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In eighteenth-century Europe, the Americas represented the long-standing promise of a new and brighter future for mankind. The New World attracted clergy in search of converts, merchants in search of riches, and countless adventurers in search of new adventure. In Chapter 10, Candide expresses the hope that the New World is the perfect world Pangloss spoke of, since the Old World clearly is not.
By the eighteenth century, however, the dark side of colonization had already emerged. Educated individuals knew about the horrors of slavery, the oppression of natives, and the diseases spread by inter-cultural contact (of which Pangloss’s syphilis is one example). In these chapters and those that follow, Voltaire portrays the Americas as a region thoroughly corrupted by the vices of the Old World.
The rebellion in Paraguay exposes the hypocrisy and scheming of South American politics. The Jesuit priests lead a revolt of native peoples against the Spanish colonial government, yet the Jesuits are not fighting for the right to self-government for these downtrodden natives. The Biglugs’ attitude toward Jesuits makes it clear that the native peoples feel no kinship with the priests who claim to be fighting for them. Instead, the Jesuits merely exploit the rebels in a greedy campaign to grab wealth and power away from the government. The native Paraguayans are the impoverished servants of powerful, wealthy European dissidents, mere pawns in an economic—not ideological—quarrel between Europeans.
In this section, Voltaire seizes another opportunity to mock the hypocrisy of religious leaders and the aristocracy. The colonel tells Candide how a Jesuit priest took him into the order because he found him physically attractive. These leading comments suggest a homosexual relationship between the colonel and his mentor, a situation the Jesuits rigorously and publicly condemned. The colonel’s refusal to allow Candide to marry his sister, even after their emigration to America and after hearing all of what Candide has done for Cunégonde, is another example of European aristocratic arrogance.
The description of the Biglugs can be read as a criticism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy. Rousseau, another important French Enlightenment thinker, was a bitter rival of Voltaire’s. Rousseau viewed man as naturally good and insisted that only the institutions of human civilization, such as property and commerce, corrupt man’s innate goodness. He was interested in the figure of the natural man, whom he called the “noble savage.” Rousseau held that, in a state of nature without the trappings of civilization, human beings would be ignorant of all vice. Voltaire, conversely, was far more pessimistic about human nature. He describes the Biglugs as men in a state of nature, but they are not noble savages ignorant of vice. Rather, they are filled with the same prejudices and brutality as people from the Old World. Like the Inquisitors in Portugal, they kill people based on their religious affiliation, and like the officers in the city of Azov, they are willing to practice cannibalism.
Cacambo is an interesting exception to Voltaire’s bleak view of the New World. Cacambo is of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry, but he has managed to avoid many of the misfortunes that have befallen both groups in the New World. He deals capably with both the Jesuits and the Biglugs and can speak both native and European languages. He suffers fewer gross misfortunes than any other character, less out of luck than because of his sharp wits, and he proves to be unflaggingly loyal and honest. Though Voltaire does not see hope for a new, better world for the European in the Americas, Cacambo seems to represent a different hope: a new, better man who is neither completely of the Old World nor completely of the New, who bases his personality and ability on his understanding and experience of both worlds.