Candide

by: Voltaire

Candide

His face was the true index of his mind. He had a solid judgment joined to the most unaffected simplicity; and hence, I presume, he had his name of Candide.

The narrator introduces the reader to Candide, a young man raised in a baron’s castle in western Germany. Despite his wealthy surroundings, Candide represents Everyman as a tabula rasa with no pretense and simple needs and expectations. His French name translates to mean innocent and guileless, and as the narrator notes, the character’s name reflects his essence.

The day after he comes off with ten, and is looked upon as a young fellow of surprising genius by all his comrades.

The narrator explains how Candide, after being forced into the Bulgarian army, transitions from a failure to a genius in three days’ time. On his first day, he fires his gun and receives thirty blows with a cane. The second day, he does better, so he only gets twenty blows. On this, the third day, he’s a genius, and receives a mere ten blows. Such scenarios reflect contempt for the military and its values.

Candide thought he was in a trance; he looked upon his whole life up to this point as a frightful dream, and the present moment a very agreeable one.

The narrator describes Candide’s thoughts when an old woman rescues him after the scholars flog him and hang Pangloss in an auto-da-féheld to prevent another earthquake. She takes Candide to a house where she feeds and nurses him. While unsure the reason for her kindness, Candide accepts her generosity just as he accepts the extreme misfortunes of his life. The moment becomes even more agreeable when he discovers that the woman returns Cunégonde to him.

“Beautiful miss,” answered Candide, “when a man is in love, is jealous, and has been whipped by the Inquisition, he is no longer himself.”

After Candide murders the Inquisitor and Don Issachar in front of Cunégonde, she expresses her fear that they will be arrested and punished for the crime. Here, Candide responds to her concern. Rather than reassurances based on sound logic or strategies, Candide provides a short list of motivations, the assortment made comical by his association of love, jealousy, and torture. Later, the old woman who brought them together again saves the day by telling them about three horses in the stable. They mount the horses and escape.

“Flee,” she said, “this instant, or you will be burnt alive!” Candid found there was no time to be lost. But how could he part from Cunégonde, and where must he go for shelter?

As the old woman urgently attempts to help Candide escape death again, he has questions that reflect at once his passion and his pragmatism. He hesitates to leave the woman he loves behind, and in the next instant, he ponders where he’ll stay the night. The exaggerated drama of this moment and Candide’s hapless naivete reflect a common element woven throughout the plot: At every turn, Candide seems to be fleeing for his life and making decisions that inevitably put him back in danger.

Oh, my dear Cunégonde, must I leave you just as the governor was going to marry us? Cunégonde, so long lost and found again, what will not become of you?

After taking the old woman’s advice and fleeing for his life, Candide mourns having to leave his beloved Cunégonde behind. He fled with his valet, Cacambo, but did so in a flood of tears because of his undying love for Cunégonde. Despite all the trials and misfortunes the world throws his way, Candide remains true to his affection for Cunégonde. Remaining optimistic in the face of so much travesty, he never relinquishes his faith that they will be together as man and wife someday.

“I am the best man in the world, and yet I have already killed three men; and of these three two were priests.”

Candide sums up his actions after he believes he killed Cunégonde’s brother, the baron, in self-defense. The baron attacked Candide when he learned of his desire and intention to marry his sister. The baron protested such a union because his sister Cunégonde bears seventy-two quarterlings, testimony to her royal lineage, whereas Candide was born a commoner. To highlight the absurdity of the moment, readers note that the two men change quickly from affectionate friends, delighted to meet each other again, to mortal enemies, all based on abstract ideas of society status.

Candide said to Cacambo: “You see, my dear friend, how fleeting the riches of this world are; there is nothing solid but virtue.”

Here, Candide’s words serve as the crux of the entire novel and the philosophy reflected throughout the text. Candide makes the statement after he and Cacambo leave El Dorado and lose 100 of their 102 sheep and most of their fortune. After Candide offers his view of the situation, Cacambo counters with his own. Ever the optimist, Cacambo replies that they still have two sheep left and enough treasure to make them wealthy.

“Oh, what a surprising man!” said Candide to himself; “what a great genius this Pococuranté must be! Nothing can please him!”

Candide appraises the Venetian nobleman Pococuranté while touring his library. Pococuranté shows off the art and literature collected there and dismisses each piece one by one—works by Raphael, Homer, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences, and even Milton. Candide can’t help but feel impressed, as he simplistically equates discernment with criticism. Pococuranté’s dismissal of the masterpieces he owns satirizes the human self-importance presented to readers throughout the novel.

“What a chain of shocking accidents!” exclaimed Candide. “But, after all I still have some diamonds left, with which I can easily buy Miss Cunégonde’s liberty. It is a pity, though, she is grown so very ugly.”

Candide assesses the reversals in his fortune with his characteristic optimism. To the good, Candide and Martin discover that his beloved Cunégonde works as a dishwasher in a house of a poor prince. To the bad, she no longer has her looks. He totes up the pros and cons like an accountant with a ledger, parodying the omniscient narrator.