This scholar, who was in fact a very honest man, had been robbed by his wife, beaten by his son, and forsaken by his daughter, who had run away with a Portuguese. He had also been fired from the little job on which he existed . . .
The narrator introduces Martin as the winner of Candide’s contest to find a traveling companion. As Candide prepares to sail for Bordeaux, he offers to pay passage and a wage to whomever he chooses. He assembles twenty men who each tell their sad stories. In the end, Candide chooses Martin, the most miserable and honest of the twenty, to accompany him.
[B]ut I must confess, when I cast my eye on this globe, or rather globule, I cannot help thinking that God has abandoned it to some evil beginning.
Martin, the pessimist to Pangloss’s optimist, discusses philosophy at length with Candide as the two sail to France. He claims to be a Manichean—a believer in two equal spirits of Good and Evil that struggle to gain control of the universe. Candide says that the devil must be in Martin and Martin agrees that the devil exists in nearly everyone.
“But then why,” said Candide, “was the world formed?” “To drive us mad,” said Martin.
On board the ship bound for France, Candide asks Martin for his view on the meaning of life after Martin expresses skepticism about all scientific theories. Martin functions as a counterpoint to Pangloss, as he relentlessly expresses profound pessimism. The remark equating life with madness seems ironic as Martin appears to be the sanest character in the novel.
“That is,” replied Martin, “there is a pleasure in having no pleasure.”
Martin expresses this paradox to Candide after they have toured the Venetian nobleman’s library. As they engage in a Socratic dialogue about Pococuranté’s criticism of the masterpieces he owns, Candide postulates that such superiority indicates a contented mind. Martin counters with Plato’s metaphor that healthy stomachs don’t refuse all food. Together, they arrive at the conclusion that their host finds a strange pleasure in his own discontent. Clearly, Martin and Candide try to make sense of contradictory ideas and observations.
“Let’s work, then, without disputing,” says Martin. “It is the only way to make life bearable.”
Martin converses with Candide and the others and states what some readers consider the major theme of the novel. Despite all the fantastic events, the near-deaths, the unlikely reunions, and the litany of bawdy and gory circumstances, the story culminates to this idea: Hard work serves as the only panacea that makes life worth living.