Candide is the protagonist of the novel, but he is bland, naïve, and highly susceptible to the influence of stronger characters. Like the other characters, Candide is less a realistic individual than the embodiment of a particular idea or folly that Voltaire wishes to illustrate.
Candide’s name is derived from the Latin word candidus, which means “white” and connotes fair-mindedness or a lack of corruption. As that name suggests, Candide begins the novel as a perfect innocent—wide-eyed in his worship of his tutor Pangloss’s wrongheaded optimistic philosophy, and completely unfamiliar with the ways of the world. Over the course of the novel, Candide acquires wealth and even some knowledge about the world, and begins to question his faith in optimism. Yet that faith remains and is frequently reactivated by any event that pleases him, from the kindness of the stranger Jacques to the death of Vanderdendur, the merchant who cheats him. At the end of the novel, Candide rejects Pangloss’s philosophizing in favor of the practical labor that is introduced to him by the old farmer. While this shift in philosophy appears on the surface to be real progress, Candide’s personality remains essentially unchanged. He is still incapable of forming his own opinions, and has simply exchanged blind faith in Pangloss’s opinions for blind faith in the opinions of the farmer. Despite his simplicity, Candide is an effective, sympathetic hero. He is fundamentally honest and good-hearted. He readily gives money to strangers like Brother Giroflée and the poorest deposed king, and he honors his commitment to marry Cunégonde even after his love for her has faded. His naïveté, though incredible, makes Candide sympathetic to readers; the world of the novel is exaggerated and fantastic, and we are likely to find the events described as unsettling and confusing as he does.
As Candide’s mentor and a philosopher, Pangloss is responsible for the novel’s most famous idea: that all is for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” This optimistic sentiment is the main target of Voltaire’s satire. Pangloss’s philosophy parodies the ideas of the Enlightenment thinker G. W. von Leibniz. Leibniz maintains that an all-good, all-powerful God had created the world and that, therefore, the world must be perfect. When human beings perceive something as wrong or evil, it is merely because they do not understand the ultimate good that the so-called evil is meant to serve. Like Candide, Pangloss is not a believable character; rather, he is a distorted, exaggerated representation of a certain kind of philosopher whose personality is inseparable from his philosophy.
Voltaire illustrates two major problems inherent in Pangloss’s philosophy. First, his philosophy flies in the face of overwhelming evidence from the real world. Pangloss is ravaged by syphilis, nearly hanged, nearly dissected, and imprisoned, yet he continues to espouse optimism. He maintains his optimistic philosophy even at the end of the novel, when he himself admits that he has trouble believing in it. Voltaire advocates the induction of ideas from concrete evidence; Pangloss, in contrast, willfully ignores any evidence that contradicts his initial opinion. He also produces illogical arguments to support his preconceived notions, justifying the consumption of pork by saying that “since pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round.”
Second, Pangloss’s philosophy encourages a passive and complacent attitude toward all that is wrong in the world. If this world is the best one possible, than there is no reason to make any effort to change things perceived as evil or wrong. Therefore, when Pangloss’s benefactor Jacques is drowning in the bay of Lisbon, Pangloss prevents Candide from trying to rescue him by “proving that the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for [Jacques] to drown in.” The consequence of this mode of thinking is that, “while [Pangloss] was proving the point a priori, the vessel opened up and everyone perished.”
Martin acts as both foil and counterpart to Pangloss. He is more believable than the other major characters in the novel, not because he is more complex, but because he is more intelligent and more likely to draw conclusions with which we can identify. A scholar who has suffered personal and financial setbacks, Martin is as extreme a pessimist as Pangloss is an optimist. He even takes issue with Candide’s statement that “there is some good” in the world. Direct experience plays a greater part in Martin’s estimation of the world than it does in Pangloss’s. As a result, he is able to provide insight into events far beyond Pangloss’s ability to do so. Martin demonstrates such insight when he predicts that Giroflée and Paquette will not be happier for having money and when he analyzes the psychology of Count Pococurante.
Though Martin’s philosophy is more effective and honest than Pangloss’s, it also has some of the same flaws. While Martin is usually good at predicting how people will behave, he fails noticeably with Cacambo. Martin’s absolute pessimism dictates that a valet trusted with millions in gold will certainly betray his master, yet Cacambo’s honesty defies that pessimism. Voltaire prefers flexible philosophies based on real evidence to dogmatic assertions based on abstractions. Absolute optimism and absolute pessimism both fall into the latter category, because they will admit no exceptions. Like Pangloss, Martin abides by ideas that discourage any active efforts to change the world for the better. If, as Martin asserts, “man [is] bound to live either in convulsions of misery or in the lethargy of boredom,” why should anyone try to rescue anyone else from “convulsions of misery”?
Cacambo sheds a subtle and interesting light on the philosophical themes of the novel. Unlike any other character in the novel, he inspires perfect confidence, both in his intelligence and his moral uprightness. He knows both native American and European languages, and deals capably with both the Jesuits and the Biglugs. He suffers fewer gross misfortunes than any other character, less out of luck than because of his sharp wits, and he lives up to Candide’s trust when Candide sends him to fetch Cunégonde. Any reader tempted to conclude that Voltaire has no faith in human nature must reconsider when faced with the example of Cacambo. Despite the optimism Cacambo inspires, however, he is no optimist himself. His wide experience of the world has led Cacambo to conclude that “the law of nature teaches us to kill our neighbor.”
"Moreover, in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve enjoyed the fruits of nature without having to work..."
I don't think that's true. Genesis 2:15 says, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Adam's purpose was to work even before the fall, which happens in Genesis 3. Also, I don't believe that Adam and Eve fell from God's grace. Yes, God said "you shall surely die" if you eat of the fruit, and they did, but it was actually God's grace that made them go out of the garden to prevent them from li... Read more→
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What I got from this book is that whether Panglos is right or not. Whether Pessimism or Optimism prevailed, it doesn't do any good to philosophy over it.
Man was placed in the garden to work, not to be idle.
I believe that in the end Candide gave up on arguing - he simply realised the pointlessness of doing it and that true happiness will be by living life without thinking about it the whole time.
Thanks for your post.
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Honestly I don't think this book has anything to do with religion, right or wrong. Any type of theorizing, philosophy, formal religion, or even societal emphasis on what is important is represented as something negative. For example, all church figures are corrupt, philosophers Pangloss and Martin no matter what their opinions are either ignorant or miserable. The happiest (and eventually model) character is the farmer, who thinks and works for himself. Voltaire was jaded by the corruption of religion and hopeless optimism of philosophy and ... Read more→
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