page 2 of 2
The group consults a famous dervish (Muslim holy man) about questions of good and evil. The dervish rebukes them for caring about such questions and shuts the door in their faces. Later, the group stops at a roadside farm. The farmer kindly invites them to a pleasant dinner. He only has a small farm, but he and his family work hard on it and live a tolerable existence.
Candide finds the farmer’s life appealing. He, Cunégonde, and his friends decide to follow it, and everyone is satisfied by hard work in the garden. Pangloss suggests to Candide once again that this is the best of possible worlds. Candide responds, “That is very well put . . . but we must cultivate our garden.”
—Let’s work without speculating, said Martin; it’s the only way of rendering life bearable.
The far-fetched resurrections of Pangloss and the baron can be read optimistically or pessimistically. On the one hand, two events that gave Candide great grief, the death of his teacher and his own murder of his old friend, have been reversed in an almost miraculous fashion. Candide’s most impossible wish has come true. On the other hand, even the fulfillment of that wish brings Candide no real happiness. In fact, the baron actively works to thwart Candide’s happiness. Additionally, even near-death experiences and imprisonment have done nothing to alter Pangloss’s shallow optimism and the baron’s brutish snobbery. Pangloss represents human folly and the baron represents human arrogance, and Voltaire seems to be saying that neither ever really dies.
While Candide’s optimism has fluctuated during his travels, Pangloss’s has remained static, despite the fact that he has arguably fared far worse than his pupil. Pangloss desires consistency in his thinking, an aspiration that seems rational. However, Pangloss’s version of consistency involves an irrational refusal to denounce his excessively optimistic philosophy despite the terrible situations he has encountered. Pangloss no longer even really believes his own words, but he refuses to incorporate his new knowledge into his philosophy. For him, the idea is more important and attractive than reality. The hopeless rigidity of Pangloss’s thought is sharply and concisely illustrated by this exchange:
—Well, my dear Pangloss, Candide said to him, now that you have been hanged, dissected, beaten to a pulp, and sentenced to the galleys, do you still think everything is for the best in this world? —I am still of my first opinion, replied Pangloss; for after all I am a philosopher, and it would not be right for me to recant since Leibniz could not possibly be wrong, and besides pre-established harmony is the finest notion in the world.
Money, leisure, security, peace, and life with his beloved do not make Candide happy. Martin declares that humans are bound to live “either in convulsions of misery or in the lethargy of boredom.” The way out of this dilemma, it seems, lies in the lifestyle of the farmer and in Candide’s garden. Candide manages to find a tolerable existence through self-directed improvement and work. Practical action is the only solution Voltaire can find to the problem of human suffering. Each member of the household finds a skill to hone and then uses it to contribute to the support of the household. Without any leisure from their toil in the garden, the characters have no time or energy to trade empty words about good and evil. Candide’s new solution seems to alleviate some of their suffering. Pangloss points out that the garden in which everyone finds solace is reminiscent of the biblical Garden of Eden, but there are crucial differences. The characters of Candide are ending their adventures in a garden, not beginning them there as Adam and Eve did; and instead of enjoying the free bounty of nature as Adam and Eve did, they must work tirelessly in order to reap any benefits from their garden.
The sincerity of Voltaire’s endorsement of this solution is questionable. It seems unlikely that, after having poked malicious fun at countless belief systems, Voltaire should decide to give his readers an unqualified happy ending. The characters finally realize their desires, but misery still reigns in the world outside their garden. Candide and his friends are wealthy and secure—in a perfect position to try to change the world for the better. Yet, rather than engaging the world in an attempt to improve it, they withdraw from it in an attempt to escape their own petty unhappiness. Voltaire, who became very active in political and social causes later in his life, may see withdrawal into a garden as the only wise and viable solution for creatures as weak as human beings. However, it is unlikely that he sees it as the best of all possible solutions.
Take a Study Break!