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Candide

by: Voltaire

Chapters 17–19

Summary: Chapter 19

Cacambo and Candide lose all but two sheep as they travel to Surinam, but the last two sheep still carry a sizable fortune. Cacambo and Candide meet a slave on the road who is missing a leg and a hand. The slave tells them that his own mother sold him to his cruel master, Vanderdendur. He tells them of the misery of slavery, and his words prompt Candide to renounce Pangloss’s optimism.

Candide sends Cacambo to retrieve Cunégonde and the old woman. Meanwhile, Candide tries to secure passage to Venice, and Vanderdendur offers his ship. When Candide readily agrees to Vanderdendur’s high price, Vanderdendur deduces that Candide’s sheep are carrying a fortune. Candide puts his sheep on board in advance, and Vanderdendur sails off without him, taking much of Candide’s fortune.

Candide, at great expense, tries but fails to obtain compensation through the legal system. He then books passage on a ship sailing for France and announces that he will pay passage plus a good sum of money to the most unhappy man in the province. Out of the crowd of applicants, Candide chooses a scholar who was robbed by his wife, beaten by his son, and forsaken by his daughter.

Analysis: Chapters 17–19

Eldorado is Voltaire’s utopia, featuring no organized religion and no religious persecution. None of the inhabitants attempts to force beliefs on others, no one is imprisoned, and the king greets visitors as his equals. The kingdom has an advanced educational system and poverty is nonexistent. This world is clearly the best of the worlds represented in Candide and seems to be the “best of all possible worlds” in which Pangloss believes.

However, Voltaire’s deep pessimism about human nature shines through the glittering portrait of the harmonious, utopian society of Eldorado. The word “utopia,” coined by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name, sounds like the Greek words for both “good place” and “no place.” For the suffering inhabitants of the real world, Eldorado might as well not exist. It is almost completely inaccessible from the outside. Riches enough to end world poverty lie untouched on the ground. Its residents refuse to initiate any contact with the outside world because they know that such contact would destroy their perfect country. After some time there, even Candide wants to return immediately to the deeply flawed world outside. The Eldorado “pebbles” will only be of value to him in the outside world. The jewels that make Eldorado beautiful serve to inspire greed and ambition in Candide, whose only previous interests have been survival and his love for Cunégonde.

The fortune that Candide obtains in Eldorado brings him more problems than advantages. He quickly discovers that riches make him into a target for all sorts of swindlers, as Vanderdendur and the Surinamese officers swiftly work to get as much money from Candide as they can. Before he becomes wealthy, Candide still repeatedly finds cause to endorse Pangloss’s optimism. After he acquires wealth, however, the fierce blows he suffers shatter his confidence in optimism. Financial injury inspires more pessimism in him than violence ever did. His decision to listen to countless stories of woe and to reward the most miserable man is reminiscent of the old woman’s behavior on the trip to America, during which she asked the other passengers to recite their sad tales. This indicates that perhaps Candide identifies more with the old woman’s world-weary pessimism now that he has had money. By suggesting that Candide is sorrier to see his money disappear than he was to see his blood shed, Voltaire also comments on the hopeless irrationality of human priorities and on the power of greed.