satire by means of irony, exaggeration, and parody. The author uses satire not only to cause laughter, but through laughter, to engage readers to reflect upon these realities, and ultimately, to cause a change in the society.
Candide, the naïve hero of the work, confronts all sorts of evils, both natural and man-made, which repeatedly contradict his tutor’s teachings in optimisms. As he had been instructed by his tutor, Pangloss Candide, continues however to find an optimistic explanation for each event, and to maintain that this is the best of all possible worlds, despite the evidence to the opposite. The author first constructs an exaggerated view of “The most beautiful castle” of Thunder-ten-tronckh, where the owners are described in superlative terms, and where life resembles life in the Garden of Eden. Candide is nevertheless kicked out for seducing the baron’s daughter, Cunegonde, and the young man has no choice but starting a journey full of dangers, during which he discovers the evils of the world. Despite the negative air of the work, this is nevertheless a comedy because, as Anchor explains, “outraged, beaten, robbed, cheated, -the victims nonetheless seem comic because their bright expectations contrast so vividly with their dreadful misfortunes” (66).
In his first adventure, Candide unwillingly joins the Bulgarian army where he is trained to be a Bulgarian “hero”. Then, with other thousands heroes, Candide goes to war against the Abares. The battle scenes are described with dark humor, highlighting both the horror of war, and the fact that this happened all the time, thus becoming something of the ordinary. Voltaire also begins to counter the philosophy of optimism, by showing its absurdity. At the beginning of the battle, “the cannons first of all laid flat about six thousand men on each side; the muskets swept away from this best of worlds nine or ten thousand ruffians who infested its surface” (13). The author’s irony is clearly directed at the concept of the best of the possible worlds, where nevertheless people die purposelessly horrendous deaths every day.
Later, Candide, accompanied by his newly rediscovered Pangloss, travel to Lisbon. They are involved in a shipwreck before reaching the shore, and the friend who had helped both when they were homeless, sick and starving, drowns to death. Then, in Lisbon, a powerful earthquake takes place. This earthquake actually took place in 1755 (Lyons 55), and deeply impressed the author, making him reject the Leibniz’s ideas with even more energy. During these events, Candide constantly tries to apply the concept of optimism to the events he witnesses, and receives ever more absurd explanations from his tutor. Following the earthquake, “the sage of that country could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fe” (Voltaire 23). The auto-da-fe is actually a public execution, during which three people were burned alive, Pangloss was hanged and Candide was whipped. Voltaire describes people’s view of this event as an entertaining show. Thus, by describing the horror execution as a “beautiful act of faith”, during which Cunegonde, had, as she later relates to Candide, “a very good seat and the ladies were served with refreshments between Mass and the execution (29).
Apart from irony, the author also uses parody and caricature to describe situations and characters in a way that causes laughter, but also makes people think. This is particularly important in the author’s treatment of the Jesuit priests, and the Catholic institutions. By choosing this strategy, the author shows his resentment for the corruption and hypocrisy of priests. In Paraguay, Candide meets Cunegonde’s brother, a Jesuit priest, in reality, a caricature of a faithful man. Despite of many misfortunes, he resists Candide’s plans to marry Cunegonde, calling him an insolent wrench, and maintaining class pride. Even later, when Cunegonde’s beauty has faded, and she has been abused by many men, and even the Baron himself had been made a slave on the galleys, he declares “thou mayest kill me again …but thou shalt not marry my sister, at least whilst I am livin”, whch shows that he is a caricature of both a Jesuit and of a nobleman.
Apart from optimism and the Catholic religion, the author also satirizes Martin. Martinis a pessimist, thus, he believes that evil is inherent in this world, and life is an eternal struggle. According to Anchor (66), both Pangloss and Martin have in common the fact that they are passive, and that people should accept things as they are. As Anchor shows, “Voltaire plays them off against each other in the destiny of Candide and his beloved Cunegonde” (66). Thus, in this world, pessimism and optimism cancel each other, and Voltaire uses humor to show this reality.
By the end, Candide abandons his faith in Pangloss’s ideas that there must be a good reason for the sufferance . He therefore declares to Pangloss, “I find myself, after all, obliged to renounce thy optimism” (Voltaire 74). However, Lyons (55) argues, proving that Leibniz is wrong is not the most important of Voltaire’s aims for his novella, because, if this had been so, Candide would have died by the end. However, what the author attempts, is to confront reason and cultural habit, and demonstrate that it is no purpose in philosophizing about the world, and that assigning purpose to life is useless.
Therefore, as this paper showed, in his “Candide”, Voltaire uses exaggeration, irony, parody and caricature to construct satire. The author satirical intention was to demonstrate the absurdity of the philosophy of optimism and to demonstrate that in this world, not everything is for the best, and this is not the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire creates situations that are grotesque, violent, absurd and outrageous, and by overcoming each, Candide doubts more and more that these injustice are for the best. In addition, Voltaire also criticizes many aspects of the society, such as organized Catholicism, which allows priests to commit injustices, but also other philosophies, such as pessimism. In the end the protagonist learns that there is no point in theorizing about the world, and it is best only to work and live as simply and pleasantly as possible.