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.