A furious storm overtakes Candide’s ship on its way to Lisbon. Jacques tries to save a sailor who has almost fallen overboard. He saves the sailor but falls overboard himself, and the sailor does nothing to help him. The ship sinks, and Pangloss, Candide, and the sailor are the only survivors. They reach shore and walk toward Lisbon.
Lisbon has just experienced a terrible earthquake and is in ruins. The sailor finds some money in the ruins and promptly gets drunk and pays a woman for sex. Meanwhile the groans of dying and buried victims rise from the ruins. Pangloss and Candide help the wounded, and Pangloss comforts the victims by telling them the earthquake is for the best. One of the officers of the Inquisition accuses Pangloss of heresy because an optimist cannot possibly believe in original sin. The fall and punishment of man, the Catholic Inquisitor claims, prove that everything is not for the best. Through some rather twisted logic, Pangloss attempts to defend his theory.
The Portuguese authorities decide to burn a few people alive to prevent future earthquakes. They choose one man because he has married his godmother, and two others because they have refused to eat bacon (thus presumably revealing themselves to be Jewish). The authorities hang Pangloss for his opinions and publicly flog Candide for “listening with an air of approval.” When another earthquake occurs later the same day, Candide finds himself doubting that this is the best of all possible worlds.
Just then an old woman approaches Candide, treats his wounds, gives him new clothes, and feeds him. After two days, she leads him to a house in the country to meet his real benefactor, Cunégonde.
Cunégonde explains to Candide that the Bulgars have killed her family. After executing a soldier whom he found raping Cunégonde, a Bulgar captain took Cunégonde as his mistress and later sold her to a Jew, Don Issachar. After seeing her at Mass, the Grand Inquisitor wanted to buy her from Don Issachar; when Don Issachar refused, the Grand Inquisitor threatened him with auto-da-fé (burning alive). The two agreed to share Cunégonde; the Grand Inquisitor would have her four days a week, Don Issachar the other three. Cunégonde was present to see Pangloss hanged and Candide whipped, the horror of which made her doubt Pangloss’s teachings. Cunégonde told the old woman, her servant, to care for Candide and bring him to her.
Don Issachar arrives to find Cunégonde and Candide alone together, and attacks Candide in a jealous rage. Candide kills Don Issachar with a sword given to him by the old woman. The Grand Inquisitor arrives to enjoy his allotted time with Cunégonde and is surprised to find Candide. Candide kills him. Cunégonde gathers her jewels and three horses from the stable and flees with Candide and the old woman. The Holy Brotherhood gives the Grand Inquisitor a grand burial, but throws Don Issachar’s body on a dunghill.
A Franciscan friar steals Cunégonde’s jewels. Despite his agreement with Pangloss’s philosophy that “the fruits of the earth are a common heritage of all,” Candide nonetheless laments the loss. Candide and Cunégonde sell one horse and travel to Cadiz, where they find troops preparing to sail to the New World. Paraguayan Jesuit priests have incited an Indian tribe to rebel against the kings of Spain and Portugal. Candide demonstrates his military experience to the general, who promptly makes him a captain. Candide takes Cunégonde, the old woman, and the horses with him, and predicts that it is the New World that will prove to be the best of all possible worlds. But Cunégonde claims to have suffered so much that she has almost lost all hope. The old woman admonishes Cunégonde for complaining because Cunégonde has not suffered as much as she has.
Readers have proposed various interpretations of Jacques’s death. His death could represent Voltaire’s criticism of the optimistic belief that evil is always balanced by good. Jacques, who is good, perishes while saving the sailor, who is selfish and evil; the result is not a balance but a case of evil surviving good. Jacques’s death could also represent the uselessness of Christian values. Continually referred to as “the Anabaptist,” Jacques is an altruist who does not change society for the better; he ends up a victim of his own altruism.
Pangloss responds to Jacques’s death by asserting that the bay outside Lisbon had been formed “expressly for this Anabaptist to drown in.” This argument is a parody of the complacent reasoning of optimistic philosophers. Convinced that the world God created must necessarily be perfectly planned and executed, optimists end up drawing far-fetched and unlikely connections between apparently unrelated events, such as the formation of a bay and the drowning of Jacques.
Voltaire bases the earthquake in Candide on an actual historical event that affected him deeply. A devastating earthquake on November 1, 1755—All Saints’ Day—leveled Lisbon and killed over 30,000 people, many of whom died while praying in church. The earthquake challenged a number of Enlightenment thinkers’ optimistic views of the world.
The sailor’s debauchery amid the groans of the wounded represents indifference in the face of evil. Voltaire strongly condemned indifference, and his belief that human inaction allows suffering to continue is evident in his depictions of the sailor and Pangloss. At one point, when Candide is knocked down by rubble and begs Pangloss to bring him wine and oil, Pangloss ignores Candide’s request and rambles on about the causes and ultimate purpose of the earthquake. Voltaire proposes a fundamental similarity between Pangloss’s behavior and the sailor’s actions. The sailor’s sensual indulgence in the face of death is grotesque and inhumane. While less grotesque, Pangloss’s philosophizing is no better, because it too gets in the way of any meaningful, useful response to the disaster.
The auto-da-fé, or act of faith, was the Inquisition’s practice of burning heretics alive. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the officials of the Inquisition systematically tortured and murdered tens of thousands of people on the slightest suspicion of heresy against orthodox Christian doctrine. Jews, Protestants, Muslims, and accused witches were victims of this organized campaign of violence. Like many Enlightenment intellectuals, Voltaire was appalled by the barbarism and superstition of the Inquisition, and by the religious fervor that inspired it.
Voltaire makes his ideological priorities clear in Candide. Pangloss’s philosophy lacks use and purpose, and often leads to misguided suffering, but the Inquisition’s determination to suppress dissenting opinion at any cost represents tyranny and unjust persecution. The Inquisition authorities twist Pangloss’s words to make them appear to be a direct attack on Christian orthodoxy, and flog Candide for merely seeming to approve of what Pangloss says. This flogging of Candide represents exaggeration on Voltaire’s part, an amplification of the Inquisition’s repressive tactics that serves a satirical purpose. Along with outrage at the cruelty of the Inquisition, we are encouraged to laugh at its irrationality, as well as at the exaggerated nature of Candide’s experience.
Cunégonde’s situation inspires a similarly subversive combination of horror and absurdity. Her story demonstrates the vulnerability of women to male exploitation and their status as objects of possession and barter. Cunégonde is bought and sold like a painting or piece of livestock, yet the deadpan calm with which she relates her experiences to Candide creates an element of the absurd. Candide takes this absurdity further; as Cunégonde describes how her Bulgar rapist left a wound on her thigh, Candide interrupts to say, “What a pity! I should very much like to see it.” In the middle of this litany of dreadful events, Candide’s suggestive comments seem ridiculous, but the absurdity provides comic relief from the despicably violent crimes that Cunégonde describes.
The stereotyped representation of the Jew Don Issachar may offend the contemporary reader, but it demonstrates the hypocrisy that afflicted even such a progressive thinker as Voltaire. Voltaire attacked religious persecution throughout his life, but he suffered from his own collection of prejudices. In theory, he opposed the persecution of Jews, but in practice, he expressed anti-Semitic views of his own. In his Dictionary of Philosophy, Voltaire describes the Jews as “the most abominable people in the world.” Don Issachar’s character is a narrow, mean-spirited stereotype—a rich, conniving merchant who deals in the market of human flesh.
Voltaire makes another attack on religious hypocrisy through the character of the Franciscan who steals Cunégonde’s jewels. The Franciscan order required a vow of poverty from its members, making Voltaire’s choice of that order for his thief especially ironic.
"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→
12 out of 16 people found this helpful