The protagonist of the novel, Candide is a good-hearted but hopelessly naïve young man. His mentor, Pangloss, teaches him that their world is “the best of all possible worlds.” After being banished from his adopted childhood home, Candide travels the world and meets with a wide variety of misfortunes, all the while pursuing security and following Cunégonde, the woman he loves. His faith in Pangloss’s undiluted optimism is repeatedly tested. Candide is less a realistic character than a conduit for the attitudes and events that surround him. His opinions and actions are determined almost entirely by the influence of outside factors.
Pangloss is a philosopher and Candide’s tutor. His optimistic belief that this world is “the best of all possible worlds” is the primary target of the novel’s satire. Pangloss’s own experiences contradict this belief, but he remains faithful to it nonetheless. Like Candide, Pangloss is not a three-dimensional character. Instead, he is an exaggerated parody of overly optimistic Enlightenment philosophers.
Martin is a cynical scholar whom Candide befriends as a travel companion. Martin has suffered a great deal in his life and preaches a philosophy of undiluted pessimism. More knowledgeable and intelligent than either Candide or Pangloss, Martin is nonetheless a flawed philosopher. Because he always expects nothing but the worst from the world, he often has trouble seeing the world as it really is.
Cunégonde is the daughter of a German baron who acts as Candide’s benefactor until he discovers Candide’s love for his daughter. Throughout much of the novel, Cunégonde is young and beautiful. After her father’s castle is destroyed in war, a number of exploitative men enslave her or use her as a mistress. Cunégonde returns Candide’s love but is willing to betray him for the sake of her own interests. Like him, she is neither intelligent nor complex. Her very blandness casts a satiric light on Candide’s mad romantic passion for her.
Cacambo becomes Candide’s valet when Candide travels in South America. A mixed-race native of the Americas, Cacambo is highly intelligent and morally honest. He is savvy and single-handedly rescues Candide from a number of scrapes. He is also directly responsible for Candide’s reunion with Cunégonde. As a practical man of action, he stands in direct opposition to ineffectual philosophers such as Pangloss and Martin.
The Old Woman
The old woman was born the daughter of a Pope. She has experienced the death of a fiancé, rape by pirates, slavery, and cannibalism in wartime. She becomes Cunégonde’s servant. Her misfortunes have made her cynical about human nature, but she does not give in to self-pity. She is wise, practical, and loyal to her mistress. Though she has often been close to suicide, she always finds a reason to live.
The Commander or the Baron
The baron is Cunégonde’s brother. After his family’s castle is destroyed in wartime, he becomes a Jesuit priest. It is implied numerous times that he has homosexual tendencies. He is arrogant about his family’s noble lineage and, though he is fond of the commoner Candide, he refuses to allow Candide to marry Cunégonde.
Jacques (the Anabaptist)
Jacques is a humane Dutch Anabaptist. He cares for the itinerant Candide and Pangloss. Despite his kindness, Jacques is pessimistic about human nature. He drowns in the Bay of Lisbon while trying to save the life of an ungrateful sailor.
The farmer has a modest farm outside Constantinople. Candide and his friends are impressed with his lifestyle of hard work and simple pleasures, and adopt it for themselves.
The count is a wealthy Venetian. He has a marvelous collection of art and literature, but he is bored with and critical of everything.
At the beginning of the novel, Paquette is the chambermaid of Cunégonde’s mother. She has an affair with Pangloss and gives him syphilis. She eventually turns to prostitution to support herself. Brother Giroflée is one of her clients. In Venice, Candide is moved by Paquette’s misery and gives her a large sum of money, which she quickly squanders.
Brother Giroflée is a dissatisfied monk. His parents forced him into a monastery to enlarge his brother’s fortune. He pays for Paquette’s services. Like her, he is miserable and does not get any happier after Candide gives him a large sum of money.
The Grand Inquisitor
The Grand Inquisitor is an important figure in the Portuguese Catholic Church and represents the hypocrisy of religious leaders. He uses the threat of religious oppression to force the Jew Don Issachar to share Cunégonde with him. Meanwhile, he orders that suspected heretics be burned alive. Candide kills the Inquisitor when the Inquisitor discovers him with Cunégonde.
Don Issachar is a wealthy Jew. He purchases Cunégonde and makes her his mistress. The Grand Inquisitor forces him to share Cunégonde by threatening to burn him alive as a heretic. Candide kills Don Issachar when he interrupts Candide and Cunégonde.
Don Fernando d’Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza
Don Fernando is the governor of Buenos Aires. He becomes infatuated with Cunégonde and makes her his mistress despite her engagement to Candide.
Vanderdendur is a cruel slave owner and an unscrupulous merchant. After he steals one of Candide’s jewel-laden sheep, his ship is sunk in a battle. Candide sees his death as a sign that retributive justice is at work in the world.
The Abbé of Perigord
The abbé (abbot) is a Paris socialite who cheats Candide out of his money.
The Marquise of Parolignac
The Marquise is a cunning, sexually licentious Paris socialite. She seduces Candide and steals some of his jeweled rings.