. . . those who say everything is well are uttering mere stupidities; they should say everything is for the best.
Candide lives in the castle of the baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia. Candide is the illegitimate son of the baron’s sister. His mother refused to marry his father because his father’s family tree could only be traced through “seventy-one quarterings.” The castle’s tutor, Pangloss, teaches “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology” and believes that this world is the “best of all possible worlds.” Candide listens to Pangloss with great attention and faith. Miss Cunégonde, the baron’s daughter, spies Pangloss and a maid, Paquette, engaged in a lesson in “experimental physics.” Seized with the desire for knowledge, she hurries to find Candide. They flirt and steal a kiss behind a screen. The baron catches them and banishes Candide.
Candide wanders to the next town, where two men find him half-dead with hunger and fatigue. They give him money, feed him, and ask him to drink to the health of the king of the Bulgars. They then conscript him to serve in the Bulgar army, where Candide suffers abuse and hardship as he is indoctrinated into military life. When he decides to go for a walk one morning, four soldiers capture him and he is court-martialed as a deserter. He is given a choice between execution and running the gauntlet (being made to run between two lines of men who will strike him with weapons) thirty-six times. Candide tries to choose neither option by arguing that “the human will is free,” but his argument is unsuccessful. He finally chooses to run the gauntlet.
After running the gauntlet twice, Candide’s skin is nearly flayed from his body. The king of the Bulgars happens to pass by. Discovering that Candide is a metaphysician and “ignorant of the world,” the king pardons him. Candide’s wounds heal in time for him to serve in a war between the Bulgars and the Abares.
The war results in unbelievable carnage, and Candide deserts at the first opportunity. In both kingdoms he sees burning villages full of butchered and dying civilians.
Candide escapes to Holland, where he comes upon a Protestant orator explaining the value of charity to a crowd of listeners. The orator asks Candide whether he supports “the good cause.” Remembering Pangloss’s teachings, Candide replies that “[t]here is no effect without a cause.” The orator asks if Candide believes that the Pope is the Antichrist. Candide explains that he does not know, but that in any case he is hungry and must eat. The orator curses Candide and the orator’s wife dumps human waste over Candide’s head. A kind Anabaptist, Jacques, takes Candide into his home and employs Candide in his rug factory. Jacques’s kindness revives Candide’s faith in Pangloss’s theory that everything is for the best in this world.
Candide finds a deformed beggar in the street. The beggar is Pangloss. Pangloss tells Candide that the Bulgars attacked the baron’s castle and killed the baron, his wife, and his son, and raped and murdered Cunégonde. Pangloss explains that syphilis, which he contracted from Paquette, has ravaged his body. Still, he believes that syphilis is necessary in the best of worlds because the line of infection leads back to a man who traveled to the New World with Columbus. If Columbus had not traveled to the New World and brought syphilis back to Europe, then Europeans would also not have enjoyed New World wonders such as chocolate.